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Dyad's Blessing, Dyad's Curse

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“Ben . . .”

He gazed down at her with those brown eyes, the eyes she had seen countless times before, but now it felt different. Now she felt no rage, no instability, just . . . peace.

Light.

Only then did she realize that he had saved her, brought her back from . . . where? Where had she been? She couldn’t remember, but now she was back. Back because of him.

Reflexively, she grabbed his face and pulled him into a kiss. Her first kiss, maybe his too, but he responded as if they’d kissed a hundred times. Energy flowed between them, linking them, as if sealing them as a dyad.

Once she pulled out of the kiss, she saw his smile.

Though the Force had been linking them for well over a year, she’d never seen him smile. She might have even thought him incapable of the action, but there his smile was – beautiful, relaxed, as if a great burden had finally been lifted.

But then the smile vanished, and Rey felt a disturbance in the Force crash on her like a tidal wave.

Something was wrong . . .

“NO!” she screamed as his body fell backwards to the cold ground. “NO!” Again without thinking, she thrust her hand onto his chest, pouring her energy into him as he had done to her moments ago. He couldn’t die . . . not now . . . he wouldn’t die . . .

She felt his hand weakly gripping her wrist. “Rey . . .” he gasped out in a soft, raspy voice, “. . . don’t. It’s okay . . .”

“No, it’s NOT okay!” She squeezed her eyes shut, concentrating all her focus on letting her energy pour into him, ignoring how it made her head spin and her lungs gasp for air. He wouldn’t die, he would live as Ben Solo again, this wouldn’t be the end . . .

She collapsed on top of him.

. . .

Rey awoke in someone’s arms, but that was all her mind processed beyond the soreness that spread throughout her body. She felt like she could fall back into unconsciousness in mere seconds, maybe she even wanted to. Yes . . . go out . . . forget the pain . . .

“Rey? Rey, are you awake?”

The voice . . . it sounded familiar . . .

Finn!

Her eyes opened to blurs, but her nose recognized the dusty, lived-in smell of the Falcon. “Finn?” It hurt her throat just to utter that one word.

“Rey!” Finn exclaimed, squeezing her closer to him as a joyful sob escaped his mouth. “What went on down there? I mean, you were dead, but then you weren’t, and then you passed out . . .”

Dead . . . the word triggered memories of what had happened before . . .

“Ben!” she exclaimed. “Where is he? Is he all right??”

Finn’s voice lowered. “He’s in custody.”

“I need to see him.” Rey blinked rapidly, fiercely trying to bring his face into focus.

“Rey, I don’t think that’s a good . . .”

“He won’t hurt me,” said Rey. “He saved me.”

Finn sighed. “All right.”

He carried her down the Falcon’s hall to the sick bay, where Ben lay unmoving on the bed, his face bruised and battered, an oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose. As Finn gently placed her on the seat next to the bed, she gripped his hand, which was unresponsive but the skin was pliable and semi-warm, showing that he was alive. She quickly reached out with her senses and yes, that familiar Force-signature was there, weak but there.

“Will he be all right?” Still her voice was raspy and her throat sore.

“Don’t ask me – I’m no doctor,” said Finn. “But . . . Rey, what did he do exactly?”

Rey took a deep breath. Filling her lungs with air felt good despite the pain. “Remember what I did to the serpent in the cave? He did that to me – and then I did it back to him.”

“Wait, wait,” said Finn, gripping her shoulder. “Are you saying you can bring people back from the dead with the Force??”

“I don’t think you can normally,” said Rey, looking into his eyes, “but he and I . . . there’s a connection between us, it’s called being a dyad in the Force.” She gulped – how could she explain this when she didn’t fully understand it herself? “I think it started when Snoke linked our minds, but I don’t think he meant for us to link like this.”

Finn stared at her, blinking as if he wasn’t sure whether or not to believe her. “So, what does it mean exactly? It’s something more than just you two appearing to each other – which is really weird in itself?”

“Yes,” said Rey. She rested her head against Finn’s chest, letting him wrap his arms around her, giving her that embrace that always made her feel safe despite whatever might be happening. “He called it ‘two that are one.’ I think . . . I think our souls are connected, not just our minds.”

She heard him gulp. “Your soul linked . . . with his? I don’t . . . I don’t know what to say. Is there a way to undo it?”

“I don’t know.” Then it occurred to her that she had never thought about splitting the connection or even wondered if it could be done. Why was that?

“Maybe Luke’s books have something about this dyad thing,” said Finn.

“Maybe,” Rey repeated.

“Rey, listen,” said Finn, pulling out of the embrace only enough to look into her eyes, “if he hurts you in any way, physically, emotionally, I don’t care, you tell me.”

“He won’t.”

“Well forgive me if I’m not so sure about that.”

“He saved me.”

“And killed his dad, and ordered me and others to kill innocent villagers, and took over the galaxy, and tried to kill both of us over and over, and invaded your mind and Poe’s mind . . .”

“I know, I know,” said Rey, putting her hand on his chest. “Finn, I don’t expect you or anyone else to forgive him.”

Finn gulped again, looking over Rey’s shoulder at Ben’s unconscious body. “But Leia died trying to reach him . . .” He said it as if he were trying to make sense of the whole thing.

Rey winced, a sudden rush of dizziness overtaking her head. “Could I . . . could I have some water?”

“Of course,” said Finn. “I’ll be right back.”

Once Finn left, Rey ran her hand through Ben’s sweat-drenched hair. “You’ll get through this, Ben. You’ll wake up soon and show everyone that you’ve left Kylo Ren behind . . . right?”

Chapter Text

Ben didn’t know where he was, but he knew that he liked it.

He was lying on some soft surface – it felt like a grassy field, but it didn’t make his skin itch like grass usually did. A warm, gentle breeze brushed his face, letting him smell the flowery air. He almost felt like he was floating in a big soft bed, inviting him to drift off into a peaceful sleep.

If this was death, it wasn’t so bad.

“Hey, buddy.”

That voice. Whether young and fit or old and raspy, Ben knew it anywhere. He knew it on Starkiller Base, he knew it on Endor, he knew it here, but he didn’t yet want to open his eyes . . .

“Ben, come on, pretending to be asleep didn’t work when you were a kid and it doesn’t work now.” That voice was female and as intimately familiar as the first voice.

Finally Ben opened his eyes, finding himself staring into the faces of his parents, glowing in the moonlight under a sky full of stars.

“Ben,” said Han, reaching down and touching him on that same cheek, that same touch he’d felt before his father died, after his mother died.

What could he say? “I’m sorry you both died because of me”? “What do I do now that I’m dead”?

He ended up not saying anything – instead his parents pulled him up into a sitting position and wrapped him up into a tight hug, perhaps the tightest hug he’d felt in years. Instantly his eyes filled with tears. How . . . how could they hug him like this after all he’d done? After he’d killed his father and just as well as killed his mother? How could he be feeling so much love radiating off of them?

“Why?” he choked out before sobs overtook him.

“It’s all right, son,” said Han, patting his son’s back. “Let it all out.”

“We’re here, sweetheart,” said Leia. “We’re always here.”

They remained in the embrace for what might have been minutes or might have been hours, tears pouring out of Ben’s eyes like a river.

“How?” he choked out when his voice was little more than a rasp. “How can you act like nothing happened? You’re both dead because of me!” At least he was dead with them. The galaxy would remember him as a heartless monster, but that was what he deserved – it was what he was, after all.

And Rey was alive.

Leia pulled out of the embrace, staring at him with those strong brown eyes. “Ben, you’ve made a lot of mistakes, but one of the biggest ones was thinking you were alone. You’ve never been alone.”

“You sent me away.”

The words came out instantly, abruptly, without any thought, but once they were out, they hung in the air, reminding Ben of all the nights he lay awake desperately wishing his parents would come back for him, feeling like a punch in the gut even now. He shouldn’t still be upset about it . . . he shouldn’t . . .

Now Han pulled out of the embrace, looking like he too was about to break down crying. Ben swallowed – he knew all too well how much his father had fought against sending him away, though he had relented in the end. “Ben . . .” Han said, “I missed you every damn day you were gone.”

Gone. Ben couldn’t help but wonder if his father meant gone off to Luke’s Jedi Temple or gone to the dark side. Maybe both.

Leia swallowed, gazing into her son’s eyes. “Ben . . . I wish we had done things differently. If we’d all just stayed together, maybe . . .” She trailed off.

Ben reached over and touched his mother’s cheek. “But . . . we’re together now. Even with everything that happened when we were alive, we’re together now and we never have to be separated again.”

Suddenly Han and Leia gave each other awkward looks, as if Ben had said something embarrassing. Was it taboo for the dead to speak about how they used to be alive? If so, how was Ben supposed to know that when he’d only just died?

“What?” he asked.

Han cocked his head. “Son,” he said, running his hand through Ben’s hair, “you’re not dead.”

. . .

The Falcon touched down in the midst of celebration. Rey and Finn descended the ramp to find Poe already waiting for them. Aside from his injured arm, he didn’t seem to be in bad shape. Within seconds, the three of them were wrapped up in a group hug. It felt surreal, almost, like this was a day Rey hadn’t seriously expected to happen. She squeezed Finn and Poe as if she’d never let go, tears of happiness welling up in her eyes and lifting her heart.

But then the lump returned to her throat when she saw Ben’s stretcher hovering away in the distance, Lando and Chewie guiding it with grim looks on their faces. Why hadn’t he woken up? He’d poured all his energy into her, but she’d poured a good portion of her energy back into him and she felt all right now. She’d slept through most of the flight back and woken up feeling almost normal physically, but Ben’s condition was unchanged.

“Excuse me,” she said, pulling out of the embrace.

“Rey, no,” said Finn, putting his hand on her shoulder.

“Finn, it’s all right, I’m just going to check on him.”

“Check on who?” asked Poe.

Finn looked back at Poe. “Who do you think? Who’s she been having weird Force-linked conversations with?”

“Wait, Kylo Ren’s here??”

“That’s not his name anymore,” said Rey. “And yes, he’s here, but he’s comatose.”

“And why didn’t anyone tell me this?” Poe exclaimed.

“Well we’re telling you now,” said Finn before turning back to Rey. “Look, Rey, whatever this weird dyad connection thing between you is . . .”

“Dyad connection thing??” Poe exclaimed, his eyes bulging. “What?”

Rey took a deep breath. “I’ll explain later, but look, if you two want to come with me to check on him, you’re welcome to do so.” With that, she turned and headed in the direction of the medical ward without waiting for a response from either of them. However, just as she predicted, she could sense them following her.

. . .

The medical ward was full of wounded Resistance soldiers in various states of seriousness on the different beds, being treated by various medical droids. Some were sleeping or maybe unconscious, some were crying out in pain as their wounds were being worked on, others were just staring into space. Rey swallowed, saying a silent prayer to whoever might be listening that they would all make full recoveries.

Ben was lying on a bed in the very back of the room, being looked over by Doctor Kalonia herself, with Lando and Chewie engaged in conversation with her.

“I guess there’s no point in asking when or if he’ll ever wake up?” Lando was asking.

The doctor sighed. “I’m not sure exactly what’s wrong with him. His vitals are stable and while he’s rather badly injured, it’s not his injuries that are causing this. By all logic, he should wake up right now.” She looked up, smiling when she noticed the trio approaching. “And here are the heroes of the day!”

“Thank you, doctor,” said Poe, “but the real heroes are the ordinary people who flew in to fight against Palpatine. Many of them gave their lives in the battle.”

“Yes,” said Finn, “in fact, I think we should have a memorial service for everyone who gave their lives in this war.”

The doctor nodded at them. “I think that’s a great idea.”

“Yes,” said Rey, “let’s do it,” though she was unable to take her eyes off of Ben. “Heroes of the day,” Doctor Kalonia said, but she didn’t feel like a hero at all. If anything, she was the reason why Ben was in this state. She gently brushed her finger over his still hand, already knowing that one of the true heroes of the day wouldn’t be honored at any services the Resistance might give.

Chapter Text

“No, no, no no no,” Ben muttered to himself as he leapt to his feet. He leaned against a nearby tree in an attempt to ease the spinning in his head, but it did little to help. “No, she wasn’t supposed to do that, she WASN’T!”

“Well you did it to her,” said Han. “What would you expect?”

“I told her NOT to!” Ben punched the tree – the pain it brought to his knuckles actually felt good.

Han sighed. “Well, she’s as stubborn as you are.”

Familiar rage was building up inside Ben, tightening his chest, but rage at who? Rey? Himself? Palpatine? Maybe it didn’t even matter. “I told her not to,” he repeated through his teeth, “why didn’t she just LISTEN to me??”

“Because she cares about you,” Leia said matter-of-factly. “Like you care about her.”

“If she really cared about me, she’d have let me die.” Ben punched the tree again – a childish act, maybe, but he needed to punch something. “Does she think I gave her all my energy because I wanted to live?”

“Son, don’t talk like that,” Han began.

Ben whirled around to face his parents, hot, angry tears building in his eyes. “Don’t talk like that?? DON’T TALK LIKE THAT??” His breath came out in quick, enraged pants. “In that world, Ben Solo doesn’t exist, he can’t exist! In that world, I’m a monster, I’m a murderer!”

“Ben . . .” Leia began.

“No!” Ben interrupted. “Neither of you can possibly understand what it would be like back there! You think I can just tell everyone that I saved Rey and then it will be all forgive and forget?? You think I can just forgive and forget myself?? You think everything I’ve done won’t still haunt me every night??”

Both his parents just stared at him as if struck silent. Of course they were. Deep down, it was impossible for them to understand no matter how hard they tried.

Then he noticed something beyond them. A grassy cliff, below which was a body of water shimmering in the moonlight. Maybe a lake, maybe an ocean, did it matter? If this was inside his head, it could be whatever body of water he wanted – it could be Kamino if he wanted.

With hardly any thought, Ben stripped down to his underwear, tossing his clothes on the ground and ignoring his parents asking what he was doing. He further ignored them calling his name as he shot off running towards the cliff as fast as he could, the grass chilling his bare feet.

Once he reached the cliff, he jumped.

There was only a second of plunging through the air before the water swallowed him up, its skin pricking his body like knives. He sank, sank, sank, the moon becoming nothing more than a tiny wavy disc as the water filled his burning lungs. Something inside him was screaming swim, swim, get out of the water, but he forced himself to ignore it, even as the water started to feel like weights slowly crushing his chest.

Any moment now . . . go out . . . go out . . . go out!

Then he noticed that the moon was getting bigger.

No! He tried to swim back to the bottom only to find that he couldn’t move. He was helpless as his body curved upwards, floating towards the surface . . .

His mouth sucked in a reflexive gasp as his body broke through the surface. The next thing he knew, the waves pushed him onto the sand, leaving him on his hands and knees, choking out water, his head throbbing and his body shivering.

“Ben,” Leia said, “do you think Rey wants you to throw your life away after she saved you?”

He felt her wrap a towel around him and help him to his feet. The questions of where she got the towel from and how she got to the bottom of the cliff so quickly only vaguely passed through his head, but then he figured that since she was dead and this was apparently his subconscious, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get a towel. Maybe she could just pull it out of thin air.

At first, the coughing and choking prevented him from speaking, but even when he gained enough breath to speak, he couldn’t think of anything to say besides Why can’t I die?

“Kid,” said Han, patting his son’s back, “killin’ yourself ain’t gonna fix things. Here or there, you’re still gonna have to face yourself.”

“I can’t wake up,” Ben gasped. “I won’t wake up.”
. . .

Rey hadn’t wanted to attend the celebration, but Finn and Poe insisted that the one who defeated Palpatine should be there. So she attended, she talked to people, she ate from the gigantic feast, she listened to the music, but she felt like she was sleepwalking through the whole thing. Part of her kept reaching back to the medical ward only to sense that there was no change in Ben’s condition.

It was hours before she could get away from the festivities and return to the medical ward, where Ben lay the same as before. His heart monitor gave that steady beep, beep, beep that at least let her know that he was alive and the tube stuck in his arm would at least make sure he was fed, but for how long?

“I want him to wake up too.”

Rey looked up and there was Lando, staring down at Ben like he was his own child, his eyes glistening in the light.

“I’m serious,” he said, even though Rey hadn’t disputed his claim. “Kid used to call me Uncle Lando. I used to take him out to places like the zoo or the holocinema, we’d have a ball. When I heard that he’d gone dark side, I just . . . well, I couldn’t believe it.” He looked up at Rey. “He played with my daughter, too – back before the First Order took her.”

“Your daughter?”

“Yeah. My little Ava. First Order took her when she was only two and I never saw her again.” He swallowed. “Guess that was the start of the First Order tearing our little family apart. They tore apart a lot of families, I guess.”

Rey took a deep breath, feeling the sorrow that he usually tried to cover up radiating off of him. “Maybe some of those families can be reunited.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Finn, Jannah and her tribe, the stormtroopers who were taken prisoner, other stormtroopers spread around the galaxy, maybe their families are still looking for them. What if we started a program of some kind to reunite them with their families?” She forced herself to give a small smile. “Maybe we’d even find your Ava.”

Lando actually smiled back. “I gave up hope a long time ago, but if there’s a chance, I’d be all for it.” He looked back down at Ben. “And maybe he’d even help us . . . maybe.”

Chapter Text

The memorial service was held two nights later in a large, grassy field not far from the Resistance base. Hundreds of lit candles were scattered throughout the field and next to each one sat a holo of someone who had fallen in the war. Rey found herself gulping at the sight – it looked like a night sky densely populated with little yellow stars. In fact, the actual body count was much higher than the number of candles – they had decided that, as a matter of practicality, the Hosnian system should only get one candle.

The holos and candles for Han, Leia, and Luke sat at her feet, already decked with flowers left by various Rebels, the faces in the holos glowing in the dancing yellow light. Rey knelt down, staring at the faces in reverence. It looked like the trio had been laid to rest together, though of course that wasn't the case. Luke and Leia's bodies had faded away and Han's body had been destroyed with Starkiller Base. Maybe in a way they were still laid to rest together in the sense that none of their bodies had been laid to rest at all.

And in one way or another, all three of them had sacrificed their lives for Ben.

Then there was that twitch in her senses.

Why now? Rey gritted her teeth, slowly looking to the side, and there was Ben lying still-comatose on the grass, still hooked up to machines she couldn't see. The bruises on his face had turned a sickly shade of purple by now – did that mean they were healing or getting worse? She let out a long sigh. Was she supposed to talk to him now?

"Hey, Ben," she said awkwardly. "You probably can't hear me, so I don't know why we linked up now. Then again, has there ever been any rhyme or reason to when we linked?" She turned back to look at the memorials – there was something unsettling about him lying on the grass. "Well, we're having a memorial service for those who died in the war right now." Why was she describing it when he probably couldn't even hear her? "In fact, we're right next to the holos of your parents and your uncle."

Then it shot into her head. The fiery lightsaber activating, piercing Han's chest, his lifeless body falling into the dark shaft . . .

Her breath shortened as she glanced from Ben to the holos and back again. All three had given their lives for Ben, all three were dead because of Ben.

The lump in her throat grew harder as she rose to her feet and strode among the candles, reading name after name above the holos. Leia Organa. Han Solo. Luke Skywalker. Admiral Ackbar. Vice-Admiral Holdo. Nien Nunb. Snap Wexley. Paige Tico. On and on the holos went, each showing the face of someone whose life had been cut short.

So much death . . .

Once she returned to the holos of Leia, Han, and Luke, she sank back to the ground and found that Ben hadn't vanished yet. "The least you could do to honor their sacrifices is wake up," she found herself muttering under her breath. The holo of Han seemed to be grinning directly at his son, which for some reason made her chest tighten even harder. "You said you didn't hate you father, but you would never give me a direct answer when I asked why you killed him. If you won't wake up for yourself, then at least wake up for him!"

Then her mind's eye saw another holo sitting by a candle – one that by all logic, should be here.

Her own face.

A sharp chill rushed through her body. She had been a casualty of the war – the only reason her holo wasn't here was because of Ben. She looked again at his still body and something compelled her to pluck a small yellow flower from one of the bouquets left by the trio's holos. "Here, Ben," she whispered, gently placing the flower in his hand. Whoever had placed the bouquet probably wouldn't want one of the flowers to be used this way, but the flowers belonged to Ben's family now, and they would undoubtedly approve of giving him one.

. . .

"Hey, Paige," said Rose, arranging the flowers she had brought to her sister's candle and holo. "Well, guess what, we did it. I wish you were here to see it happen, but you helped to bring freedom back to the galaxy." She gulped down a sob as she ran her finger over the crescent pendant she still wore. "I miss you. I know it's been over a year, but I still miss you."

"Is that your sister?"

Rose turned around and there was Jannah, the candlelight giving her skin and hair a certain glow. "Yes," she stammered. Why was Jannah talking to her? It wasn't like they knew each other real well.

"I heard she died taking down a First Order Dreadnaught," Jannah continued. "You must be proud of her."

"I am," said Rose, "but . . . well . . . I'd rather have her alive."

Janna twisted her mouth in embarrassment. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be insensitive. I don't know what it's like to have a sister or a brother – or parents, for that matter."

"No, you weren't insensitive," said Rose, turning back to the holo of her sister. "She'd probably be thrilled to meet you if she were here. I mean, when she heard about how Finn had left the First Order, she told me that was a real hero. She'd probably say the same about you."

Jannah shrugged. "I don't feel much like a hero when I see all these candles. Maybe if my tribe and I had joined the Resistance earlier, a few of these candles wouldn't be here. I mean, what did we do after we mutinied? We hid. That's not very heroic."

Rose gulped. "Finn tried to hide too. In fact, when I first met him face-to-face, he was about to fly off in an escape pod to protect Rey. I felt like my hero had betrayed me when I saw him do that, but then later on I saw him take down Captain Phasma and try to sacrifice himself for the Resistance . . . I guess what I'm saying is . . . heroes have flaws too."

"You sound like you have a crush on him."

Rose shrugged. "There was a time when I thought I did, but it didn't last long. Just one of those wide-eyed girl crushes that doesn't go anywhere."

The two gazed down at Paige's holo for several moments before Jannah broke the silence again. "Speaking of Finn, he told me that Rey had this idea to start a program to help the surviving stormtroopers find their families."

Rose felt a smile creep into her face despite the situation. "That's wonderful! Maybe you'll find out who your parents are."

"Maybe . . ." Jannah sounded less enthusiastic than Rose would have thought she'd be.

"Isn't that what you want?" Rose cocked her head in confusion.

"I don't know, honestly. My whole life I thought I'd never know my family and I kind of, you know, accepted that. Stormtroopers – they're not supposed to have families. My tribe is the closest thing I've ever had to a family and even that's not the same thing as having parents." She gazed back down at Paige's holo. "Maybe I even have brothers or sisters that I've never met, but would we even like each other if we met?"

Rose wasn't sure how to answer.

"I don't even know my real name," Jannah continued, seemingly talking to herself as much as she was talking to Rose. "I chose the name Jannah for myself after we mutinied and I've been Jannah for years. If I learn my real name, will it even feel like me?"

Rose wondered how the former stormtrooper would react if she touched her shoulder. Then she wondered why she thought about touching Jannah's shoulder in the first place. Maybe because she seemed so vulnerable right now, and even though Rose didn't know her very well, she could guess that Jannah didn't show her vulnerable side often.

"I think your parents will understand if you still want to be Jannah," she said with a slight awkwardness in her voice.

"What makes you so sure?"

"I'm not sure," said Rose, "but since they spent so many years not knowing where you were or what the First Order was making you do, a little thing like what your name is won't be a big issue." She smiled at Jannah. "They'll just be so relieved to find you again."

Chapter Text

Do no harm.

Doctor Kalonia repeated the oath she’d taken long ago to herself as she went to check Kylo Ren’s vitals. Do no harm. No matter who the patient was, no matter how many atrocities he committed, even if he committed patricide, she was still sworn by her oath to do no harm.

She took a deep breath, remembering how she had cared for Leia when she was pregnant with Kylo, how they would laugh together and talk about how amazing the baby was going to be. She had given the sonogram that revealed his gender – as soon as she told his parents, Han had said “I guess namin’ him Han Solo Junior is out of the question?” and everyone got a laugh out of it.

Do no harm.

Even though her patient would obviously never take such an oath.

She could easily just pull the feeding tube out of his arm and that would be that – no one would ever know she was the one who did it. He might not even feel it. Or even better, she could give him a lethal injection. Would anyone really care enough to perform an autopsy on one of the most merciless beings in the galaxy? It might even be a more merciful death than whatever the Resistance would decide for him if he ever woke up.

Do no harm.

She was there when Leia gave birth – though she didn’t participate in the actual delivery, Leia had specifically wanted her around to give her care and emotional support. She remembered gushing over the adorable chubby little baby with the downy black hair. Black hair that was now bunched up in sweaty clumps on the pillow.

Do no harm.

Leia had given her life for him. She owed it to Leia to keep him alive no matter how many innocent lives he had ended.

Do no harm.

She was a doctor. Her duty was to preserve life, not end it. She wasn’t a killer like Kylo Ren.

Do no harm.

As she changed the patient’s feeding bag, she noticed a tiny yellow flower cupped in his still fingers. Who the hell could have put that there and why hadn’t she noticed it before? It was like it had just appeared.

Well, she might as well put it some water when she was finished. It could sit on the table next to Kylo’s bed and bring a bit of cheer to the area.

Do no harm.

. . .

Ben was throwing rocks into the lake as the sun started rising over the water, making sparkles dance on the surface. How long were the days and nights here, anyway? If this was all inside his mind, maybe he could make the sun rise and set whenever he wanted.

His parents were still watching him from further up the beach, not speaking. In fact, they hadn’t spoken since they’d fetched him his clothes. What more was there to say? They’d try to convince him to wake up and he’d refuse to do so. Now they just stared at him like the ghosts they were. Ghosts, but they looked alive and felt solid when they touched him. Whatever, anything could happen in his subconscious, right?

Except that he apparently couldn’t kill himself here.

“Don’t you two have something to do?” he muttered.

“Yeah,” said Han, “help you.”

“Help me what?” Ben shouted as he threw another stone as far as he could, making a satisfying splash. “Help me go back to a world that despises me? Help me relive everything I’ve done every time someone so much as looks at me? Help me be a tainted soul for the rest of my life?” He grabbed the biggest stone he could reach and thrust it into the lake. “If you really want to help me, you’ll leave me alone.”

“Ben, no one is leaving you alone!” Leia said in that authoritative voice of hers.

Ben whirled around to face his parents. “Well if I wake up, that’s what I’ll be. Alone. At least here there’s something that resembles peace.”

“What about Rey?” asked Han.

“What about her? She’ll move on and live her life. She’s better off without me anyway.”

“She didn’t save you so you could remain in a coma, kid.”

“Well I didn’t ask her to save me, did I?” Finally Ben stormed up to his parents, fury building up in him like it always did. “I didn’t ask for any of this! I never asked for nightmares I couldn’t escape or voices in my head or for a Sith Lord to choose me as his apprentice or to be linked up with someone else in a Force bond neither of us wanted!”

Leia and Han just stared at him again, as if even in death they couldn’t comprehend what he had gone through.

Ben felt his eyes welling up. “If I could return you to your lives, I’d do it. I’d even give you another child who was normal.”

“Ben, don’t talk like that,” said Leia.

“Why not?” shouted Ben. “If you’d had a normal child, the galaxy wouldn’t have fallen like it did.”

“You don’t know that, son,” said Han, putting his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Palpy probably would’ve just picked someone else for his apprentice.”

“Maybe,” said Ben, “but at least your lives wouldn’t have been ruined!”

With that, he broke down crying, collapsing against his father’s chest, that broad chest he’d rested on after many a nightmare. Again his parents wrapped their arms around him as if trying to protect him from his demons.

“We love you, Ben,” Leia murmured. “That theoretical other child wouldn’t have been you.”

. . .

“No . . . NO!”

Finn’s eyes shot open in the dark, his half-asleep mind unsure if he’d heard the screams or dreamed them. He took a deep breath, listening for any further screaming, but only hearing Poe snoring from the other end of their shared bunker. His rational side told him that he had just been dreaming and that he should go back to sleep.

But the screams had felt so real . . .

“Poe!” he hissed in a sharp whisper. “Poe, wake up!”

Poe groaned sleepily. “Mmm . . . whatsup Finn?”

“Did you hear Rey screaming?”

“Rey . . . no . . . didn’t hear anything . . . did you?”

Finn gulped. “I thought I did.”

“Probably a dream . . .”

“Maybe, but I’m still going to check on her. Do you know where she sleeps?”

“Mph . . . the Falcon, maybe . . . yeah, think she’s been sleeping there since Exegol . . .” With that, Poe’s words dissolved back into snores, but that was all the information Finn needed. He slid out of bed and tiptoed out of the room, not caring that he was in pajamas. A little embarrassment didn’t matter if Rey needed help.

. . .

Outside, Finn shivered in the nighttime air, wishing he knew how to get rid of the feeling that something was wrong. Maybe he was just on edge because Kylo Ren was here and could wake up any moment and then . . . who knew what would happen? Even if he saved Rey, that wasn’t proof that he’d renounced the dark side for good.

He felt like an intruder when he reached the Falcon and pushed the button to lower the ramp. For that matter, why wasn’t it locked? If Han were alive, he probably would have kept the Falcon locked up at night. He made his way up the ramp and into the darkened ship. Was Rey here? He didn’t have anything to go on except Poe’s word.

Poe’s word and a feeling.

“No . . . no . . . NO!”

And now it was no longer a feeling or a dream – that was definitely real. Finn went running down the hall, finding that the screams were coming from the captain’s quarters. Thank the Force that the door wasn’t locked. He turned on the light and found her trembling in the bed, the covers twisted around her body, her face glistening with sweat.

“Rey!” he shouted, rushing up to the bed, and gently shaking her shoulder. “Rey, wake up! Wake up!”

It took her several moments to open her eyes and once she did, she could only look up at him as her breath came out in rapid pants. “Finn?” she finally gasped out.

“Rey, are you all right?”

Rey swallowed, pushing herself to a sitting position, never looking away from him and revealing that she was wearing only a well-worn t-shirt. “Just a dream, that’s all.”

“Do you want to tell me about it?”

Rey swallowed again, leaning into his chest as if he was the source of gravity. “I was back on the interrogation table . . . he was invading my mind again . . .” A sob escaped her lips as Finn wrapped his arms around her, squeezing her close to him. “H-he forced me to relive my parents leaving over and over again . . .”

Finn found himself planting a kiss on her head. “It’s all right, it was just a dream . . .”

“But it wasn’t!” Rey sobbed. “It really happened!”

What could Finn say? He couldn’t tell her that it didn’t happen, nor could he reassure her that Kylo Ren had changed his ways since he wasn’t sure about that himself.

“Why am I still dreaming about it?” she whispered.

“Because he hurt you in a horrible way,” said Finn. “And I mean it – a horrible way. Poe sometimes gets nightmares about his interrogation too.”

He expected her to bring up that Kylo was supposedly light side now, but no, she just kept crying into his chest. Maybe even she was having doubts about Kylo, but would it be right for Finn to encourage those doubts? Why didn’t he have an answer?

“Do you want me to stay?” he finally asked.

Rey pulled out of the embrace, wiping her eyes as she managed a small nod.

“All right.”

After turning off the light, they untangled the covers and Finn climbed into bed next to Rey, trying to ignore the slightly awkward feeling building up in him. After all, he and Rey were in bed together – if people found out about this there might be rumors starting. For that matter, Poe was probably going to notice that Finn didn’t return to their bunker and start asking questions.

“Thanks,” Rey murmured.

“No problem.” Finn smiled at her even though she wouldn’t see it in the dark. “And if you dream about it again, remember it’s in the past.”

“Yes . . .” said Rey, though there was some hesitation in her voice, “. . . it’s in the past.”

Chapter Text

The morning lights in the Falcon’s captain’s quarters turned on automatically, but Rey kept her eyes closed and ignored them, wanting to just lie here for a little while longer and listen to Finn’s gentle sleep breathing. She squeezed his hand, which was resting on her stomach. How comfortable she felt with him.

She lay there for an unknown amount of time, lingering between sleep and wakefulness . . .

“I can take whatever I want . . .”

Her eyes shot open. No . . . no . . . she shouldn’t think about that . . . it was in the past, like Finn said . . .

In the past . . .

“Hey Finn, Rey, you guys in there?”

Poe knocking on the door and calling to them caused Finn to stir. “Mmm, not now, Poe,” he mumbled, shifting his weight a little towards Rey.

“It’s past noon,” said Poe, with BB-8 beeping in agreement. “Also, I’ve got your clothes. Unless you want to wander around the base in pajamas, you should probably let me in.”

Rey gulped, quickly pulling the blankets over her torso and making sure she was properly covered. “All right, you can come in.”

“Nothing happened!” Finn exclaimed as soon as the door slid open and Poe entered the room with BB-8 rolling at his feet. “She just wanted me to stay with her because she had a nightmare.”

Poe’s mouth twisted, looking like he was trying to suppress a grin. “Is that what you were trying to tell her when we were all sinking?”

“You’re still going on about that?”

“Well, you’ve been really secretive about it,” said Poe, tossing Finn’s clothes on the bed as BB-8 rolled back and forth, beeping that he wanted to know the secret too. “Anyway, you’re both wanted at a meeting.”

“Meeting?” asked Rey.

“We have meetings now?” asked Finn.

“Yeah,” said Poe. “We’re generals, remember? The war’s over, but we’ve still got jobs to do.”

. . .

There was no time for breakfast, but fortunately the meeting room had a food table. Rey filled up a plate with fruit slices, cheese cubes, and pastries and poured herself a cup of caf. As she carried her food to the main meeting table and sat next to Finn, the other Resistance leaders were already in heated conversation among themselves, though Poe clearing his throat silenced them for the moment.

“All right,” he said, “now that we’re all here, let’s begin. I gotta tell you, this is my first time chairing a meeting, so if I do anything wrong, go ahead and let me know.” He cleared his throat again. “First order of business: rebuilding the Republic. Chancellor Pooja Naberrie has contacted us and she has suggested making Coruscant the capital of the Republic again. She has offered to meet with us on Coruscant to discuss how to go about rebuilding the Republic.”

Rey was about to speak up in favor of the idea when her senses twitched again. No, no, not here . . . not here!

But there he was on the floor next to her, still comatose, everything unchanged. She gritted her teeth, trying in vain to ignore him, but his presence spoke to her as strongly as if he were breathing down her neck. The conversation around her became incoherent babbles.

In her mind she felt the peace and euphoria of the kiss . . . but she also felt the terror and pain from when he looked into her mind, opening it as easily as a door and yanking out whatever he wanted . . .

“Rey?”

She blinked at Poe as if waking from a dream. “Wh-what?”

Poe cocked his head at her. “We were discussing your idea for a program to reunite stormtroopers with their families. Don’t you want to say anything about it?”

Rey gulped, her heart racing as she glanced down at Ben. “Yes . . . I propose that we send word out inviting both stormtroopers and parents whose children were taken by the First Order to send DNA samples. Our medical droids can then look for matches.”

“I second the idea,” said Finn.

“I can take whatever I want . . .”

“I’m sorry!” Rey exclaimed, leaping to her feet. “I’m not feeling well, I have to leave.” Without waiting for a response, she dashed out of the room, away from Ben, though she still felt his presence yanking at her soul.

It wasn’t a lie, she thought as she kept running down the hall, she really didn’t feel well. In fact, the further down the hall she got, the more she felt like she could vomit. She was thanking the Force that she didn’t actually eat any of the food she’d gathered for the meeting, but still the dry heaves came, burning her throat and forcing her to lean against the wall until they passed.

And still she felt Ben, his presence screaming at her to return to the meeting room as if an actual physical voice was screaming in her ear. Had she ever tried to get this far away from him when they linked? Her head was throbbing, spinning . . . she actually wondered if she would pass out.

Make it stop, her mind shouted. MAKE IT STOP!

She moved again, out of the building, not consciously choosing where to go, but she wasn’t at all surprised when she ended up in the medical ward. With a long exhale, she sat at the foot of Ben’s bed, concentrating on her own breathing until she started to feel semi-normal again.

Her heart was still racing as she looked over at Ben’s face, still splotched with bruises. Some part of her suddenly felt an urge to kiss him again, but why? She wasn’t in love with him, was she? Though she wasn’t sure what romantic love felt like, she was pretty sure it didn’t usually involve nearly vomiting.

Why had she kissed him the first time?

She was swept up in the moment . . . she’d felt compelled to do it . . .

A sudden gasp. Was this part of being a dyad? Actual pain if she tried to escape him when they linked, being compelled to kiss him?

Being brainwashed?

Though she wanted to run as far away from him as possible, she didn’t do so for fear that the nausea might return. Two who are one, he called it. Linked to each other, bonded to each other.

Chained to each other.

Chapter Text

In an effort to get away from his parents trying to convince him to wake up, Ben had decided to explore the forest. Why his mind decided to put a forest here, he had no idea, but why did it make a cliff over a lake? Maybe it was an amalgamation of memories from when he lived at Luke's Jedi Temple or maybe his mind was just desperate for something peaceful.

He heard birds singing up in the trees, but he couldn't actually see any birds. Maybe they were hidden up in the canopy or maybe his mind was just producing bird sounds. He took a deep inhale of the fresh air, as he leaned against a tree, savoring the rough bark against his back. His breath came out in weary pants as if he had just been running and his body slumped to the ground.

What was he doing? Why did Rey have to save him? Why did his parents have to be so forgiving? If they were angry at him, at least things would make a little bit of sense. If they yelled at him and declared him to be no son of theirs, it would be no less than he deserved. It would be right.

In his mind he saw his father's eyes widened in pain, shock, devastation, struggling to cling to life for a few more precious seconds.

Yet even then, when he knew he would be dead in mere moments, he'd used his last bit of strength to reach out to his son . . .

"Hey buddy, how're you doin'?"

Ben looked up and there was Han standing over him. Of course, why would he expect his parents to leave him alone? "Where's Mom?" he asked.

Han shrugged. "She thought you and I should talk one-on-one."

"We already did," said Ben, hugging his knees.

"Not for long." Han sat on the ground next to Ben despite not having been invited.

"I never thanked you for appearing to me," Ben said with a hard swallow, unable to look his father in the eye. "For . . . bringing me back."

Yet again Han was touching his son's cheek. "You brought yourself back, kid. Me and your mom just showed you the way."

Ben couldn't stop tears from flowing onto his father's strong fingers. "Then why didn't I bring myself back the first time?" The first time, when he'd been convinced that Ben Solo was weak and foolish and had to be completely eliminated, even if it took patricide to do so. In fact, he was right – he had been weak. Too weak to fight the darkness.

Han let out a long sigh and Ben didn't need telepathy to know that he didn't have the answer either. "But you did come back."

"I came back too late! Too late to save Mom, too late to stop myself from killing you!" He looked at his father, his sight blurred with tears. "We shouldn't be together in my subconscious – we should be together in the living world!"

"Well you can still go back to the living world."

Ben sniffled. "I can't . . ."

"You can," Han insisted.

"What am I there?" Ben exclaimed. "The soulless monster who terrorized the galaxy, murdered his own father – murdered Han Solo the great hero!"

"Ben . . ."

"Could you go back to the living world if you'd done everything I did?" Ben shouted through a sob.

Han was silent, his eyes lowering.

"I thought not," said Ben.

"I didn't say that."

"You didn't say you could go back."

Han let out another sigh. "I'm sorry, Ben. I should've fought harder to keep you home. I should've tried harder to understand the Force. I should've tried to reach you after . . . after . . ."

Ben swallowed hard, feeling like a rock was stuck in his throat. "I should have tried to reach you after that night."

"Luke was wrong," Han quickly said. "He pried into your mind and then freaked out and then . . . well, look where everything ended up."

"You say that like I never would have fallen if he hadn't done that."

Han stared into his son's eyes. "I don't know if you would've or not, but what he did still triggered it."

The memory came: the memory of waking up to the low hum, the green light, the heat, all saying that the voice was right; his uncle was afraid of him and wanted to destroy him. To Luke, he wasn't a student or a nephew – he was a savage animal that needed to be put down before he hurt anyone.

And that turned out to be the truth.

He didn't realize he was shivering until Han wrapped his arms around him and pulled him into a tight Dad hug: the kind of Dad hug he once gave when Ben had nightmares. "It's okay, son," he murmured, "it's okay."

"Why do you keep saying that when it's not okay?" Ben sobbed, resting his head on his father's broad chest.

"It can be okay." He said it with as much confidence as if he were talking about the sun rising. "You can make it okay."

"So you think I'll just say I'm sorry and then everything will be all right? Everyone will just accept me and trust me and Rey and I will live happily ever after?"

"I know it won't be that easy, son. You did awful things – I won't deny that. Probably a lotta people will never forgive you, but you've got a chance to make things better. Not perfect, but better."

Ben couldn't respond. Better, what did better even mean and what could he do to achieve it back there? He thought he was making the galaxy better when he was Kylo Ren, for that matter.

Then something occurred to him.

"Luke . . . he told you about that night?" he asked, looking up at his father.

"Yup," said Han, sounding like he'd rather talk about anything else.

"What did you do?"

"What do you think I did? I yelled at him like hell."

"And . . . what did he do?"

Han shrugged. "He pretty much let me yell at him and told me he deserved all of it. You know, you two have more in common than you think."

"Do you think he might want to talk to me?"

Han shrugged again. "I dunno. Honestly, I don't think he knows how to face you."

"Well I don't know how to face everyone."

Han shrugged for a third time. "Like I said, you two have more in common than you think."

Chapter Text

“Rey?”

Rey looked up and there was Finn, holding up the plate of food she’d left behind at the meeting. “Hey, you haven’t eaten anything today,” he said.

Rey’s stomach growled at the sight, motivating her to grab the plate and stuff a handful of cheese cubes in her mouth.

“Unfortunately, your caf got cold,” said Finn, “but I got you some water.” He handed her a glass of water, which she immediately grabbed, taking a long gulp and savoring the cold, refreshing liquid.

Finn half-grinned at her as she stuffed a pastry in her mouth, savoring the flakey sweetness. “Did anyone ever tell you that you’ve got a huge appetite?”

Rey had to swallow before she could answer. “I guess it comes from being hungry for so long.”

Finn took in a long inhale, glancing over at Ben before speaking. “I guess he had something to do with you running out?”

There was a long silence, broken only by Rey chewing her food. How could she even begin to explain what happened? She could sense that Finn was already scared of the very concept of a dyad – how long would it be before he simply ran away from her?

“Rey,” he finally said, gently putting his soft hand on her cheek, “you can tell me.”

Rey’s throat suddenly felt dry even though she’d just had a drink of water. “He . . . appeared to me during the meeting, and then when I tried to get away from him I felt sick. Physically sick. It was like . . . I had to be near him.” Her chest tightened as she gazed over at Ben’s still body. Though his heart monitor’s steady beeping let her know he was alive, his pale body still resembled a corpse.

She felt Finn’s soft hand on her cheek and let him coax her into looking back at him. “Do you want me to be honest, Rey?”

“Yes.”

“All right, this whole dyad thing is terrifying and if I were you I’d try to find some way to break it.”

“I don’t think it can be broken.”

“Are you sure?” His eyes were bulging. “I mean, come on, how does anyone live a normal life when someone else is always appearing to them? And if you feel sick when you try to get away from him – Rey, that’s not something you should just shrug off.”

“But . . . what if it’s meant to be this way?”

The words came out automatically, as if her psyche thought that of course it was meant to be this way.

“How can you say that?” Finn exclaimed.

Rey gulped down more water before speaking. “Maybe it was the only way for him to come back.”

“And you’re sure he is back?”

“Yes.”

Finn’s mouth rumpled. “All right, even if we say for the sake of argument that he is back, why would linking you two together for the rest of your lives be the only way to bring him back?”

Again she glanced at Ben, feeling her heart ache. “On Exegol, Palpatine drained us both of our energy, using the power of our bond to restore himself.”

“What?”

“Yes. He called it a power not seen for generations. This thing, whatever it is, it’s special.”

Finn looked at her like he was wondering if he should call the medical droids to get her some meds. “If he could use this thing to make himself stronger, then isn’t that even more reason to try to undo it? Who’s to say some other dark side user couldn’t do the same thing?”

It made sense, more sense than some part of Rey’s mind wanted to admit. In fact, that particular part of Rey’s mind was screaming that no, it shouldn’t be undone, it was taboo to even consider that.

Was the dyad controlling that part of her mind?

“It’s not that simple,” she finally said, glancing over at Ben once more. “I feel . . . responsible for him.”

. . .

“So how did it go?” Leia asked when Han and Ben emerged from the forest, Han’s arm around his son’s shoulders.

“Good,” said Han. “Had some dad-and-son discussion, I think we made some progress.”

“Progress?” Ben exclaimed. “You make it sound like we had a therapy session.”

Han patted Ben’s shoulder. “Well, when you wake up, you should probably consider goin’ into therapy.”

“Not helping,” said Ben, walking away from his father’s grasp. Night was falling again, though he still couldn’t tell how long the days and nights were in his mind or how much time was passing in the real world. It could have been years for all he knew.

“Ben?” he heard Leia ask behind him, making his stomach tighten up.

“Why did you do it?” He couldn’t look back at his mother while asking the question that had been lingering on his mind ever since Endor.

“Do what?”

“You know what!” Still he couldn’t look at her. Again his eyes were welling up, blurring and expanding the few stars in the purple sky.

He felt her hand on his shoulder, squeezing with those strong fingers. “I had to help you.”

“No, you didn’t! You could have forgotten about me and lived!”

“I could never forget about you!”

“And yet you sent your squadron to destroy Starkiller Base and gambled my life on Dad being able to find me and bring me back to you. Oh, and you gambled his life on it too – and lost!”

The words came out in a torrent and once they were out, he wanted to take them back, go back in time just a few seconds to stop himself from saying them, but they were out, doing their damage even as he turned around, seeing his mother look like she had been punched in the gut.

Idiot, his mind shouted. Idiot, idiot, idiot!

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled.

“Don’t be,” said Leia, sounding like she was swallowing a sob. “Everything you just said is true. That’s how our family fell apart in the first place – I was always so focused on the bigger picture that I hurt the ones closest to me.” She ran her hand over her eyes. “You needed a mother, not a senator, not a general, a mother.”

With that, Ben threw his arms around his mother, tears once again streaming down his face. Would he ever be able to look at either of his parents without crying? “Mom, don’t regret the lives you saved.”

Leia just hugged him back, as if she had no reply to that statement. What reply could there be? He couldn’t expect his mother to regret saving lives – he shouldn’t expect her to regret saving lives. How many parents and children were able to live long, happy lives because of her?

And how many parents’ and children’s lives had ended because of him?

“Mom?” he whispered as they pulled out of the embrace.

“Yes?”

“Could you help me with something?”

“I’m not helping you kill yourself, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“No.” Ben took a deep breath, feeling like he was about to jump out of an airship, but something was telling him that he had to do this. “It’s something else.”

“What is it?”

Ben’s mouth was dry, but he forced himself to speak.

“I want to talk to Luke.”

Chapter Text

“You sure you wanna do this?”

“No,” said Ben, staring out at the lake, imagining himself just floating away on the waves to wherever, “but I feel like I have to.”

Han sighed. “Look, I don’t want you jumpin’ off any more cliffs after talkin’ to him.”

“Why would it make a difference if I did? I can’t die here anyway.”

“Yeah, well I don’t want you jumpin’ off any cliffs after you wake up either.”

“You say that like I will wake up.”

Again he felt his father’s strong arm around his shoulders. “You will.”

Ben turned to face his father, remembering how old he had seemed on the bridge. Even in death, his mess of gray hair and wrinkled face and baggy eyes gave off a certain weariness. Couldn’t he just choose to appear younger? Or was the stress and heartbreak of losing his son still affecting him even in death?

“Will he even agree to talk to me?” Ben found himself asking.

Han shrugged, a distant look in his eyes. “I dunno, honestly. He doesn’t talk much to anyone these days, but I think it helped him when he was able to guide Rey.”

“Wait, what?”

Han cocked his head. “He appeared to Rey on Ahch-To when she flew over there after healin’ you. She was gonna go all hermit like he did, but he talked her outta it. Even gave her Leia’s old lightsaber.”

Leia’s old lightsaber. Those words jumped out at him, squeezing at his chest even more than the revelation that Luke had appeared to Rey or that Rey was going to abandon the galaxy like Luke did. Though he had wondered where Rey had gotten the second lightsaber she’d passed to him, in the heat of battle he didn’t question it at the time.

“Mom had a lightsaber??” he exclaimed.

“Yeah,” said Han, “she was trainin’ to be a Jedi, but then she decided to stop her trainin’ when you were little.”

“Why?”

Yet again Han put his hand on his son’s cheek – Ben was beginning to wonder if he was doing it on purpose. “To protect you. She’d seen you dying if she completed her training, so she gave up her saber without a second thought.”

Ben gulped, unsure how to digest the information. In his mind he could see his mother as a fierce, fully-trained Jedi, battling with the lightsaber as if she and the blade were one, protecting the galaxy.

She’d given that up for him?

“Ben, there’s someone here to see you.”

And speaking of his mother, there was her voice, making his breath increase its tempo until it devolved into pants. “I can’t do it,” he stuttered, staring at his father. “I can’t face him.”

Han wrapped his arms around his son. “You can. You’re stronger than you think, buddy.”

Still Ben wanted to vomit. Could he vomit here? He squeezed his eyes shut, absorbing his father’s hug, trying to imagine himself as the child who thought Dad could make everything better with his hugs.

“Ben?”

He froze. That voice, the voice he’d last heard on Crait, the voice that taunted him to lose what little sanity he had left. For a moment he thought about jumping back in the lake, but his father’s grip on him prevented him from doing so. With a swallow and with his father’s gentle urging, he turned around to face the source of the voice.

His uncle, who appeared so fit and confident when he’d Force-projected himself, now with thick graying hair, a longer beard, more weight, and an overall weariness similar to the weariness Ben observed in Han.

His true appearance.

They stared at each other as if each was waiting for the other to make the first move. Luke didn’t seem to be blinking – but then again, he probably didn’t need to blink anymore in death. Then again, Ben’s parents seemed to be blinking normally.

“Ben,” Luke finally said, “I don’t expect you to ever forgive me . . . but I’m so, so sorry.”

Ben felt as if a vice was squeezing his chest. “Sorry?” He hadn’t meant to spit out the word like it was a disgusting bit of food, but that was how it came out anyway. “Do you think saying sorry can magically make everything better?”

“No.”

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to have voices in your head for as long as you can remember??” Ben found that he couldn’t stop. “To be afraid to sleep every single night?? To be convinced that your own parents were terrified of you?? To have no one who could understand what you were going through except the voices in your head?? To genuinely wish you were dead on a regular basis?? I tried to fight it – dammit I tried – but when I saw you standing over my bed with your lightsaber activated I realized that I couldn’t rely on anything!”

Luke shuffled his feet in the grass as if trying to stamp the life out if it. “I know saying sorry doesn’t change anything, but Ben . . . I wouldn’t have actually killed you.”

“And you expect me to believe that?”

“It was one moment.” The last two words came out in a single breath. “but once I came to my senses, it was too late. And I paid for that one moment for the rest of my life.”

One moment, yet the revelation didn’t calm Ben down – instead his heart only raced faster. “You’re wrong, it wasn’t one moment. It didn’t take just one moment to sneak into my room! It didn’t take just one moment to poke inside my mind! It didn’t take just one moment to decide that you couldn’t confront me openly because I might turn on you!”

He doubled over, running out of breath and panting in desperation for air. Even his father patting his back couldn’t steady his breathing.

“Look, kid,” Han snapped – for a moment Ben thought his father was talking to him but then he realized he was talking to Luke – “Leia didn’t bring you here to make excuses and try to talk your way outta responsibility for what you did!”

“I’m just trying to help,” Luke mumbled.

“And were you tryin’ to help that night too?” Han shouted. “Look at him – don’t you think he’s goin’ through enough as it is without you goin’ all ‘Oh, I made one mistake but I’m sorry now!’”

“I saw him killing you!” Luke shouted back.

“And you did a great job stoppin’ that!” Now Han was fuming like a mother reek protecting her young. “Maybe if you’d trusted him enough to actually TALK to him instead of sneakin’ around like a creepy stalker, we’d all be laughing together in the living world right now!”

“All right, ENOUGH!”

Leia’s authoritative voice was enough to silence both men at least for the moment. Once she had everyone’s attention, she wrapped her arms around Ben, letting him rest his head on hers. “Luke did something horrible, we can all agree there. Would things have been better if he hadn’t done it? Probably, but we can’t say anything for sure. Right now, we all need to focus on the future.”

Now Luke’s eyes were lowered as he let out a long sigh. “Ben . . . you’re right. It wasn’t just one moment of me losing control – it was also me being afraid of you. I knew how strong you are with the Force and I was so caught up in my fear of what you could do that I didn’t even consider whether or not you would do any of it. Han’s right – I didn’t trust you enough to just talk to you and the galaxy paid for it.” He swallowed, looking up at Ben with tear-filled eyes.

How could Ben respond? Still he remembered the heat of Luke’s blade instantly drawing sweat from his face, reality crashing down on him and confirming his worst fear that the voices were right.

“You said you didn’t expect me to forgive you,” Ben said in a steady voice, stepping out of his mother’s embrace. “I want to forgive you, I do. I know it’s the right thing to do. I know you’d say that Jedi should rise above their anger and resentment . . . but I’m not a Jedi. I shouldn’t have tried to be one in the first place. Maybe someday I will be able to forgive you . . . but not now.”

With that, he walked away into the forest.

Chapter Text

Coruscant.

Rey had heard many stories about the hustling, bustling planet that never slept, where the buildings rose thousands of feet above the ground, where the city covered every last inch of the planet's surface. She'd dreamed of visiting the planet for years, but she hadn't expected that she'd step onto the landing platform next to a floating stretcher that carried her comatose . . . what? Other half? That sounded too sentimental. Former enemy but now friend? Were they friends? Did she even really know Ben Solo? Fellow prisoner in a Force bond? Maybe that.

Chewie and Lando also walked alongside the stretcher. Though Chewie hadn't said much about Ben since Exegol, he still seemed to look at him with a certain tenderness. Maybe that meant the Wookiee had forgiven him?

Ben's bruises were starting to heal, but otherwise he still looked the same. The transparent dome around his head that protected him from the elements and contained the purified oxygen he was being given reflected the planet's sun, creating a harsh glare that made it difficult to look at him for too long.

"Lando! So good to see you!"

Striding up to them was an older woman, maybe around Lando's age, guards flanked on either side of her, her arms spread out. Her curly brown hair was streaked with gray and her face seemed to carry a youthful aura despite its wrinkles. Without waiting for anyone to answer, she threw her arms around Lando and squeezed him in an embrace.

Lando let out a chuckle. "Good to see you too, Pooja!" After giving her a tight squeeze back, he broke out of the hug and turned to face the others. "May I present Pooja Naberrie, Chancellor of the New Republic Senate."

Poe bowed at the woman. "I'm pleased to finally meet you in person, Chancellor. I'd also like to say that I was relieved to find out that you weren't on Hosnian Prime when it was destroyed."

"I was too," said Finn, bowing as well. "With your help, we can rebuild the Republic."

"Thank you, General Dameron and General Finn," said Pooja. "It's an honor to finally meet you two in person as well. My cousin Leia told me so much about you both before she died." But then she looked up, catching eye of Ben's stretcher. "Ben," she said in a near-whisper as she headed for the stretcher, seeming to completely forget about her formal persona.

She stared down at Ben's unmoving body, making Rey wonder what she was supposed to do. Should she introduce herself or stay quiet?

[Nice to see you, Pooja,] growled Chewie.

The chancellor looked up at the Wookiee and smiled. "Hello, Chewie. How are you pulling through?"

Chewie shrugged. [I'm pulling through. It's been rough, but I'm getting by.]

"Good," said Pooja before finally taking notice of Rey. "And you must be Rey. My cousin had a lot to say about you."

Rey found herself gulping. What all had Leia told Pooja? That she was a Palpatine? That she and Ben were joined in the Force? "It's . . . nice to meet you, Chancellor. I guess you know Ben?"

Pooja's smile faded as she again gazed at the comatose man. "Of course I do. I've known him since he was a baby. He and his parents used to visit me and my mother and sister on Naboo at least once every year." She swallowed hard. "He loved playing with Padme – my sister's daughter, she named her after Leia and Luke's mother. Of course, that was before everything . . . changed."

Rey didn't know how to respond.

"I heard what he did on Exegol." Pooja still didn't take her eyes off Ben. "Doesn't excuse anything he did before, but . . . maybe that means there's hope."

"There is," said Rey. Though she had no idea what would happen when Ben woke up or even if he would wake up at all, she could at least say those words with confidence.

. . .

"So high!" Jannah exclaimed, spreading out her arms and spinning in place once she and Rose got onto the landing platform. "And so busy!" The roar of the endlessly passing speeders slightly irritated her ears and her head was spinning a bit from the thin air, but somehow she didn't mind it. She felt alive.

"Look Rose, isn't it beautiful?" she asked, rushing over to the rail and taking in the rush of speeder traffic.

"Yeah," said Rose, walking noticeably slower to join her friend.

"What's wrong?" asked Jannah.

Rose bit her lip. "Nothing . . . I'm just not good with heights." Yet she was leaning on the rail as if it was second nature to her.

Jannah cocked her head. "You're a terrible liar, you know that?"

The smaller woman looked up at Jannah, a slight frown pulling on her mouth. "I told you about how my sister and I grew up. When I see places like this, I see beautiful places built on the labor of poor people barely getting by." She sighed. "I know, I know, there will be poverty no matter what planet you visit and it's impossible to save everyone from poverty, but it's hard not to think about it."

Jannah looked down over the rail – down, down, down through the crisscrossing speeder lanes, down so far that she couldn't see the bottom. She'd heard that the lower levels of Coruscant were a haven for thieves and gangsters out to make deals with desperate people.

Desperate people, invisible to her eyes but there all the same.

"Maybe we can at least help," she finally said as she looked up, casing into Rose's pensive eyes. "There will always be poor people, but with the chancellor's help we can rebuild the Republic and help there be fewer poor people."

Rose took a deep breath. "You're right. Come on, let's go work for a better future."

As they followed the group of Resistance leaders, Jannah wondered if Rose would want a hug. She looked like she could use a hug, but would it be appropriate to hug her out of the blue? How well did people usually get to know each other before they hugged?

"By the way," Rose said, "if the program to reunite stormtroopers with their families gets funded, will you be submitting DNA?"

Jannah sucked in the thin air through her nose, increasing her lightheadedness. "I should. I mean, it sets an example for other stormtroopers, doesn't it?"

"And what if they find a match?"

"Then . . . I don't know."

Chapter Text

There was a bird.

Ben didn’t know how long he’d been wandering aimlessly around the forest, but he stopped when he noticed a bird perched on a branch above him. An actual bird – not just a birdsong coming from seemingly nowhere. Yellow with an orange belly, short and chubby, its tiny beak chirping out a bouncy song.

In another life, Ben would have wanted to sketch that bird. He might even already have a sketchpad on his person so he could sketch the bird right now. He’d sit on the ground, not caring if he got his robes dirty or if Luke looked at him with disapproval.

Maybe he’d have been happier if he’d drawn more.

Maybe his parents would still be alive if he’d drawn more.

He doubted he was talented enough to make a living as an artist, but maybe he could have drawn on the side if he’d pursued some career other than Jedi. Then again, he hadn’t chosen to be a Jedi in the first place.

But maybe if he had drawn more as a child, he could have kept his powers under control and his parents wouldn’t have felt the need to send him away.

“You look happy,” he found himself saying, though he wasn’t sure why he was talking to the bird. “Even though you’re just a creation of my subconscious, you still look happy. Probably a therapist would say you represent my lost innocence or something like that.”

The bird just cocked its head at Ben before resuming its trills as if it didn’t have a care in the galaxy.

“Why are you still here?”

At first Ben jumped slightly, thinking his father’s voice was calling him, but then he heard his uncle’s voice responding and realized that he must be close to the edge of the forest. Some part of him wanted to dart away as fast as he could, but instead he held his breath, listening.

“I wanted to see if Ben still wanted to talk to me.”

“Didn’t you hear him? He doesn’t wanna talk to you or see you or have anything to do with you!”

“Well he was the one who wanted to talk to me in the first place!”

It sounded like Han was fuming through his nostrils. “And now he doesn’t, so you might as well get outta here.”

Now Luke was sighing. “And what about you?”

“What about me what?”

“Do you want to talk to me? I mean, we are best friends – or at least we used to be.”

“Yeah, but that was before you almost murdered my son.”

Ben felt like a rock had settled in his stomach.

“Look, I don’t know what else I can say about that,” said Luke, his voice sounding more and more desperate. “If I could go back in time and stop myself from doing it, I would, but I can’t. It haunted me every single day I was in exile – I almost jumped off those cliffs more than once!”

“And was it cause you almost murdered your own nephew, or cause you created Kylo Ren?”

“Both.” Now Luke was sighing. “When . . . when I saw him killing you . . . I couldn’t handle it . . . losing you . . .”

“You lost me anyway.” Han’s voice was small, hurt. “Didn’t you know that I’d have given my life for his in an instant?”

Ben gulped, his hands shaking. Had he torn apart his father and uncle’s friendship in addition to everything else? Trembling with every step, he made his way towards the voices, emerging from the forest to the two men.

“He didn’t create Kylo Ren,” he found himself mumbling, causing them both to turn to him wide-eyed.

“Ben?” Han exclaimed. “How much of that did you hear?”

“Enough,” said Ben, concentrating on his father and doing his best to look away from Luke. “He didn’t create Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren existed inside me before that, even if he didn’t yet have a name, and I struggled – dammit I struggled – to keep him under control, but that night . . . Luke brought him out. That night I realized that there was no point in keeping Kylo Ren under control if I was a lost cause to begin with . . .”

With that he collapsed to his knees, sobbing into his father’s shirt.

Han ran his hands through his son’s hair. “It’s all right, buddy. Kylo Ren’s dead now.”

“It’s not all right!” Ben retorted through his sobs. “Stop saying it’s all right – it will never be all right!”

“Ben . . .” said Luke.

Don’t talk to him!” shouted Han.

“Can I at least talk to you?” Luke sounded ready to break down crying himself. “I miss you and Leia – so much! I know I failed not just Ben, but you too. You trusted me with your only child and I let you down, but isn’t there some way we could at least be friends again? I mean, you seemed happy to see me when I first joined the Force.”

“That was before you told me what happened!” Han sounded like he was swallowing a sob. “I do miss you, kid, but every time I look at you I see what you did to my boy.”

“Dad,” Ben whispered, though he didn’t know how to follow that word. Should he tell them to be friends again? Could he tell them that when even right now, safe in his father’s embrace with Luke out of his line of vision, he could still feel the heat of that green blade raised over his helpless self?

“Where’s Mom?” he finally asked in a muffled voice, keeping his face buried in Han’s shirt.

Han sighed. “She said she was getting someone else to help us.”

“Someone else? Who?”

“She didn’t say.”

“Great,” muttered Ben, wiping his eyes, “all I need is more ghosts trying to get me to wake up.”

He expected Han or Luke or both of them to immediately jump on him, telling him that he needed to wake up and face the living world, but strangely enough, neither one did so, perhaps because they too were caught up in their fears of facing the past.

“All right everyone, listen up!”

There was something about his mother’s voice that compelled him to get up even if his legs felt wobbly as he did so. There she was, that princess look on her face – the look that said “pay attention or you’ll regret it.”

“Ben,” she said, ignoring Luke entirely, “I brought a couple of people who have been longing to meet you.” She gestured behind here, where there stood a beautiful young woman with curly brown hair and a tall man with curly blonde hair and a forlorn expression on his face.

“Ben, these are your grandparents,” said Leia, gesturing at each one individually. “Padme Amidala, and . . . Anakin Skywalker.”

Chapter Text

Ben was transferred to one of Coruscant’s top hospitals, on Pooja’s insistence. Normally he would have been in the intensive care unit, but given that no one knew what could happen when he woke up (if he woke up at all), he was placed in his own room rather than a room with other patients. His arms and legs were strapped to the bed, there were security cameras installed in the ceiling, and the door was locked from the inside so doctors could easily access him but he couldn’t escape on his own.

Rey had never been inside a real hospital, but she decided that she didn’t like it. The ceiling lights were so bright – the glare hurt her eyes and reminded her of Jakku’s blazing sun. So many people going back and forth down the halls in a hurry as if saving people’s lives was a matter of business instead of compassion. Then there was the smell. Sure, the whiff of antiseptic was always in the air whenever doctors were around, but it would only be a whiff at the Resistance’s bases. Here the strong, too-clean smell just hung in the air.

The only difference in Ben’s appearance was that he had been changed into one of their hospital gowns – a light blue one dotted with tiny yellow flowers. He looked good in blue, more boyish. She could better imagine him as the mischievous child Leia had told stories about.

Leia. She felt a tightening in her chest as she remembered the moment she felt Leia’s life force go out after she’d impaled Kylo with his own lightsaber. What would the general do if she were alive to see her son like this?

“Ben,” she whispered, the beep, beep, beep of his heart monitor irritating her ears, “why won’t you wake up? Did I do something wrong when I transferred my energy to you?” The memory of pouring her energy into him after he collapsed was blurry – it was possible that in her desperation she had done something wrong, though she wasn’t sure what.

He remained as still as ever. Why was she even talking to him? She remembered hearing somewhere that people in comas could possibly hear people talking to them, but she sure wasn’t seeing any evidence of that.

“Are you afraid?” she found herself asking. “Are you scared of facing the world without the mask?”

No answer, of course, but she kept talking anyway, maybe for her own peace of mind or maybe because she wondered if he could actually hear her.

“I understand if you’re afraid. I’d probably be afraid too, but you won’t be alone. Lando still cares about you, and Pooja, and I think even Chewie does.”

This was pointless, wasn’t it? Probably, but she was still doing it. “I don’t know what the Resistance will do to you when you wake up, but I’ll fight for you, I promise.”

What would the Resistance do? They’d almost definitely arrest him and put him on trial, but what would come after that? Would they imprison him for the rest of his life?

Would they execute him?

. . .

“Ben, I’m so proud of you.”

The woman named Padme – Ben’s grandmother – threw her arms around him almost before he’d comprehended what was happening. Was he supposed to hug her back when she was a total stranger? “It’s . . . nice to meet you,” he said awkwardly, “but you shouldn’t be proud of me.”

Padme ran her hand up and down his back. “Your grandfather said the same thing when he joined with the Force.”

“My . . . grandfather.” Ben blinked over her shoulder at the strange man who was staring at him with wide, apologetic eyes.

“I have been every voice you have ever heard inside your head.”

Ben gulped. The grandfather he’d long thought that he knew, who he thought was urging him to continue his legacy . . . it was a lie.

“Why didn’t you reach me?” he exclaimed, pushing himself out of Padme’s embrace and stomping up to Anakin. “Palpatine was speaking to me in your voice – he had me convinced that you wanted me to . . .”

“I couldn’t,” Anakin interrupted. “I tried many, many times, but he always blocked me.”

“You’re a ghost!” Ben exclaimed. “Couldn’t you have, I don’t know, contacted someone else and told them??”

Anakin’s head lowered. “I was blocked from that too.”

The rage that was forever a companion was once more bubbling inside Ben. “Are you seriously telling me you couldn’t do anything in thirty years??”

“You can yell at me all you want,” said Anakin, looking back up at his grandson. “I’ve been where you are, overwhelmed with everything I did, unable to fix anything or resurrect anyone.” He looked like he was about to cry. “I’ve looked into the eyes of people I killed – including children. I let them yell at me, curse my name, cry about how they looked up to me and I broke their hearts, but in the end nothing can undo what I did.” Now his gaze shifted to Padme. “I couldn’t face your grandmother for almost a year after joining the Force. Even though she kept asking to see me, I couldn’t look at her knowing I had let her down and caused her death.”

Ben gulped as he turned to face Padme. “Is that true?”

Padme nodded. “Honestly . . . it was hard for me too. I mean, he sacrificed himself to save our son and I was of course eternally grateful for that, but . . . he still took so many other lives, and I’d watched him doing it. I’d even gotten to know the younglings he killed during the Jedi purges.”

“What?”

“They were scared, having been cut down in an instant by someone they thought would protect them.” There was a faraway look in her eyes. “And, well, I did my best to comfort them, like I would have done for my own children . . .”

There was a lump in Ben’s throat as he looked back at his parents and Luke, none of whom looked like they knew what to say. He looked back at Anakin, feeling the tumultuous wave of guilt flowing from him.

His grandfather had murdered children.

Didn’t you do the same thing? a silent voice said in his mind. You ordered whole towns destroyed, after all – do you really think there weren’t any children there?

An image came flowing from Anakin’s mind – a small, terrified boy looking to Anakin for help...

Then the lightsaber activated . . .

His eyes squeezed shut, as if that could eliminate the image in his mind. You think you’re better just because you never looked children in the eye before slaughtering them? the silent voice persisted. You think those frightened eyes didn’t exist just because you didn’t see them?

A cry escaped his mouth as his eyes shot open, once more bringing his grandfather into his vision. “H-How?” he exclaimed. “How can you stand remembering that??”

Again Anakin lowered his eyes as he put his hand on his grandson’s shoulder. “Ben,” he said, “what you ultimately do is your decision, but please consider everything before you throw away what I never got.”

“What you never got? What do you mean?”

Anakin looked back up at his grandson, his blue eyes glistening. “A chance to make things right.”

Chapter Text

Ben had never been good at meditation, yet here he was sitting cross-legged on the beach, focusing on taking long, extended breaths, seeking . . . what? Peace? No, peace was obviously out of the question. Wisdom? He shuddered – maybe wisdom would get him to wake up, the thought of which made his stomach churn.

Maybe the only thing he was seeking was an excuse to get away from his family’s pressuring him to wake up.

He listened to the waves lapping the shore, felt the warmth of the sun on his face, let his mind wander into distant memories. Han teaching him how to fly the Falcon. Playing with his cousins at Naboo’s lake country. Leia telling him stories about Alderaan. Yet no matter how happy a day was, it always led to a night where the unnamed terrors would come.

Ironic, he used to be afraid of sleeping and yet now he wanted to stay asleep.

“Ben?”

He knew he was supposed to ignore distractions during meditation, but that voice made his eyes shoot open like they’d been programmed to do so.

There was Han, sitting across from him on the sand, leaning to one side with his knee sticking up, the sun illuminating his gray hair.

“Are my grandparents still here?” Ben asked.

“Yeah,” said Han. “So’s Luke, but they’re all gonna wait till you wanna talk to them again.”

Ben gulped, staring at his father’s chest, his mind’s eye seeing the flaming lightsaber shoot through his heart. Without thinking, he placed his hand on Han’s chest, feeling the strong, solid, muscular chest through his shirt. There was no hole in his flesh.

But something else was missing too.

“You don’t have a heartbeat!” Ben gasped.

Han gave a slight shrug. “Well, I’m dead, ain’t I?”

It was the first time Ben had heard one of his dead family members actually refer to themselves as dead. “What was it like?” he asked in a hushed voice. “Dying?”

Han shrugged again, gazing downward, his finger absently poking holes in the sand. “Dunno. I think I passed out before it actually happened. One minute I’m fallin’ down that shaft, next thing I know I’m waking up and your grandparents are greetin’ me.”

“Anakin and Padme greeted you when you died?”

“No, your other grandparents.” There was a slight smile on his face. “My parents.”

Ben felt like kicking himself. Did he really forget that he had two sets of grandparents (well, actually three sets, since his mother also had her adopted parents)? Then again, he hadn’t known any of his grandparents growing up and the voice he’d thought was his grandfather had turned out to be a lie. “Are they coming here too?”

“Do you want them to?”

Did he? He remembered playing with Han’s lucky dice when he was little, Han telling him about how they had belonged to his father and how they were the only tangible remnant of his parents left. Where were those dice now? The dice he’d picked up on Crait had been a mere Force-projection, so did that mean the real ones were on the Falcon?

He hoped so.

“How could I face them?” he found himself saying as he choked back a sob. “I killed their son!”

For a moment he was back in Snoke’s throne room, kneeling before the Supreme Leader, Snoke taunting him by calling him “young Solo.”

“You’re still their grandson,” said Han.

“Yeah,” Ben snarled, “and Luke’s still your brother-in-law, but you haven’t forgiven him for trying to kill your son!”

“That’s different,” Han insisted, a sudden hardness in his voice. “Luke made a choice there.”

“And what I did wasn’t my choice?”

“Snoke . . . Palpatine . . .”

Ben raised his hand. “Don’t. Just don’t. I could have walked away with you, but I chose not to. Snoke and Palpatine might have been whispering in my ear since childhood, Luke might have invaded my mind, but in the end I was the one who made the choice to ignite the lightsaber.” He let out a sigh. “People keep acting like I was just some poor brainwashed puppet, like hearing voices all my life excuses everything I did – well I wasn’t! I made choices! Choices that hurt people, drove people away, killed people!” His hands were trembling as they dropped into his lap.

“Maybe if you talk to some of the people you hurt . . .”

“And tell them what? ‘I’m sorry I tortured you’? ‘I’m sorry I killed your loved ones’? You heard Grandfather – sorry doesn’t fix anything! Luke’s sorry as hell for what he did, and yet neither of us can stand to look at him!”

Han looked like he had been punched in the gut. His wrinkled face scrunched up, making him look even older and wearier than before. “You’re right. Sorry doesn’t always cut it, but it’s a place to start.”

“Then maybe you should try to start again with Luke.”

He hadn’t meant to say it – he didn’t even know why he said it. Maybe because he felt responsible for destroying Han and Luke’s friendship, maybe because he missed the days when they were all a happy family, but whatever the reason, the words were out and Han was flinching.

“So you’re sayin’ you want me to forgive him even after you told him off like that?”

“I don’t know,” Ben admitted, “but I remember how you and he laughed and joked together, took me on outings together, always had each other’s backs. I don’t want that gone forever, even with . . .”

He couldn’t finish. Again he saw the green blade in his mind’s eye, the choice Luke had made. Even knowing that Luke had gotten control of himself, even knowing the intensity of Luke’s remorse, he couldn’t keep himself from tensing up when he remembered that night.

“Maybe you’re right,” Han mumbled, looking at his fingers. “I just wish . . . things were different. I wish our family hadn’t fallen apart. I wish I hadn’t caved to send you away.”

“It wasn’t your fault.”

Han let out a humorless laugh. “Yeah, and Luke totally would’ve flown over just to stalk you in your sleep if we hadn’t sent you to him.”

Stalk him in his sleep. It made Luke sound so sinister, but that was what he did, wasn’t it?

“Maybe I should’ve gone with you,” Han said, a distant look in his eyes. “I could’ve talked Luke outta it.”

“Why are you so fixated on Luke?” Ben exclaimed. “You think I never would have turned to the dark side if that night had never happened? I told you – Kylo Ren existed long before that. If Luke didn’t bring him out, something else probably would have.”

Now there were tears brimming Han’s eyes. “It wasn’t hopeless, kid.” Was he trying to convince Ben or himself? “C’mon, you were just talkin’ about choices, weren’t you?”

“Well . . . yes . . . but . . .” A long sigh escaped. “I chose long ago to listen to the voices and believe what they said.”

“You were just a kid.”

“Kids aren’t automatons. I could have gone to you and Mom, I could have told you everything, but I didn’t.”

“You were scared . . .”

“Stop making excuses!” Ben snapped.

“Well what do you want me to do? You’re angry at Luke for bringing out Kylo Ren or whatever, but you’re also insisting that everything you did was your choice! Well, which is it? Did you make your own choices or not?”

“It’s complicated.”

“What do you want, son?”

“I DON’T KNOW!”

With those words, father and son just stared at each other, Ben’s breath shaking, Han’s eyes welling. Several moments passed before Han leaned forward, wrapping his arms around his son and squeezing him close to him. Ben wanted to say something, but hearing his father sob silenced him, only granting him enough energy to hug Han back.

Chapter Text

“We’re not done yet.”

“You’re a monster!”

“It’s just us now. Han Solo can’t save you.”

The flaming red blade that only minutes ago had pierced Han’s chest, burning in Rey’s eyes, expanding and blurring through her tears. Some part of her was screaming that no, this wasn’t real, this was wrong, Han was still alive down in the shaft somewhere and Chewie would rescue him.

But that face . . .

That crazed, rageful face with the bloodshot eyes, looking like a madman about to lash out . . .

The monster . . .

The invisible push sending her flying into the trees . . .

Rey woke up mid-scream, taking several seconds to process that she wasn’t back on Ilum, she was safe in the Coruscant hotel that Pooja was graciously renting for Resistance members for the time being. Safe, but that didn’t change the fact that her nightmare had still happened.

She slid out of bed, the hotel room’s too-smooth carpet irritating her bare feet as she stumbled over to the minifridge and pulled out a bottle of water. She wished she could still sleep on the Falcon, but like all the other Resistance ships, it was currently sitting in a garage until it would be needed again.

As she uncapped the bottle and let the cool liquid flow down her throat, she made her way to the large window that took up an entire wall. Why did Coruscantians have such huge windows – didn’t they feel exposed? For that matter, anyone in any of the passing speeders could glance over and see her wearing only a t-shirt and underwear.

Yet here she was, staring out at those speeders zipping this way and that in their orderly rows, their lights creating eerie lines in the darkness. How did they keep the airlanes so straight? she wondered as she took another sip of water.

The twitch in her senses again, causing her to drop the bottle, spilling the water on her foot and the too-smooth carpet. Why now? Why did this keep happening when she just wanted to be alone?

She turned around as if a blasterbolt would go off if she moved too fast and there he was lying on the too-smooth carpet, still comatose, the tubes still in his arms and up his nostrils, droplets of Rey’s water on his forehead. Suddenly her bare legs felt very, very exposed even though he wasn’t awake to see them.

“Well, here you are again,” she said with a long sigh. “I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do here.” She sighed again. “You probably can’t even hear me, so why am I even talking to you?”

Silence.

With another sigh, she knelt by his side, the too-smooth carpet hurting her kneecaps, trying not to let the nightmare overtake her mind, though she couldn’t stop her hands from shaking. “Ben, am I supposed to wake you up? I don’t know how to do that. It’s my fault you’re in this coma in the first place!”

Despite having just had water, her throat felt dry. Those last words had come out without really thinking, but they were true . . . this was her fault. Maybe she really had done something wrong in her rush to keep him alive, maybe he wanted to die and she shouldn’t have interfered with his wishes, maybe she should have just remained dead and this was punishment for interfering with the laws of nature.

No matter what, it was her fault.

She gently reached over and wiped the water droplets from his pale face, glowing eerily in the city lights. “I need a sign, Ben. Some sort of sign that you can wake up.”

Silence again.

“Please, Ben. Your parents wouldn’t want you to give up. If you won’t wake up for yourself, at least wake up for them!”

Still silence. Without the beeping of his heart monitor, Rey could easily believe he was already dead were it not for the slight rising and falling of his chest.

Did she dare try again?

If transferring energy could bring her back from the dead, keep him alive when he was dying, could it . . .?

Or would it kill one or both of them?

They had each given nearly all their energy for the other. Their souls were bonded. Maybe that meant . . .

“Ben,” she whispered, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. Maybe nothing will happen, but . . . this is my fault. I have to make it right.”

She closed her eyes, took his hand in her left hand, placed her right hand on his chest, and concentrated on letting her energy flow.

. . .

“What’s happening?”

Ben could barely choke out the words as he gripped his head, which was suddenly throbbing with pain. His body started shaking as if he’d been thrown into a blizzard, his stomach churned as if he had eaten something poisonous. He was barely aware of his father gently gripping his sides and helping him to his feet.

“I think you’re wakin’ up, son,” Han said, a hint of joy in his voice.

“What? NO!” Ben threw his arms around his father as if that would keep him in the coma. “No, no, I can’t wake up . . .”

“Ben, it’s all right,” Leia’s voice said, seemingly coming out of nowhere, followed by her embrace, sandwiching Ben between his parents. “You can do this.”

“No, no,” Ben whimpered, “I can’t.”

“You can!” Leia insisted.

His teary eyes slowly opened, revealing, Luke, Anakin, and Padme standing a few feet away, all offering warm smiles, silently urging him on.

“It’s all right, son,” Han said in his most tender Dad voice, the voice he once used when soothing Ben after nightmares, “we’re here for you.”

“You won’t be,” sobbed Ben, unable to stop his body’s shaking, feeling like he was about to fall apart. “I’ll be alone.”

“You’re not alone,” insisted Leia. “You’ve never been alone.” She kissed his cheek. “We’re always with you.”

Han kissed his other cheek, ruffling his hair. “Say hi to Chewie, will ya?”

Ben barely managed a nod before closing his eyes again, absorbing his parents’ embrace. “Will I remember this?” he whispered.

“Course you will, buddy,” said Han.

“But what do I do out there? How can I face everything?”

Already he felt the world breaking away, consciousness pulling him out of the sanctuary, but he still heard his father’s answer.

“That’s up to you.”

Chapter Text

A loud gasp brought sudden pain to his throat. His eyes opened to a light shooting directly down into his pupils, causing him to instantly close his eyes once again, though blinding spots followed him into the dark. His head ached, his arms ached, his legs ached, everything ached, in addition to something irritating and invasive stuck up his nostrils. Attempts to move only resulted in his wrists and ankles slamming against bruising restraints.

Where am I? What’s happening?

He remembered a forest, a cliff, a lake . . .

His parents . . .

“Ben Solo, you mustn’t struggle or you will hurt yourself.”

The voice was low and unemotional – a droid. He forced his crusty eyelids open once again, blinking and blinking until he could make out the blurry gray face of a medical droid.

“Wh-wh . . .” That was all that came out before a torrent of dry coughs exploded out of his mouth.

“Calm down, Ben Solo,” said the droid. “You have been in a coma for weeks. You will need to drink some water before you can speak.”

You have been in a coma for weeks. As the coughs calmed down, leaving him with a burning throat, those words sent reality crashing on him. Exegol, Rey, Palpatine. Death, revival, kiss. Han, Leia, Luke, Anakin, Padme. Sleep, dreams.

Waking.

He was awake.

His breath sped up as he realized that he was strapped to a hospital bed, his muscles feeling stiff and useless as if they hadn’t moved for ages.

“Ben Solo, you must calm down,” said the droid, holding a glass of water up to his lips. “Here, drink this. We will explain everything soon.”

He drank, but even the cold water hydrating his mouth and throat couldn’t keep him from trembling. A familiar presence was filling his senses, as solid as if she were right by his side. His sore eyes blinked, blinked, blinked as they slowly looked to his side, bringing the one who brought him out of the comfortable dream into his vision.

Rey.

. . .

For a moment, Rey was back on Crait.

The moment when he’d looked up at her before she shut the Falcon’s door on him – that desperate, vulnerable, hurt expression, it was back on his face now. She reached for his hand, wanting to squeeze it and let him know that it would be all right, but he vanished before she could touch him, leaving his face pressed in her mind.

Her breath shortened, her hands trembling. “Ben, come back,” she whispered, even though she knew that merely calling to him wouldn’t make him appear again. Though he’d said nothing to her, she had felt his shock, his terror . . . his devastation. His eyes seemed to be screaming What have you done? as if he’d wanted to stay asleep forever.

Maybe he did.

She slowly rose to her feet, staring out the window. Somewhere there was the hospital where Ben was. Should she try to catch an airbus to the hospital right now? Would he even want to see her? Would she be allowed to see him now that he was awake and potentially a threat?

“Ben,” she whispered, “please come back.” Maybe if she focused on him, pressed his image into her mind . . .

Nothing.

Should she try to visit him in person now? Would there even be any airbuses going to the hospital at this hour? Would seeing her help him or just make things worse?

Suddenly she felt an urge to talk to someone about this, but who would understand?

Maybe . . .

She grabbed her pants from the edge of the bed, yanking them on as she left the room, the hallway lights briefly disorienting her, the hard floor cold against her bare feet. There was one person – someone she didn’t know well, but who might understand why she did what she did.

. . .

“Lando?” she called, knocking persistently on the door she thought was the general’s. “Lando, wake up, I need to tell you something.”

It seemed like ages before the door slid open, revealing a yawning Lando in a gray shirt and pants that looked like they had been hastily thrown on. “Rey? What is it, and why couldn’t it wait until morning?”

“I woke Ben up,” Rey sputtered out.

Lando’s eyes bulged, all traces of sleepiness suddenly gone. “What?”

“Can I come in?”

“Yeah, I think you’d better.”

Once Lando led her into his room and turned on the lights, the two sat on the bed and Rey found the story of her bond with Ben bursting out – Snoke linking their minds, neither of them able to control when the other one appeared, each one of them saving the other by transferring their energy, all the way up to how she woke him by giving him her energy for the third time.

Lando didn’t speak for several moments after she finished – instead he just stared at her, his mouth twisting and crinkling his mustache.

“So now I don’t know if I did the right thing,” she added.

“Not gonna lie,” Lando finally said, “I don’t know either.”

“Didn’t you say that you wanted him to wake up?”

“Yeah,” said Lando, glancing downward and scratching the mattress as if he needed a distraction, “but what happens to him now that he’s awake?”

“I won’t let the Resistance execute him.”

Lando looked back up at her, an eyebrow raised. “Finn and Poe bein’ your friends doesn’t mean he won’t get executed. It might not even be up to them – or Pooja, for that matter. The new government will have to get sorted out before his fate’s decided and who knows how long that’ll take?”

Rey felt her heart sink. “You’re a war hero – surely your word will mean something!”

“Yeah, I can speak up on his behalf, but I dunno how much my word means these days. Fact is that I didn’t join the Resistance until the very end cause I . . . couldn’t stand the idea of killin’ my own daughter.”

Rey gulped. “Like how Han ran away because he couldn’t stand killing his own son.”

“Yeah.” He sighed. “The First Order had a way of tearing families apart.”

“Well we’re going to bring some of those families back together.”

“If this stormtrooper-reunion program gets funded.” Lando sighed again. “This whole thing would be easier if Han, Leia, and Luke were alive. Their word would damn well mean something.”

Sorrow was flowing off of him, making her wish she could say something to help him. The man had lost three of his best friends in the last year, all in some degree because of Ben, yet still he cared about Ben.

“Maybe we could visit the hospital tomorrow. You and me.”

Lando suddenly seemed to find the opposite wall very interesting. “I dunno if he’ll want to see either of us. It’s not like I’ve talked to him at all in the last seven years.”

“I know,” said Rey. “But . . . I don’t want him to be alone.”

The older man took a deep breath, though he still didn’t look at her. “Well . . . I guess we could try.”

Chapter Text

Ben awoke to a throbbing headache and that ceiling light still painfully shooting into his eyes. Still his muscles felt like they were disintegrating and his whole body was sore, but at least his arms and legs weren’t strapped to the bed anymore and the tubes up his nose were gone. He vaguely remembered the droid injecting him with some sort of sleep aid last night and he supposed that it worked, though the pounding in his head and the churning in his stomach made him question if a good night’s sleep was worth it. He’d never been drunk, but judging by his father’s descriptions, he guessed this was what being hungover felt like.

Why did they remove the straps anyway? Probably because they figured that since he couldn’t move with or without them, they might as well not be accused of mistreating a patient. He closed his eyes, trying to tune out the beeping of the heart monitor. Maybe if he concentrated hard enough, he could go back to that wilderness with his parents . . .

“Good morning, Mr. Solo.”

Ben slowly opened his eyes to see a female Twi’lek standing over him, wearing a white coat and carrying a datapad. “Who are you?” he muttered, his voice still raspy.

“Doctor Renda M’lir,” said the Twi’lek, “but you can simply call me Renda. I’ll be in charge of your care while you’re recovering.”

“And after I recover? What happens then?”

The doctor’s face briefly fell. “I’m afraid that’s not my call to make, but right now we need to concentrate on getting you well.”

“Getting me well so I’ll be healthy enough for my execution,” Ben snorted. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just give me a lethal injection now?”

The doctor cocked her head. “I may not know much about law, but I know you’d have to stand trial first, and you can’t stand trial until the new government’s worked out.”

“Yeah, well you’re wasting effort getting me better if I’m just going to die anyway.”

The doctor sighed. “They told me you were difficult. I see they weren’t exaggerating.”

“They who?”

“The Resistance leaders. They gave us all briefings on what to do in case you were to wake up.”

Though she was putting on an easygoing persona, Ben could sense fear flowing off her. Stun him if he tries anything – the thought came into his head without him even trying to read her mind. Of course she’d have a concealed stunray around him. Probably the droid last night had one too.

“So am I a prisoner?” he asked.

“I’d say that’s irrelevant when you’re not even strong enough to get out of bed,” said Renda.

“That’s not an answer.”

Renda shifted her eyes slightly. “Technically, you’re not supposed to leave this room.”

“So I am a prisoner.”

Renda swallowed, tapping her datapad. “Again, let’s concentrate on getting you well before worrying about other things.” She held the datapad in front of his face. “And we can start by getting some food in you. You may pick anything from the approved menu for breakfast. We’re starting you off with soft foods so we can ease your digestive system back into eating.”

Ben hardly glanced at the datapad before making his choice. “Corellian oatmeal, please.” It was what Han fixed for him on many a morning before school.

. . .

“You did WHAT?” Finn exclaimed, dropping the toast he was about to bite into.

Rey glanced around, hoping that the whole hotel restaurant hadn’t heard that. “I know you think it’s crazy. Maybe it was, maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I just made things a whole lot harder for the Resistance . . . but I felt like I had to do it.”

Finn was staring at her like she was a speeder about to run him over. “Rey, look, I know you think you owe him for saving your life and you’ve got that weird dyad thing going on, but do you even realize what this means for the Resistance?”

“It’s no different than if he’d woken up on his own . . .”

“No, it is different! If this gets out, people could see you as his accomplice or something. They could think you betrayed the Resistance!” He put his hand on her shoulder, still giving her that disturbed stare. “Rey, I don’t want you to get hurt – not by him or the Resistance.”

“The leader of the Resistance was his mother!” Rey protested.

Finn’s eyes lowered. “Well she’s not around anymore. Without her, he’s not likely to find a lot of sympathy.”

“Finn . . .” Rey searched for words that wouldn’t come. He was right, after all. She glanced at his uneaten toast on the green-carpeted floor, wishing there was an answer.

Suddenly Finn was hugging her – that comfortable hug he always gave when things were rough. “I don’t like this, Rey – I really don’t like this – but . . .”

Rey hugged him back, resting her head on his shoulder. “It’s all right, Finn. I understand.”

She heard him swallow. “I guess . . . I could try to believe in him, maybe, for your sake. Can’t make any promises, though.”

A small laugh escaped Rey’s mouth. “Thank you.”

. . .

“Did you hear the news? Kylo Ren’s awake,” Rose said as she sat next to Jannah at the restaurant table near the window.

“Yeah,” said Jannah, picking at her pancakes.

“Did you ever meet him when you were . . . well, you know?”

“You can say I was a stormtrooper, Rose,” said Jannah, giving a wry grin. “I’m not shy about it.”

Rose returned her grin. “All right, you were a stormtrooper. Did you ever meet Kylo when you were a stormtrooper?”

Jannah tapped her fork against her plate. “Not really. Captain Phasma and General Hux were generally in charge of the stormtroopers. Stories about him ran rampant, though.”

“What kinds of stories?”

“Like, some people said he wore the mask because he was horribly disfigured like Vader. Others thought he might be a clone of Vader. Still others said he was genetically engineered to be the ultimate killing machine.” She let out a small sigh as she cut a piece of pancake. “But the son of two Rebellion heroes? That was a story that never circulated. It was generally believed that Ben Solo died with the rest of the Jedi, not . . .” She trailed off.

“Do you feel sorry for him?” Rose suddenly asked, not really knowing why she was asking that, but eager to know all the same.

“Do you?”

Rose took a bite of toast, chewing for an extended period before answering. “Don’t know. I mean, Snoke was apparently manipulating him since he was a kid. I dunno how anyone could stand that without snapping.”

“He had a chance to come home with his father, though,” said Jannah. “Instead he murdered him.” She finally took a bite of pancake, though she continued to talk with her mouth full. “And even though he wasn’t technically involved with the stormtrooper program, he still let the First Order kidnap babies and did nothing to stop it.”

“I know,” said Rose, gazing out the window at the always-busy speeders, “but Rey’s been so depressed ever since Exegol. She seems to truly believe in him, and well, if Vader could leave the dark side behind, maybe Kylo can too.” She looked back at Jannah, who was staring at him with bulged eyes. “Who knows, maybe he’ll even help with that stormtrooper-reunion program thing.”

“Maybe,” was all Jannah said in response.

Truthfully, Rose wasn’t sure about anything regarding Kylo Ren, but if Finn and Jannah deserved second chances after serving the First Order, maybe Kylo did too.

Maybe.

Chapter Text

Hands gripping the metal bar stretched across his bed.

An inhale, filling his lungs.

And pull, pull, pull, pull!

His teeth ground, his muscles exploded in pain, sweat dripped down his face, his IV dug into his skin, but his back rose a few inches.

The words physical therapy shouldn’t have perked him up, yet they offered him a chance to forget. Forget Rey, forget dreams, forget a looming trial and possible execution – just let his body take over and use all its energy to focus on sitting up another inch, and another, and another. Training his body had been part of his life ever since his teenage years – whether training for the Jedi in one life or the Knights of Ren in another. He needed to be able to rely on his body even if it would cease to function soon.

Pull, pull, pull, up, up, up . . .

The bar was getting closer . . .

“Mr. Solo, you have visitors.”

His concentration broke and he fell back onto the bed, mentally cursing that droid and cursing his own arms for becoming so weak that merely trying to sit up was making them throb with pain. “Who?” he spat out.

“Rey and Lando Calrissian.”

Ben’s eyes automatically closed. How could he face her right now, when he still longed for that wilderness in his subconscious where he could be with his parents? And Lando, what the hell did Lando want to see him for after all these years? He probably wanted to yell at him about Han, Luke, Leia – maybe even his lost daughter Ava. Well fine, let him yell. It wasn’t like he didn’t deserve yelling and much worse.

“Let them in,” he muttered, rolling over to his side and closing his eyes.

Even with his eyes closed, he sensed her as clearly as if he were looking straight at her. Part of him wanted to open his eyes and gaze into her beautiful hazel eyes, but he resisted the urge. Maybe it was just the dyad making him want it anyway.

“Ben?” she asked.

Still he refused to open his eyes.

“Ben, are you mad at me?”

Was he? He’d gone from enjoying an alternate plane of existence with his parents to a hospital bed where he couldn’t even sit up. For that matter, she’d prevented his death in the first place even though she undoubtedly knew that it would most likely be a futile effort anyway.

“Ben, please, talk to me.”

“What’s there to talk about?” he growled, still keeping his eyes closed. “As soon as I’m deemed fit to stand trial, I’m heading for the blasterfire squad or the gas chamber or if I’m lucky, maybe they’ll be compassionate enough to give me a lethal injection.”

“I won’t let them kill you,” Rey protested.

“Yes, I’m sure all you need to do is ask nicely and then they won’t kill me and let me rot in prison instead.”

“Ben . . .”

“I gave my life for you,” Ben interrupted, spitting out the word life as if it were poisonous. “If you’d just let well enough alone, I could have died in peace and my death would have had meaning, but instead I’ll just be executed as a criminal.”

“I told you, I’m not going to let them execute you.”

Finally Ben opened his eyes, glaring up at her hurt face. “Do you think I wanted this? All you did was either postpone my well-deserved death for a little bit or fix it so I’ll rot in prison.”

“Hey Benny, don’t be so hard on her,” came a familiar voice from the door. Ben glanced at the door, immediately recognizing the man. Even with brushes of gray hair and more weight and wrinkles, the figure of Lando Calrissian was unmistakable.

“What do you want?” Ben growled. “If you want to know about Ava, I have no idea what happened to her. General Hux and Captain Phasma were in charge of the stormtroopers and they’re both dead.”

Lando flinched at the mention of his daughter, but he otherwise kept his composure. “I know that,” he said. “I wanted to see you.”

“You want to yell at me about what I did to my father? Go ahead.”

The general blinked at him, still not leaving the doorway, as if he wasn’t comfortable getting any closer. “I don’t know what to say about that,” he admitted, his hand fiddling with the edge of his cape. Those capes – Ben remembered playing with Lando’s capes when he was little.

“You can say whatever you want,” said Ben, folding his sore arms and fiddling with the tip of his IV. “I deserve every bit of it. I could say I’m sorry, I could beg for forgiveness, I could cry my eyes out, but none of that changes the fact that he’s dead and I killed him.”

Both Rey and Lando stared at him. “Ben,” Rey said carefully, “Han forgave you – I saw him touch your cheek.”

“Still doesn’t change the fact that he’s dead and I killed him,” Ben muttered, wondering if he could pull the IV out if he fiddled with it enough. “Still doesn’t change the fact that I should be dead with him.”

“Hey Benny,” said Lando, forcing a smile, “don’t talk like that. Rey saved you cause she believes in you.”

“Well maybe I’m not worth believing in,” Ben snarled, still fiddling.

Suddenly the medical droid grabbed his wrist. “Ben Solo, you musn’t do that. You could damage your IV.”

Ben had to grit his teeth to keep himself from shouting at the droid.

Finally Lando walked a few steps into the hospital room, though he still didn’t get anywhere near the bed. Ben could sense fear flowing off of the general despite his efforts to hide it. “You’re afraid of me,” Ben muttered.

Lando didn’t deny it – he merely glanced at the floor.

“Do you have a concealed stunray like my doctor does? Like the droid does?” He glanced at the droid. “Oh yes, I know about the stunrays. I know you’re supposed to stun me if I try anything.” He shot his glare back to Lando. “Do you think I’ll try anything? Are you worried that I could lapse back to the dark side if something angers me?”

“Ben . . .” Rey began.

Ben felt his breath coming out in quick pants as the words erupted out of him. “I didn’t want to be saved!” he shouted, whipping his head to face Rey, who was staring at him with wide eyes. “Didn’t you think about what would happen to me if I left Exegol alive? Didn’t you consider that I might not want to keep living after I’d murdered my father?” He couldn’t stop the tears from pooling in his eyes. “I could be with my parents right now, but instead . . .” A sob broke his sentence.

Ever-so-gently, Rey took his hand, brushing his fingers. “Ben . . . I’m not going to say I’m sorry that I saved you . . . because I’m not. Even if you think you’ve got nothing to live for now, I still believe in you.”

There was a large lump in Ben’s throat as he stared at her, wishing briefly that they were in another universe with no Snoke and no Palpatine, a universe where he hadn’t let his fear and anger consume him, a universe where his parents were alive.

Maybe in a universe like that, they could have been happy.

“Please go,” he said, sinking back into the pillow and closing his eyes once again.

“Ben . . .”

“Please GO!”

He sensed hesitance from both Rey and Lando, which perhaps should have inflicted guilt – maybe it even did inflict some guilt – but he still refused to open his eyes until he was sure they were gone.

Chapter Text

Ben couldn’t sleep. He’d refused the sleep aid on the grounds that it had made him feel sick this morning, but that left him staring into the darkness. It wasn’t like he was any stranger to insomnia, but his arms were still throbbing with pain from his physical therapy, which was getting annoying. He had finally managed to sit up after Rey and Lando left, but that was only the first step towards regaining his strength.

That heart monitor was still beeping, beeping, beeping, which was also getting annoying. Why were the doctors still monitoring his heartbeat when he was out of the coma? Did they think his heart would spontaneously stop? Maybe it would – it wasn’t like he was an expert on what happened when people woke up from comas after being an inch away from death.

After wanting to die.

“Mom? Dad?” he found himself whispering. “Can you hear me? It would be nice to dream about you again.”

There was no answer from his parents – but there was that twitch in his senses. After taking a deep breath, he rolled over and sure enough, there was Rey. He could only make out her outline in the dim light tinted green from the heart monitor, but what he couldn’t see he could sense. She was asleep, her soft breathing soothing his ears. He closed his eyes, thinking that maybe she could lull him to sleep . . .

“No . . . no . . .”

Those words shot his eyes open.

“No . . . stop . . . don’t . . .”

Even in the dimness, he could see her body twitching in distress. Automatically, he reached out, ready to stroke her head and try to comfort her, but her next words froze his hand before it could touch her.

“Get out of my head!”

It was like he had been doused with ice water. Her words swirled in his head, slamming against his skull. The hand that was going to touch her instead pressed into his own eyes, shrouding him in the dark.

“Get out of my head!” she repeated, louder this time.

Ben rolled over to his side, facing away from her as his body started shaking, making the hospital bed creak, which made him think of prisoners shrieking during interrogations.

“No . . . stop . . . PLEASE!”

How he wanted to wake her, but what would happen if he did? If she woke up to the very face of the one who tortured her . . . no, he couldn’t do that, even though every scream pierced his soul.

“NO! NO!”

He squeezed his eyes shut, unable to stop tears from pooling in his eyes. In his mind he saw her restrained to the interrogation table, her face scrunched up as he pried her thoughts from her. Her face merged with others – Chewie, Commander Dameron, men, women, humans, non-humans, many prisoners whose names he had long forgotten, yet all cried out in pain and terror, their voices mixing with Rey’s.

“GET OUT OF MY HEAD!”

Please wake up, his mind whispered. Wake up, Rey, wake up!

Still she screamed, making his heart race as if he were running for his life. “Wake up,” he whispered, his arms wrapped around himself as if that would send him back in time so he could stop himself from torturing her and everyone else. “Please Rey, wake up!”

Finally he heard her gasp and her screams subsided, though he still couldn’t bring himself to look at her. He squeezed his eyes as tightly shut as he could, willing himself to disappear from her sight, but still he felt her presence.

“Finn,” she gasped out through a sob, “it was the dream again.”

Finn. The name that stormtrooper had taken when he deserted. Now Ben saw himself back on Starkiller Base, beating the former stormtrooper into a coma and feeling nothing.

No, he hadn’t felt nothing.

He’d felt rage, betrayal, and maybe somewhere in the back of his soul . . . envy.

Envy that FN-2187 could get away and he couldn’t . . .

“He’s here!” Rey’s voice was short, raspy, broken.

Ben curled up into a ball as if that would hide himself from her. Disappear, he thought as desperately as if he were screaming it, disappear, disappear, disappear!

. . .

“He’s here?” Finn exclaimed. “What do you mean he’s here?”

Rey couldn’t answer through her sobs. She tried to concentrate on Finn’s embrace, inhale the clean smell of his pajamas, let herself dissolve into his arms and forget the dream, but even with her eyes closed, Ben’s presence drove itself into her soul. She felt sorrow flowing from him, mixing with both the nightmare of her interrogation and the actual memory of it.

“Rey?” Finn asked in a gentle voice. “You’re seeing him now? What’s he doing?”

Still Rey couldn’t answer as she sobbed into Finn’s chest, her stomach flinching at the idea that Ben was seeing her like this, yet she couldn’t stop crying.

“Please, Rey,” Finn whispered in a fearful voice, “what’s he doing?”

“N-nothing,” Rey choked out. “J-just lying there.” Lying there, yet she felt his psyche screaming stop, stop, disappear! and she realized she was the reason why. A sudden wave of guilt flowed through her even though her rational mind knew she’d done nothing wrong.

“Should we leave?” Finn asked.

“N-no,” said Rey, gripping his arm as if wanting to hold him here. “If I try to get away from him the dyad will make me sick again!”

Finn apparently couldn’t think of a way to respond, since all he did was hand her some tissues. After wiping her eyes and blowing her nose, she finally gained the courage to look beyond Finn’s embrace at the former Knight of Ren. He was curled up on the floor, turned away from her, his hair mussed, his body wrapped up in the blankets as if trying to block out the cold, glowing eerily in the city lights.

Was she supposed to say something to him? Was he supposed to say something to her? Why was this happening?

“Rey?” Finn asked.

Rey took a deep breath to steady herself. “Yes?”

“Would he hear me if I talked to him?”

“I don’t think so. We don’t see each other’s surroundings when we join.”

Finn’s voice was shaking. “Well just in case he can hear me . . .” He cleared his throat. “Ben Solo, even if you are supposedly light side now, I hope Rey’s nightmares are giving you nightmares because you need to see what you did to her.”

. . .

“I hope Rey’s nightmares are giving you nightmares because you need to see what you did to her.”

Ben heard the words in the former stormtrooper’s voice flowing from Rey’s mind, bringing a lump to his throat. Something was boiling within him – anger, grief, guilt? Maybe all of them? He concentrated on listening to his breath, his mind still shouting disappear, disappear, disappear! though the Force still wouldn’t listen.

But maybe he shouldn’t be trying to disappear.

After all, the former stormtrooper’s words were true.

Chapter Text

Chewie sat on his hotel bed, gazing down at Han’s medal in his paw. Maz had said Han would have wanted him to have it, but was it really his? Of course Han had never made a will, but there was someone else who might have a claim to the medal.

He shook his head, looking up out the window at the dawn over the city, knowing in his heart that it wasn’t the medal that was bothering him.

The possible rightful owner of the medal was awake. And he’d saved Rey. Yet behind his blinks, Chewie still saw the lightsaber plunging through Han and remembered the pure rage he’d felt at the realization that the one he’d long thought of as a son was dead – killed by the boy who once called him Uncle Chewie.

Yet even then, he couldn’t bring himself to kill that boy. Looking back, he realized that he’d likely missed Kylo’s heart on purpose.

“Get your revenge for Han Solo.”

The words Kylo had spoken before interrogating him – were they mere taunting or had he genuinely wanted Chewie to kill him? Part of Chewie had wished he would take off the mask so he could look into the eyes of the boy he’d once loved, part of him wanted to scream Wookiee obscenities at him, but once again, he couldn’t kill the one who had once called him Uncle Chewie.

Chewie squeezed the medal as if he would see Han if he squeezed hard enough. Cub, I know you’d want me to forgive him if you were here, but how can I? The question hung in his mind, where he also saw Han touching his son’s cheek in the last moment of his life.

For a moment Chewie imagined himself in Han’s place and Han in Kylo’s place, Han running a lightsaber through him. Could he forgive if he’d been in Han’s place?

Yes, the answer came almost immediately. Yes and yes and yes, but he wasn’t in Han’s place. Instead, he was the one who’d had to watch a son die at the hands of a nephew.

Should he visit Ben in the hospital?

Would Ben even want to see him?

What would they even say to each other?

Again he squeezed the medal. Rey had told him about how Luke’s spirit visited her after death – did that mean Han’s spirit was still out there too? [Cub,] he growled softly, [what do you want me to do?]

It felt silly talking to empty air, yet as he pictured Han’s grinning face, in the back of his mind, for a fleeting second, his imagination – was it his imagination? – silently answered in his cub’s voice.

“Go see your nephew, pal.”

. . .

“Ben, wake up. It’s time to take your vitals.”

Ben didn’t know when he’d finally fallen asleep, but he knew he hadn’t slept long enough, since his body was still screaming for sleep. At least he no longer sensed Rey’s presence, but he knew it would only be a matter of time before they linked again.

“Come on,” Doctor Renda pressed, “you can take a nap later, but right now we’ve got to take your vitals and get some food in you.”

Ben opened his eyes to see his doctor leaning over his legs, likely emptying his catheter as discreetly as she could. He groaned, closing his eyes again and trying not to think about the necessity of wearing a catheter in his current state or the rather uncomfortable poking in his intimate areas.

“Ben?” she repeated.

“I’m awake,” he muttered. “Let me know when you’re done down there – and make sure you sanitize your hands before touching anything else.”

It sounded like she was snickering a little. “Don’t worry, I’ve done this a million times. I’m used to it.”

Ben gritted his teeth, at least grateful that Rey wasn’t linking with him for this. At least the Force was gracious enough to never link them when one or the other was relieving themselves, though it had linked them that one time when he was shirtless.

“All right, everything’s safe and sanitary.”

Ben opened his eyes as the doctor rolled up his hospital gown sleeve and wrapped the blood pressure cuff around his arm. “So,” he asked awkwardly, “how long will it be before I can walk to the refresher on my own?”

“That all depends,” the doctor answered as the cuff squeezed Ben’s arm to the point of near-pain. “You’ve got quite a bit of muscular atrophy and you’ll need to build your muscles up again before you’re strong enough to walk.”

“And then I can walk to my trial,” he muttered.

Renda sighed as she removed the blood pressure cuff, her eyes shifting as if she didn’t know what to say, so instead of saying anything, she placed a thermometer on his forehead.

“You don’t need to shy away from the truth,” he said. “I know what’s coming once I get a clean bill of health.”

“You don’t know for sure,” Renda said weakly.

“It must be hard for you,” Ben mused. “You’re supposed to care about your patients, and yet you can’t get too attached in case they die – or in my case, in case they die after leaving the hospital.”

Renda sighed again, removing the thermometer. “It’s the sort of thing you learn to deal with over time.” She looked into his eyes. “But listen, you shouldn’t dwell on what might happen. Focus instead on getting better.”

“So my trial can come faster,” said Ben. “So you’ll have the evil Kylo Ren out of your hair as soon as possible and you no longer have to worry that he’ll try something.”

“Ben . . .”

“You call me Ben, but you’re still afraid of Kylo.” Some part of Ben could feel the doctor’s hurt, but he found that he couldn’t stop. “Maybe you’re even hoping I will be executed! All those stories you’ve heard about Kylo Ren ordering entire towns destroyed, declaring himself Supreme Leader of the galaxy, even murdering his own father – yes, they’re true! I even watched the fatal beam that destroyed the Hosnian system! So yes, I should be executed and you’re completely right in hoping for it!”

Now she was actually trembling a little. “Ben,” she said after taking a deep breath, “I look after all my patients. No matter who they are or what they did, I take care of them.”

“Yes,” Ben said bitterly, “I know about the ‘do no harm’ oath, but if you weren’t bound to that oath, you’d be cheering for me to die.”

“I don’t want anyone to die,” she said, keeping her voice steady though there was an edge under it. “Not you, not anyone. Believe what you want, but it’s the truth. Yes, it’s out of my hands what happens after you leave here, but while you are here, I’m going to take care of you.” She handed him the datapad with the menu. “Now let’s get you some breakfast.”

. . .

What was Chewie doing here?

He swallowed as he approached the front desk, the smell of antiseptic already filling his nostrils. The pot of flowers on the desk seemed to be trying to lure people into a false sense of security before they entered the house of sickness and death. The red-haired human receptionist in the professional gray shirt smiled up at him even though she likely didn’t speak his language.

“Good afternoon,” she said. “Patient or visitor?”

[Visitor,] Chewie growled, and to his surprise she started typing into her computer without asking what he’d said. Apparently she did understand him after all.

“And which patient are you visiting?” she asked.

Chewie took a deep breath.

[Ben Solo.]

Chapter Text

A twitch in Ben’s senses woke him from his nap, though it wasn’t the twitch that meant Rey was linking with him. No, it was the twitch of a familiar Force-signature nearby – right outside his door, in fact – giving off waves of grief, uncertainty, even fear.

He groaned as he rubbed his eyes. Why was Chewie of all people coming to see him? Maybe he’d finally decided that he did want the revenge he didn’t take in the interrogation room. At least a Wookiee grip breaking his neck would be a quick death. Might even be relatively painless – a moment of pain and then nothing, and he’d be spared the humiliation of a trial and being executed as a criminal.

The door slid open and Doctor Renda stepped in. “Oh, you’re awake,” she said. “Ben, you have a visitor.”

“I know,” Ben sighed. “Might as well let him in.”

The doctor gave a nod and in stepped Chewie. Uncle Chewie, Ben once called him in another life. He remembered riding on the Wookiee’s shoulders, helping Chewie and Han work on the Falcon, Chewie babysitting him when both his parents were busy and taking him to the zoo and the mall, the memories of Uncle Chewie built up one after the other after the other. Part of him wanted to just leap into the Wookiee’s strong arms, but even if he were physically able, he knew he couldn’t do so.

Chewie was staring at him, maybe expecting him to say something, but what could he say? What did a wayward nephew say after killing his uncle’s best friend and being responsible for two other friends’ deaths? After even invading his uncle’s mind?

“Dad says hi,” Ben finally said in an awkward voice.

[What?]

“When I was in the coma, I was awake . . . no, not really awake, that’s not the right word, but I was dreaming . . . sort of, it wasn’t really that either, but in my subconscious I saw Dad – and Mom – and Dad wanted me to say hi to you.”

Chewie’s bulging eyes were apparent even with all his fur. [You mean . . . you actually talked to him? You didn’t just dream about him?]

“I think,” said Ben. “I mean, it felt different from a regular dream. I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt him and Mom there, as strongly as I feel you here now. It felt the same when I saw him after Mom died.”

[What??] Now the Wookiee looked an inch away from crying, as if Ben could connect him to Han’s spirit.

Ben swallowed, looking down at the tiny yellow flowers dotting his hospital gown. “After Mom died and Rey fled . . . he appeared to me. I wondered if I was just hallucinating, but . . .” The flowers blurred as his eyes welled up. “. . . no, I don’t know how he did it, but it was really him.”

He heard Chewie give a small wail, but he couldn’t bring himself to look at the Wookiee. In his mind he saw Chewie crying out during the interrogation, filling his mind with memories that at the time had been like daggers piercing his soul. “H-he’s still there,” he found himself saying, still gazing at the flowers as he wiped his eyes. “His soul didn’t end when he died.”

When YOU killed him, he expected Chewie to say in outrage, but instead there was silence. Ben felt waves of sadness flowing from the Wookiee, but they were mixed with a smidgen of hope.

[You’re sure it was actually him?] Chewie finally asked in a small voice.

Ben nodded, finally looking up into Chewie’s teary eyes, wishing he had the courage to hug him. “I don’t know if he’ll ever talk to you – I don’t know if he can talk to you, but he’s not gone.” A sniffle escaped. “I wish . . . I wish I could go back to the bridge . . . stop myself from . . .”

He broke down crying, burying his face in his hands, his mind’s eye seeing his father’s shocked, devastated face on the bridge as the lightsaber pierced his chest. Even if his soul still existed somewhere, he wasn’t here . . .

[Here,] Chewie said, placing a box of tissues on his lap. Ben was too clogged up to respond – he only dug into the box and blew his nose over and over, wiped his eyes over and over, but still the tears kept coming as if they were sentient and determined to escape his eyes by any means necessary.

[Ben . . .] said Chewie.

“P-please,” Ben choked out through his sobs, hardly processing that Chewie had called him by his real name, “I c-can’t bring him back, I can’t bring any of them back! Yell at me if you want, shout every Wookiee curse you know, but I still can’t bring him back!” He swallowed a long, thick swallow, blowing his nose yet again and crumpling the tissue in his hand. “I want them back – back here, not in my dreams or subconscious or whatever the hell that was, back here! Why was I so damn weak?

He broke down in sobs again. Weak – the word the voices in his head once used to taunt him, the word he’d been determined to rise above at all costs, the word he once associated with his parents – it was back and taunting him once again, but for a different reason. Maybe he was destined to never escape that word.

What might have been several minutes passed, during which his sobs faded little-by-little to be replaced with a headache and a sore throat, but still he saw his father’s face in his mind. He knew Han and Leia forgave him – he knew – but how could he forgive himself? For that matter, should he forgive himself?

Chewie hadn’t spoken since uttering Ben’s name – he simply stared as if not knowing what to do or say, not that Ben blamed him there. He wouldn’t have blamed the Wookiee if he decided to tear his arms off or choke him to death, but that didn’t happen either.

Finally the Wookiee took hesitant steps closer to Ben’s bed, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. [I want them back too. That night . . .] He gulped. [. . . part of me did want to kill you . . . but I couldn’t. I couldn’t aim for your heart.]

“Maybe you should have.”

[No,] Chewie said instantly, stepping closer. [I won’t tell you everything is all right because it isn’t, but you’re still my nephew and nothing changes that.] With that, he actually put his large Wookiee paw on Ben’s head, ruffling his hair like he’d often done to Han, like he’d often done to Ben when he was a child.

Ben felt the tears flowing again as he absorbed the soft, warm paw of Wookiee affection. “Uncle Chewie . . .” he whispered.

[Yes,] Chewie murmured, a Wookiee sob breaking his voice. [I’m still your Uncle Chewie.]

Chapter Text

“All right, I’d like to thank you all for coming,” Poe said from the head of the meeting hall table, trying to sound as official as possible, though Rey could still sense nervousness flowing from him. She couldn’t blame him, especially since with the polished dark wooden table, the large window offering the view of Coruscant’s buildings and speeders, and Chancellor Naberrie herself in attendance, this meeting felt much more official than the one back on Ajan Kloss. At least the food would keep everyone relaxed, hopefully.

And hopefully Ben wouldn’t appear to Rey during this meeting.

Poe cleared his throat, glancing at his datapad. “First order of business: rebuilding the Republic – again. With the help of Chancellor Naberrie and her colleagues, we have been contacting various system leaders, many of whom are eager to send representatives to Coruscant. Chancellor, how many systems have confirmed that they will be sending representatives so far?”

“Sixty-four,” said Pooja.

“Sixty-four,” Poe repeated, his eyebrows twitching. “And . . . is that a good number?”

“It could be better,” Pooja admitted, adjusting the sleeve of her yellow dress, “but remember, this is just the beginning. We still have hundreds of systems who have yet to answer and don’t forget, since Hosnian Prime was destroyed, it’s expected that some systems might be hesitant to join another Republic.”

“Some systems might also think the Republic failed to act quickly enough,” Rose offered, “and that’s why the First Order was able to rise to power in the first place.”

Jannah’s mouth was full of pastry, but she nodded in agreement from her seat next to Rose.

Poe was gulping as he glanced at his datapad again. “Well, uh, does anyone have any ideas on how to encourage more systems to join?”

Finn raised his hand, squeezing Rey’s wrist with his other hand. Rey gave him a small smile before Poe called on him.

“Yes, General Finn?”

Finn cleared his throat. “Well, what about Rey’s idea for a program to reunite stormtroopers with their families? The First Order took babies from all over the galaxy – if we could help some of those parents reunite with their kids, their planets might be more open to joining a new Republic.”

“Yes,” said Poe, a small grin escaping. “Chancellor Naberrie, do you have an idea on when you’ll be able to vote on funding the program?”

“Well, we’ll need more than sixty-four systems to do so,” said Pooja.

“I got funds I can donate,” interjected Lando. “Lotta my savings haven’t been touched in years and they’ve been gathering interest.”

“I appreciate that, Lando,” said Pooja, “but when we’re talking about potentially millions of families on thousands of worlds, one person’s savings likely won’t be enough.” She gazed at her plate of food as if she couldn’t look the former gambler in the eye. “It’s not as simple as just making an announcement calling parents to submit DNA. Moreover, we only have a small percentage of stormtroopers in custody – we’d have to send missions out to contact other stormtroopers spread all over the galaxy. When the First Order has been kidnapping babies for decades, it could very well take years to find all the ones who are still alive.” She finally looked back up at Lando. “I know you have a personal stake in this and I want to do everything I can to help you find your daughter, but we also have to be realistic.”

“I understand,” said Lando, though there was a bit of a waver in his voice, “but I’m still offering my savings.”

Finn and Rey glanced at each other, nervousness flowing off of Finn. Rey gently squeezed his hand, giving a small smile, though she knew that couldn’t change the fact that he had never known his own family and didn’t even know his real name. She couldn’t help but wonder what it was like to be a number. Even during her years alone on Jakku, waiting endlessly for a family who never returned, she still had a name.

“Anyway,” said Poe after clearing his throat again, “as more planets send representatives, we should get closer to the program getting funded. Let’s move on to our next order of business: Kylo Ren.”

Rey froze with a cheese cube in her mouth, the chewed mess resting stationary on her tongue.

“As most of you undoubtedly know,” Poe continued, looking more at his datapad than the meeting attendants, “Kylo Ren has come out of the coma and is currently recovering in the hospital." He shifted his eyes, clearly aware that he was about to step into sensitive territory. “This of course brings up the question of what to do with him after he recovers.”

“He’s entitled to a fair trial,” Pooja said in a firm voice. “Also, his name is Ben.”

Suddenly Rey lost her appetite as she swallowed the cheese. A fair trial for Ben ended in a conviction, there was no way around that.

“Well whatever you want to call him, that doesn’t change the fact we don’t currently have the resources for a fair trial,” said Poe, “so what do we do with him until then?”

“He saved my life,” Rey brought up.

Poe sighed. “I know he did, and I’m sure we’re all grateful for that, but, well, it doesn’t undo everything else.”

“I know that,” said Rey, “but don’t we want to honor Leia’s sacrifice?”

Poe swallowed, a wave of sadness flowing from him. “Yes,” he said in a wavering voice, “Leia gave her life to reach her son and she would want us to forgive him . . .”

“She would also understand that justice needed to be served,” Aftab Ackbar interrupted in a short, cold voice.

“Of course she would . . .”

“My father died in the assault led by Kylo Ren!” Aftab shouted, his bulbous eyes flaring. “As did many other parents and children! Are you seriously suggesting that we just let him go after all he did? After he even committed patricide?”

“No, of course not,” said Poe, “and you’re right: Leia would understand the need to show justice, but she would also want to show compassion. I mean . . . help me here, isn’t there a way to do both?”

Rey felt Poe’s stare on her, as if she was supposed to have the answer. “Well . . .” she said hesitantly, concentrating on Finn squeezing her hand again to give her strength, “. . . perhaps he can be kept at the hospital until his trial?”

“Are you crazy?” Jannah exclaimed. “With how dangerous he is, he should be kept in the highest-security prison possible.”

“He’s not dangerous anymore,” Rey said, though the words sounded unconvincing even to her.

“Rey,” Finn said gently, putting his hand on her shoulder, “you can’t expect everyone to instantly forget everything he did just because he saved your life.”

“I’m not,” Rey insisted.

“Well it sounds like you are!” said Aftab, glaring at her. “Even if he did save your life, that doesn’t mean he’s magically renounced the dark side for good!”

“All right, all right,” said Poe, showing his palms. “Maybe we should put this to a vote. All in favor of imprisoning Kylo Ren after he recovers, until he is able to stand trial, raise your hand.”

Almost every hand around the table went up, including Rose’s, Jannah’s, and even Pooja’s. In fact, from Rey’s vantage point, everyone had their hands raised except Lando, Finn, herself, and Poe – and Poe couldn’t vote anyway since he was chairing the meeting. She also sensed that Finn probably wanted to raise his hand, but wasn’t doing so for her sake. She gulped, part of her wishing Chewie hadn’t skipped the meeting to visit Ben, but him voting no wouldn’t have made a difference anyway.

Ben would be going to prison.

Chapter Text

[Are you sure you don’t want it?]

Ben gazed at the golden medal dangling from Chewie’s paw, remembering how Han used to let him wear it when he was little and he’d pretend he was saving the galaxy like his parents, but he shook his head. “No, it’s yours. You helped destroy the Death Star when I wasn’t even born. It’s right for you to have it.”

Chewie’s mouth rumpled as he hesitantly put it back in his satchel. [All right, but if you change your mind, let me know.]

Ben nodded as Doctor Renda approached his bed, a warm smile on her green face. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but it’s time for Ben’s physical therapy session. You can come visit him again later.”

Chewie nodded. [All right. Ben, I’ll come back, I promise.]

Ben and Chewie waved at each other as the Wookiee left and Renda pushed the training bar over Ben’s bed.

“So, Uncle Chewie?” she asked.

“Yeah,” said Ben. “I called him that when I was a kid . . . wait, you were listening?”

“To your end of the conversation, at least,” said Renda. “I couldn’t understand his end, but I could hear the tenderness in his voice. He seems to really care about you.”

Ben found himself touching the side where Chewie had shot him on Starkiller Base. At the time he was absolutely convinced that the Wookiee had shot to kill and missed. Maybe Chewie even thought that at the time, but now he admitted that he couldn’t actually kill his nephew. The spot on his head where Chewie had ruffled his hair still felt warm. Maybe that meant something.

“You know, I was thinking,” Renda continued, “perhaps there is something I could do to help you after you recover.”

“What do you mean?”

“I could be a character witness at your trial.”

Ben raised an eyebrow. “A character witness?”

The doctor nodded as if she thought it was the most brilliant idea she ever came up with. “With how much time I’ve been spending with you, my word should mean something.”

“No one’s word holds much weight when someone kills his own father,” Ben groaned. “No character witness changes my guilt.” He stared into her eyes with a hard look. “You and I both know that the galaxy’s in a very fragile state right now. Yet another new Republic will need to show damn well that they care about justice in order to win the people’s favor – and justice for me means death.”

Though the doctor’s face remained still – likely the result of disciplining herself to face death – waves of sadness were flowing from her. “Well I still offer my help,” she said in a steady voice. “Justice doesn’t always mean death – especially when you’ve still got something to live for. Now come on, let’s start your exercises.”

. . .

Rey lay in the hotel bed, the events at the meeting playing through her mind as incessantly as the city lights outside flashed into the world behind her eyelids. What would prison do to Ben, especially now when his psyche was so fragile and already wishing for death? How long would he be in prison before they were ready for a trial – weeks, months, years?

And then came the twitch.

She rolled over and opened her eyes and sure enough, there was Ben, lying awake like she was, staring silently at her. It occurred to her that this was the first time they’d been alone since his waking, but what was she supposed to say? Was it her job to break the news that he was going to prison?

“Rey,” he said softly, as if that were the only word he could think of.

“Ben,” she replied.

They lay silent in the dark for a few minutes, perhaps waiting to disconnect, but when it became obvious that they would stay linked for a while, Rey attempted to start conversation. “Are you feeling better?”

“Physically? My arms and legs are getting stronger, yes. It will probably be time to go to prison soon.”

Rey’s chest tightened. “Wait . . . you know?”

“I know what?”

Rey swallowed hard, gazing into his eyes. “The Resistance had a meeting today, and . . . it was decided that after you recover, they’ll hold you in prison until your trial.”

Ben’s mouth twisted from side to side before he let out a sigh. “No, I didn’t know that, but I was expecting it anyway. Where else would they put me before my trial?”

Rey wanted to hug him, comfort him, tell him things would be all right – but how could she tell him such an obvious lie? “I wish . . . I wish I knew what to say.”

“That makes two of us.” Ben rolled over to his back. “Maybe you’re expecting me to thank you for waking me, but I can’t do that in good conscience.” He stared at the ceiling as if it had answers. “Things would be a lot simpler for both of us if you had let me die.”

“Don’t talk like that.”

Now his teeth were grinding. “How do you expect me to talk? Do you expect me to be happy with prison followed by an execution?”

“You don’t know you’ll be executed.”

“What better way for a new Republic to display its strength than to execute the Supreme Leader of the First Order?”

His words hung in the air, the logic in them shouting to Rey’s mind. Without thinking, she rolled forward, draping her arm over his chest, gripping the soft fabric of his hospital gown, breathing in his smell of sweat mixed with hospital soap. Maybe it was the dyad making her do it, maybe it wasn’t, but she found that she didn’t care – what mattered was letting him know that she was there for him.

“I won’t let you die,” she whispered. “I didn’t on Exegol and I won’t here.”

“Rey, don’t.” He gripped her arm and pushed it off him. “Getting close to me now will only break your heart later.”

“If they sentence you to death, I’ll rescue you.” The firmness in Rey’s voice surprised her, but she found she couldn’t stop. “I’ve gotten out of tight situations before.”

“Then you’d be a traitor to the Resistance,” said Ben. “They’d come after both of us.”

“Then we’ll run away together and start a new life on some remote planet . . .”

“Rey!” Ben shouted, sitting up slightly and staring at her. “Do you realize what you’re saying? You’d seriously walk out on everything you fought for, all your friends, everything?”

A lump formed in Rey’s throat. Finn, Poe, Rose, Jannah. The galaxy’s freedom. People she didn’t even know who lived under the First Order’s tyranny. “You’re right,” she whispered, though a sob escaped as she admitted it. “I can’t walk out on them.” She blinked at him. “But I can’t walk out on you either.”

Ben lay back down, blinking as if trying to hold back tears. “You won’t have to. Soon I’ll be dead and you can move on with your life.”

Again Rey flung her arm around him, again with hardly any thought. “I won’t let you give up. Your parents never gave up on you, I’m not giving up on you, so don’t give up on yourself.”

Ben didn’t respond, but he didn’t remove her arm either. They lay in the semi-embrace for an undetectable amount of time before he finally vanished into the dark.

Chapter Text

“These pieces are worth . . . one half-portion.”

Ben wondered why Unkar Plutt always did that dramatic pause before announcing how much his stash was worth. Maybe it was to get Ben’s hopes up that he might actually get a whole portion before dashing them. When was the last time he’d gotten a whole portion anyway?

“Fine,” he muttered, knowing that arguing with Unkar Plutt was useless and might even cause him to revoke his offer. He grabbed the tiny bag before Unkar could change his mind and say the parts were only worth a quarter-portion.

As he made his way to his speeder, no one in Nima Outpost gave him so much as a glance. Why would they? He was just another hungry scavenger sweating day in and day out to stay alive. It wasn’t like his situation was unusual on Jakku. Still, he vaguely remembered how when he was younger, someone occasionally took pity on a hungry child and tossed him a credit – but of course that hadn’t happened once since he grew older and lost that please-help-me-I’m-hungry baby face.

He flinched slightly as he climbed onto his speeder – the merciless sun had heated up the metal, burning his skin even through his pants. His teeth ground as he started the speeder and his mind repeated almost home, almost home, almost home.

At least the sun was going down and giving a bit of reprieve from the heat. Ben had heard that there were planets with suns that didn’t scorch everything in sight, suns that were actually pleasant to lie in. Why couldn’t his family have left him on one of those planets?

No, no, they didn’t leave him, they would come back for him any day now.

Upon reaching the fallen AT-AT he called home, his body went through the motions of parking his speeder and entering the AT-AT while his mind could only think of one thing: another mark. Another mark on the wall for another day when his parents hadn’t come for him. His stomach twisted as he scratched the mark. Would he run out of space before his parents finally came?

No, no, he shouldn’t think like that . . . he couldn’t. . .

He closed his eyes, chasing those fuzzy memories. He remembered – thought he remembered – a woman holding him in her lap and singing to him, riding on a man’s strong back . . . surely those memories meant something, right? His parents loved him and didn't abandon their son, right?

Right?

. . .

Rey’s muscles ached from an afternoon of intense lightsaber training as she made her way to the small hut she called home – well, “home” in the sense that she currently resided there, though her heart still associated the word “home” with Han cooking delicious Corellian stew and Leia sharing memories of Alderaan, with helping Han work on the Falcon and telling Leia about her day when Leia got home from work.

And climbing into bed with her parents when she had nightmares . . .

She shook her head – she was definitely too old to let nightmares bother her even though they still invaded her mind almost every night. The voice in her head had told her that soon she would be strong enough to drive the nightmares away for good, but when would that be?

Upon entering the hut, she flopped down on her bed and picked up the small holo of her parents she’d brought from home – her actual home. Leia and Han smiled at her as if they were actually here, but in the back of her mind was the creeping doubt saying that they’d sent her away because they were afraid of her.

No, no, that wasn’t true, was it? Even if the voice in her mind said so, it wasn’t right about everything, was it?

“Hey Mom, Dad,” she whispered, blinking back tears. “You’re gonna come visit soon, aren’t you? I mean, I know you guys are busy, but you’re not too busy to visit your daughter, right?”

Maybe she could call them . . . but she didn’t even know what time it was back home – maybe it was the middle of the night. She’d have to ask Luke how the hours here related to the hours there, but for now she just looked at her parents’ still faces, remembering how Han had cried the day she left and Leia had choked back her tears, but Rey had still felt waves of sadness flowing from her mother.

They would visit soon, right? Surely parents who were afraid of their daughter wouldn’t have been so sorrowful when she left, right?

Right?

. . .

Rey and Ben opened their eyes at the same time, finding that they were once again linked and staring into each other’s wide, shocked eyes in the dim light of early dawn. Rey blinked over and over, making sure she was awake, but the dream was still fresh in her mind. She wanted to ask Ben what it had meant, but the look on his face and the waves of shock flowing from his soul told her that he had no idea what was going on either.

“Ben,” she choked out, “I dreamed . . .”

“I did too,” said Ben, blinking at her. “I dreamed I was you!”

“And I dreamed I was you!” Rey gasped. “Did we . . .?”

“Dream of each other’s memories?” Ben stared at her as if he was afraid of her, his breath coming in and out in pants. “But this . . . this hasn’t happened before!”

“What does it mean?” Rey asked in a hushed voice. “Is the dyad getting stronger?”

“I don’t know,” said Ben, glancing around as if afraid that they’d change into each other if they let their guard down. “I . . . dammit!” He punched his pillow, making Rey jump. “In the dream I wasn’t just seeing your memory – I was actually you and I didn’t even remember my true self!”

Rey nodded. “That’s how it was for me too.”

Ben sucked in a large breath. “What time is it?”

“I don’t know. Early morning, not time to get up.”

“Well do you really think either of us will be going back to sleep now?”

Rey let out a sigh. “No.” Again she looked into his eyes, not needing the Force to know he was terrified. “You had more training than I did – has this ever happened before with other dyads?”

“Dyads aren’t exactly common,” Ben growled. “There isn’t exactly an instruction manual on how they function.”

“Maybe the Jedi texts have something . . .”

“I wouldn’t count on the Jedi to have the answers,” Ben spat. He rolled to his back, folding his arms. “Maybe next we’ll swap consciousnesses when awake – I don’t know!”

“Well . . . you’d have some time out of prison then.”

“Not funny!”

“All right, not funny.” Rey let out another sigh, wishing there was someone to talk to about this. “I’m sorry – this is scary to me too.”

Ben rolled back to facing her, a gentler look on his face. “Maybe it just happened because we linked when asleep . . . or something.”

“We’ve linked when one or the other is asleep before,” said Rey, slightly shaking her head. “No, this is something new.”

“But what does it mean?”

Neither one had an answer. Unable to get back to sleep and unable to find answers, they lay together as the sun slowly rose. When Ben once again vanished, Rey kept staring at the spot where he had been until it was time to get up.

Chapter Text

Rey spent the morning in her hotel room, looking through the Jedi texts for any information about dyads, but as Ben predicted, there was little to be found. The extreme rarity of dyads meant the ancient Jedi couldn’t study them easily and the little information she could find seemed based more on legend than fact. The texts said dyads were a phenomenon that could go for generations without happening (which she knew), that they could communicate over vast distances (which, again, she knew), and that their combined energy could create a nearly unstoppable power (which she also knew). There was nothing about dreaming of each other’s memories or feeling sick when trying to escape the link.

A knock on the door caused her to jump slightly. “Who is it?” she called.

“It’s Finn. Can I come in?”

“Sure, the door’s unlocked.”

Rey carefully placed the book on the nightstand as Finn entered the room, a worried look on his face. “Rey, I didn’t see you at breakfast, are you all right?”

Rey fiddled with a loose thread on the bedcover. How was she supposed to tell Finn about what happened? Should she even tell him? Was she supposed to, out of courtesy to the other half of the dyad, discuss things with Ben before telling anyone else? “I’m . . . not hungry.”

Finn sat on the edge of the bed next to her, letting her smell the flowery hotel soap scent emitting from his skin. “Rey, come on, I know you better than that – you never skip meals unless something’s wrong. Did Kylo . . .?”

“No,” Rey quickly responded, drawing her knees up to her chest and hugging her legs, “but . . . something’s happening. The dyad . . .”

“What?” Instantly Finn’s hand was on top of hers, stroking her fingers in a loving manner. “What’s going on with the dyad thing?”

With one look into his kind eyes, Rey found herself telling him all about the dreams and how neither she nor Ben knew what the incident meant. By the time she finished, Finn looked like he had forgotten how to exhale.

“Rey,” he whispered, “you’ve gotta find out how to break this dyad thing!”

“I don’t think we can,” said Rey.

Finn was panting in a similar manner to how Ben had panted earlier. “But what if he’s right and you do start swapping places when awake? What if you start forgetting who you are? What if you start thinking you’re him?”

“Don’t you think I’ve thought of that?” Rey swallowed, willing herself to keep her voice steady. “I’m scared, he’s scared, we’re both scared, but we don’t know what to do!”

Finn just stared into her eyes, reaching over and cradling her ear in his hand with his soft touch. “Rey, I’m not gonna pretend I understand what you’re going through, but please, fight it if you can. You almost lost yourself to Palpatine – don’t lose yourself to this!”

Rey collapsed into his embrace.

. . .

“Great job! You should be able to walk on your own in no time!”

Ben leaned over, panting in exhaustion, gripping the parallel bars Renda had set up for walking practice. Why was the doctor acting like this was something to celebrate when she knew perfectly well what walking on his own would mean? He closed his eyes, concentrating on slowing his breath, seeing Rey’s wall of marks in his mind.

Last night wasn’t the first time he’d seen that wall. The first time was on Starkiller Base, when he’d . . . tortured her, he forced himself to acknowledge. His eyes welled up as he remembered her scrunched, pained face, how he’d relished in the power he thought he had over her . . .

“Ben? Are you all right?”

Ben opened his eyes, seeing Renda giving him a concerned expression. “Just tired,” he mumbled, wiping his hand over his eyes before the doctor could notice the tears.

“Well let’s get you back to bed,” she said, wrapping an arm around him to steady him. “You ready?”

Ben nodded, leaning on Renda as she eased him back to his bed, and though she had said she was willing to vouch for his “character,” he still sensed her discomfort with being so close to him. Not that he blamed her – or anyone else, for that matter.

“Ben Solo, you have a visitor.”

The droid’s voice came as Renda was easing Ben into bed. He groaned, sensing her in the hall. His first instinct was to tell the droid that he was too tired for visitors, but she’d probably sense that he was lying. “Fine,” he muttered, leaning back against the large pillow and letting out a long sigh.

“Ben!” Rey exclaimed, rushing up to the bed, several stray hairs hanging from her buns as if she had run the whole distance from the turbolift to his room.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“I want to talk about this in person,” she said in a businesslike manner. “So I know you won’t vanish during the conversation.”

“What’s there to talk about?” Ben asked. “Unless you actually did find something in those old books.”

Rey shifted her focus to Renda and the droid. “Can they leave us alone?”

“Sure,” said Renda, backing out of the room with the droid following. “Buzz me if you need me.”

Once they were gone, Rey sat on the edge of the bed. “I didn’t find anything useful in the texts.”

“So you came all the way over here to tell me that?”

“Well it’s not like I can just summon Jedi ghosts to explain things!” Rey took a deep breath. “Anyway, I remembered something Luke told me during my training.”

“What?” Ben found that he couldn’t stop the bitterness in his voice at the mention of Luke. “That he had to go poking around in my mind for the good of the galaxy?”

“Ben, please!” Rey put her hand on his and he had to do his best to ignore how nice it felt. “We’re in this together, so we need to work together.” She took another deep breath. “Luke told me that my grandfather had wanted to form a dyad with your grandfather.”

He blinked at her, unsure if he had heard right. “What?”

“My grandfather wanted to form a dyad with your grandfather,” Rey repeated. “Luke didn’t say how he tried to do it, just that he wasn’t successful. That was the first time I’d heard of a Force dyad – I didn’t think much of it at the time.”

“No wonder he was so excited when he found out about us,” Ben groaned, shuddering slightly at the memory of Palpatine draining their combined energy.

“But that got me thinking,” Rey continued. “If a dyad can be formed, maybe a dyad can be split.”

Split. The word churned Ben’s stomach as if he’d eaten something bad. “You’d want to do that? Split the dyad?” It sounded taboo just mentioning the concept.

“I don’t know,” said Rey, “but after we dreamt of each other’s memories, who knows what else could happen? Maybe we’ll lose track of who we really are, maybe I’ll think I’m . . .” She abruptly cut off, a guilty expression on her face.

“You’ll think you’re what?”

Rey didn’t answer – she only glanced downwards.

“Go ahead, say it!” Ben couldn’t keep the hurt out of his voice. “You’ll think you’re Kylo Ren, is that what you were about to say??”

“Ben, I . . .”

“Don’t,” said Ben, pulling his hand out from under hers. “There’s nothing to apologize for. I would be afraid to be me too. I’d be afraid of me too.”

“I’m not . . .”

“Don’t lie! Talking about forgiveness and not giving up doesn’t mean you’re not still afraid of me! Who wouldn’t be afraid of someone who tortured them? Who wouldn’t be afraid of someone who killed his own father?”

Rey’s eyes welled up, making Ben want to wrap his arms around her, but he restrained himself from doing so. A hug from her torturer wouldn’t help anything right now. “I don’t know if dyads can be split,” he mumbled, gazing downward at her hand and resisting the urge to touch it again, “but if you find a way, go ahead and try it. You deserve better than to be tied to me.”

Chapter Text

Over the next week or so, Ben did his best to not sleep at night. If he and Rey didn’t sleep at the same time, they couldn’t dream at the same time either, and since he was in the hospital anyway, he could just catch up on sleep during the day.

It seemed like a simple enough plan in theory, but putting it into practice was a different matter. Physical therapy sessions, meals, taking his vitals, and occasional visits from Rey or Chewie meant he had to be awake for at least a portion of the day, and then there was the question of what to do at night to stay awake. Asking for caffeine was definitely out of the question since the doctors were monitoring his diet, and though he tried watching the holovid a few nights, it ended up making him depressed since no matter what was on – sports, news, mindless comedies or serious war stories – it all reminded him of the outside world.

The world he would never be part of again.

The next few nights after he gave up on the holovid, he tried meditating, but he wasn’t good at that at the best of times. Attempts to clear his mind only resulted in his mind wandering to his dead parents, to Rey, to the horrors he committed as Kylo Ren.

Sometimes Rey linked with him at night, which had him awkwardly trying not to watch her sleep and at the same time hoping she wouldn’t have those nightmares. The sound of her slow, peaceful sleep-breathing seemed to want to lull him to sleep as well, but he always resisted, determined not to disturb her sleep with dreams about being him.

“Ben, you look terrible.”

Ben’s head jerked up at the sound of his doctor’s voice. When did she enter? With a few blinks, he realized he had no idea what time it was or even whether or not he’d just been asleep.

“Ben?” Renda repeated. “Are you sleeping all right?”

“Not much,” Ben admitted. At least he could tell the truth about that without going into how he was trying to avoid swapping memories with Rey.

And speaking of which, there she was, sitting in some sort of chair with her back to him, possibly at a meeting. For a moment she seemed unaware that they’d linked, but then she glanced back at him, her mouth twisting.

Meanwhile, Renda was sighing. “Ben, I know you didn’t like the sleep aid we gave you, but there are other kinds we can try.”

“No!” Ben exclaimed in a near-shout. “No sleep aids. Not at night.”

Rey mouthed, “what?” at him at the same time that Renda also exclaimed, “What?”

“Why not at night?” Renda continued, cocking her head. “Ben . . . are you trying not to sleep at night?”

“Why are you doing that?” Rey hissed, making Ben feel like a child being scolded by both parents at once.

“I think you can guess why,” Ben muttered.

“No, I can’t guess why,” said Renda. “Is it because you don’t want to get better?”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” said Ben.

Now Renda’s eyes were bulging. “Wait, Ben . . . do you hear voices in your mind?”

“No, not like that,” said Ben, fumbling for words and trying not to think of how close to the truth her question would have been years ago. “At least not anymore . . . no, what’s going on is something you wouldn’t understand.”

Renda leaned forward, staring into his eyes. “No, I won’t understand if you don’t tell me, but if you do tell me, I just might. As your doctor, it’s my responsibility to know why you’re not sleeping and if you’re hearing voices so I can help you.”

Ben glanced back at Rey, who had for the moment turned back around – maybe someone at the meeting had noticed her talking to nothing. “You can’t help me with this.”

“Try me.”

Now Rey was looking back at him again. “Are you talking to your doctor?” she whispered, to which Ben only nodded slightly in response. After a moment, she whispered, “It’s all right, you can tell her about us.”

She made it sound as simple as if he were just telling the doctor that they were dating. How was he supposed to even begin explaining things to his non-Force-sensitive doctor?

“Ben?” Renda pressed.

Ben sighed, rubbing his sore eyes as Rey vanished. “It’s complicated, but if you really want to know . . .”

. . .

When Ben was finished telling his doctor about the dyad, the dreams, and his effort to avoid swapping memories with Rey again, Renda’s only reaction was to twist her mouth and look at her datapad while making a “hmm” sound.

“Well?” Ben pressed. “Don’t you have something to say about how it’s all in my head and how if I try hard enough the delusions will stop? Are you going to refer me to a mental institution? Go ahead – maybe a mental institution would be better than prison.”

Renda let out a huff of air. “I’m not going to pretend to understand this dyad thing, but I’m also not going to say it’s all in your head.” Her eyes narrowed. “However, as your doctor I can’t condone you not sleeping.”

“I’m not not sleeping,” Ben protested. “Just not sleeping when she is.”

“Mm-hmm,” said Renda, “and the bags under your eyes tell me that’s not working very well.”

Just then, as if the Force was trying to make things as awkward as possible, the medical droid came stomping into the room. “Mr. Solo, you have a visitor.”

Ben groaned, burying his face in his hand. “It’s Rey, isn’t it?”

“Yes, and she says she wishes to see you right away.”

“Fine, let her in.” She would scold him the next time they linked anyway, so he might as well just get the scolding done with.

With that, Rey came bursting into the room. “Ben, is it true? Are you not sleeping at night so we won’t swap memories again?”

“I thought you didn’t want to swap memories again!” Ben shouted. “If we don’t sleep at the same time, we won’t swap memories.”

“Is that why you’ve been asleep so much when we link during the day?”

Ben felt his stomach churn at that, but he made an effort to keep a neutral expression. “I guess so.”

Rey inhaled and exhaled through her teeth, an exasperated expression on her face. “And how long do you think you can keep this charade up?”

“Until my execution if I have to. Or maybe I’ll die of sleep deprivation before that.”

“Ben, this is crazy.”

“Well do you have a better idea??”

Renda loudly cleared her throat, as if trying to remind them both that she was in the room. Once she got their attention, she spoke up in an authoritative voice. “Look, I don’t know all the ins and outs of being in a dyad beyond what Ben just told me, but I do know that running away from a problem doesn’t solve it. Maybe you two dreamed of each other’s memories for a reason.”

Chapter Text

That night, Ben was given a new sleep aid in the form of a little blue pill that he was to take right before bedtime under the medical droid’s supervision – and of course, just as he was taking the pill and gulping down the water, Rey appeared, lying next to him, her hair down, wearing a well-worn gray t-shirt, staring at him with wide eyes.

“If you need anything during the night, simply use the buzzer,” the droid said as he turned off the lights and left the room, unknowingly leaving him alone with his other half of the dyad.

“Was that a sleeping pill?” Rey asked.

Ben nodded. “They want me on a normal sleeping schedule now,” he said with a groan as he leaned back against the pillow.

He heard Rey swallow, and though she tried to hide it, he felt a wave of fear come from her. “Well, that’s good, isn’t it?”

“Not if you don’t want to dream that you’re me.”

Rey swallowed again. “Well . . . maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe we’ll dream of happy memories.” She shifted a little to get closer to him. “Here’s a happy memory. Back on Jakku I had a doll – a doll of an X-Wing pilot. I made it out of some scrap fabric I’d found and named it Dosmit, after an old Alliance fighter I’d heard stories of.” Her voice grew soft, dreamy. “I used to hug him and pretend we were saving the galaxy together and I’d tell him that we’d take off from Jakku together one day.” Now her voice was down to a near-whisper. “I left him on Jakku . . . maybe someone’s stolen him by now.”

Suddenly an image of the tattered little faceless doll showing the wear of having been loved appeared in Ben’s mind and he realized that Rey had shared the image with his mind. “It sounds like you really loved him. Maybe someday you can go get him back.”

“Maybe . . .” said Rey, “though if someone did steal him, maybe they gave him to another child who needed a friend like I did.” She cleared her throat. “All right, now it’s your turn. Tell me about a happy memory.”

Ben let out a sigh through his nose, already feeling his eyelids getting heavy. “When I was little, if I got sick, Dad and I would lie on the couch together and watch the holovid. He’d cover us both with this big soft blanket and hold me in his arms and I’d feel so warm and protected even with the sniffles.” He yawned, imagining for a moment that he was back on the couch in his father’s arms. “We’d cuddle with my stuffed animals as we watched the kiddie shows – I think Dad enjoyed those shows as much as I did – and we’d often fall asleep together. Those were some of the few times when it actually felt safe to fall asleep.”

“That’s so sweet,” Rey said.

“Yeah . . .” Ben murmured, hovering on the edge of sleep, “. . . sweet.” In his foggy mind he concentrated on the memories of curling up in his father’s loving embrace, listening to his breathing, his heartbeat . . .

The heartbeat he’d stopped.

A sharp chill pushed its way through the sleeping pill’s haze. The lightsaber, the bridge, his father falling . . . no! No, don’t think about that! Don’t send her THAT memory!

“Ben?” Rey asked. “Are you okay?”

Ben squeezed his eyes as tightly shut as he could, unwilling to answer, trying to go back to the memories of resting in his father’s arms only for the arms to grow stiff and cold, bracing him in a dead vice instead of hugging him. As the sleep aid took effect, it pulled him down into a dark void, still trapped in his father’s dead arms.

. . .

Rey lay staring up into the darkness, listening to Ben’s slow breaths and occasional snores, afraid of falling asleep despite what she’d told him. Though she’d long outgrown sleeping with her doll Dosmit, she found herself wishing she still had him and could squeeze his soft body. Happy memories, she told herself, happy memories. Han holding her in a fatherly embrace – that didn’t sound like a bad thing to dream about even if she wouldn’t remember herself.

“And Han Solo, you feel like he’s the father you never had . . .”

She gasped, back on the interrogation table for a moment, the foreign presence creeping around in her mind . . .

Ben moaned in his sleep, jolting her back into the real world, yet even in the real world she was lying next to the person who’d violated her mind – not just next to him, linked with him, possibly for the rest of their lives. No, no, she shouldn’t think like that, he wasn’t Kylo Ren anymore and he needed her to have faith in him . . .

She rolled over to face him, her breath tightening. He’d said she was still afraid of him, but that wasn’t true, was it? Not exactly at least, right?

But just thinking about the interrogation table made her flinch in the real world . . .

A long exhale escaped her mouth. Probably Finn and Poe and the others wanted her to have nothing more to do with Ben, but even if the dyad weren’t making that impossible, how could she walk out on him after he’d saved her – after he’d almost died for her?

Why couldn’t Ben just vanish and at least let her have a little time for herself?

“Happy memories,” she whispered, taking a deep breath, “happy memories, happy memories.” Her arms felt empty, suddenly aching to hug her doll one more time, and without thinking, she found herself wrapping them around Ben instead. He didn’t wake, but his head shifted to nuzzle against her.

What are you doing? she asked herself, wanting to say it was only because missing her doll had made her long to hug something and Ben was just the closest thing available, but no, that wasn’t it, not really.

If that were the case, she’d have let go by now.

Children’s stories would say getting urges to touch and hug – and even kiss, Rey forced herself to remember, though neither she nor Ben had ever mentioned that to each other – meant they were destined to get married and live happily ever after, but there weren’t any children’s stories about Force dyads. Especially not dyads with someone who used to be . . .

Rey shook her head as if trying to shake off the dyad controlling her, but still she didn’t let go. Maybe the dyad was controlling her. How would she even know which decisions were her own and which ones were the work of the dyad?

No, no, this wasn’t something to think about at night – she’d drive herself crazy. Happy memories, she repeated to herself over and over. Happy memories.

But even as she started to drift off, still holding Ben, the twist in her stomach remained.

Chapter Text

The lightning zapped through her, knocking her to the ground and leaving her a writhing mess of pain, but she didn’t cry out, since doing so would bring on punishment. She gritted her teeth through her body’s involuntary spasms, her mind repeating don’t scream, don’t scream, don’t scream! Something warm was trickling out of her nose – blood? – but she didn’t wipe it away. This was for her own good – it would make her strong.

“Pitiful,” Snoke said in a low voice as he strode up to her. “No wonder your parents abandoned you to rot, young Solo.”

Rage shot through her faster than the lightning, giving her enough strength to glare up at her master, teeth bared like an animal. “That’s NOT MY NAME!!” she screamed.

“You won’t be able to escape your father’s name so long as you share his weaknesses!” Snoke growled. He leaned over her and she inadvertently flinched away. “See? You’re still a frightened child who cowers from pain instead of facing it.” He stared down at her with those piercing eyes. “The name of Ren is earned, not given. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Then show me how you conquer pain.”

Again she gritted her teeth in determination, inching her arms and legs to a crouching position, determined to ignore how the floor scraping against her burns made them cry out for tending, licking the blood dribbling from her nose and ignoring the metallic taste. She pushed herself to her feet, though she couldn’t stop herself from wobbling as she did so.

A grin crept across her master’s scarred face. “Good. You may earn the name of Ren yet, my girl.” He raised his hands, curling his fingers. “Now, again!”

The lightning shot through her once more.

. . .

“CHEWIE!”

Ben stood frozen in place as the prison transport exploded in front of him, its debris toppling from the sky in flames and black clouds of smoke. Falling, falling, falling . . . and somewhere Chewie’s corpse was falling with it. Though Ben heard Finn calling to him, saw more stormtroopers flying in on speederbikes, the only movement he was capable of was looking down at his hand.

The hand that killed Chewie.

Tears blurred his vision, but his mind’s eye still saw the lightning shoot out of that hand – that murderous hand. Suddenly he wished he could slice that hand off and burn it even though he knew that wouldn’t bring Chewie back.

“Ben, come on! Come ON!”

Finn and Poe’s voices sounded like they were coming from another world – a world where Chewie was alive. No, no, this wasn’t right! Chewie was alive! Any minute now he would crawl out of the rubble and escape with them. They couldn’t leave without him!

“COME ON!”

Reality hit him like a stunray. No Wookiee would come heroically climbing out of the rubble. Chewie was dead. Dead by his own murderous hand. His mind heard the Wookiee’s comforting growls, felt his warm, soft embrace as that hand – that damn HAND! – started to shake.

“Chewie . . .” he whispered in horror.

. . .

Again both halves of the dyad woke at the same time, again finding that they were still linked, though this time they realized it through their Force senses rather than their eyes since it was still dark. Behind his blinks Ben still saw the exploding transport, feeling an urge to stare at his own hand even though his conscious mind knew it was Rey’s memory, not his.

“I didn’t know Snoke did that to you.”

Rey’s voice came out in the tiniest of whispers, as if she wasn’t even sure if she wanted Ben to hear it.

“Did what?” Ben asked, finding his throat dry.

“Tortured you . . . with lightning.” Still Rey’s voice was in a tiny whisper. “A-And . . . you thought it was because he wanted to make you strong?”

Ben gulped, trying to ignore the slight tremble in his hands. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”

Suddenly her hand was on his chest. “Don’t be sorry. It’s just . . . I had no idea.”

“And what, you think that excuses everything?” Ben’s voice came out harsher than he’d intended. “You think that since Ben the poor innocent victim got abused, that makes it okay for him to become a murderer??”

“No . . . of course not,” said Rey, her hand still on his chest, maybe feeling his heartbeat, which suddenly made him wish he was still connected to the heart monitor. At least that beeping would provide a distraction.

“Did he . . . did he do it often?” Rey asked.

Ben couldn’t answer. Answering might send him back to Snoke’s throne room, back to the “endurance training,” as his old master called it . . .

“I see,” said Rey in a low voice, her arm now creeping over his chest, wrapping him in a loose embrace. “What did you dream about?”

Ben swallowed repeatedly in a fruitless attempt to moisten his throat. “That day on Pasaana . . . when I saw you destroy the transport – only I was the one who destroyed it.” He turned his head to face her even though he couldn’t see her. “I didn’t know you thought Chewie was on it.”

Her arm froze. “Didn’t you hear me screaming his name??”

“Not over the crash,” said Ben. “I knew later that we’d taken him prisoner, of course, but at the time, I didn’t know what had made you so desperate.”

He heard her swallow. “Would it have made any difference if he was on that transport?”

Ben blinked rapidly, knowing the truth but loathe to admit it to Rey or himself. “If he was . . . I might have tried harder to pull it down.” He flinched away from her embrace, rolling over to face away from her. “Like with Dad . . . as Kylo Ren I felt I had to destroy everything associated with my old life."

There was silence for what felt like a year even though it was probably only a few seconds. “In the dream,” Rey finally said in a hesitant voice, “Snoke called me – you – ‘young Solo’ to taunt you.”

Ben’s eyes were filling with tears. “My name . . . I was ashamed of it. I thought anything associated with my old life was weak and . . .” A sob interrupted him.

“Ben . . .”

Ben rolled back around to face her. “You thought your hand was murderous when you thought you killed Chewie – but you didn’t actually kill him! My hands actually are murderous!”

He heard her swallow again. “It was only because of luck that I didn’t kill him.” Her body shifted – maybe she was holding her hand in front of her face like in the dream-memory. “Wh-what I can do . . . what I almost did . . .”

Now it was Ben throwing his arm over Rey, tucking her in an embrace. “Rey, what you can do doesn’t define you.”

He felt her hand rest on top of his. “But what if . . . what if it happens again? I didn’t intend to shoot lightning out of my hand – it just happened! I wouldn’t know how to control it if it happened again.” Her fingers drummed nervously on his hand, pressing into his skin. “You offered to teach me once – do you know how to . . .?”

“No,” Ben interrupted. “I don’t know how to make lightning, yet alone control it. That was a skill that Snoke never shared.”

Rey sucked in a long inhale as if trying to keep herself from crying. “We were supposed to dream of happy memories.”

Ben wanted to hug her tighter, let her know that she wasn’t alone, but he restrained himself from doing so. “I don’t think we have any control over what we dream.”

“We don’t seem to have any control over anything.”

With that, she vanished, letting Ben’s arm fall onto the bed.

Chapter Text

Step, step, step.

Ben still gripped the parallel bars during walking practice like they were a lifeline, even though his legs were getting stronger. Almost normal – but in his case, that wasn’t a desirable thing. Recovering meant he’d go straight from the hospital to prison, after all.

“Ben, I think you might be ready to try to walk on your own.”

“I don’t think so,” Ben said a little too hastily, which Doctor Renda seemed to notice.

“Ben,” she said, “are you saying that because you really don’t feel ready to walk or because you’re afraid of leaving here?”

“Does it matter?” asked Ben, looking down at his bare feet with the blue veins snaking along the skin. “You can’t legally force me to do anything I don’t want to do.”

“True,” said Renda, “but we also can’t legally keep a healthy patient in a room that could go to a sick patient.”

Ben sighed. “Well I am sick. Healthy people don’t murder their parents. Healthy people don’t torture prisoners for information. Healthy people don’t violate people’s minds. Healthy people don’t order entire villages destroyed – should I go on?” His mind’s eye saw his father’s face, causing him to grip the bars tightly enough to whiten his knuckles.

“Ben, I understand . . .”

“No, you don’t!” Ben’s head snapped up to glare at her. “You’re in the same room as someone who murdered his father! Doesn’t that bother you? Don’t you wish you could just get out that concealed stunray and shut me up?”

“Ben, I’m here to help you.”

“Then the least you could do is be honest and stop acting like you’re perfectly fine with having Kylo Ren as a patient!”

Now she actually looked angry. Were doctors even allowed to get angry at their patients? He couldn’t say he knew for sure, but now her lips were quivering and her eyes were narrowing, which was almost a relief. It meant the Twi’lek doctor might actually have a side beyond wanting to help him no matter what.

“You want me to be honest?” she said in a low voice. “All right, I’ll be honest. When you first came here, yes, I was scared. I was ready to stun you at a moment’s notice, but the more I got to know you, the less I feared you.” She swallowed, glancing at her datapad as if unable to look him in the eye. “And you remind me of my daughter.”

“Wait, what?”

She looked back up at him. “Strictly speaking, I’m not supposed to share personal stories with my patients, but maybe this will help you. My daughter – she’s sixteen and she’s in jail. Well, technically juvenile hall, but it’s as good as jail. She’s been part of a . . . a gang for the last two years or so.”

Ben felt like he had been punched in the stomach. “Why?”

Renda inhaled as if trying to keep herself from crying. “I don’t know. Maybe because her father left before she was born and wants nothing to do with her – we’ve both tried contacting him and he never responds. Maybe because I have to work such long hours, or maybe it’s a combination, but when I visit her I keep telling her that it’s not too late to turn her life around when she gets out. I have to believe that she still has a future.” She wiped a hand over her eyes. “We can’t change what we did – I can’t, you can’t, she can’t, but there’s always a tomorrow. I want to help both you and her to realize that.”

Ben couldn’t speak. The cheek where Han had touched him suddenly felt numb. A dying father, felled by his own son’s hand . . . yet he still used his last moments to show that he believed in tomorrow. His eyes squeezed shut in a vain attempt to keep tears in. Both his dead parents in his subconscious’s wilderness, still believing in tomorrow even after everything he’d done . . .

“Ben? Are you all right?”

Ben opened his eyes, the doctor’s face little more than a large green blur through his tears. “I’m sorry,” he said, unable to think of anything else. He sniffled, wiping his eyes on his hospital gown’s sleeve, though the tears kept coming. “I hope she can find her tomorrow even if I can’t.”

“You can. In fact, you can start by learning to walk again.”

Again he gazed down at his feet. “I’m still walking to prison.”

. . .

Rey sat at the edge of the indoor hotel pool, savoring the smell of chlorine, her pants pulled up to her knees, her bare feet soaking in the cool water. She gazed out at the various children and their parents playing in the water, splashing each other, older children showing off how they could swim and parents holding younger children up. So normal.

“Rey?”

Rey looked up and there was Finn towering over her, barefoot but otherwise dressed, a swimsuit and towel dangling over his shoulder. “Rey, are you all right?”

“I’m fine.”

“You wanna go swimming together?”

“I don’t know how to swim.” She went back to gazing out at the pool. “Maybe my parents taught me before they left me on Jakku, but I don’t remember if they did.”

Now Finn was rolling up his own pants. After placing his swimsuit and towel on the floor, he eased himself into a sitting position next to Rey, sticking his own feet into the water. “I could teach you to swim if you wanted.”

“I don’t know,” said Rey, glancing at her hand. What if lightning shot out of her hand here, killing all the innocent souls in the pool?? Maybe she should stay away from water . . . but that wouldn’t stop her from losing control on land.

“Rey?” Finn repeated. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

Rey took a deep breath. “Have I been all right at all lately? I found out I’m Palpatine’s granddaughter, I almost killed Chewie and I could lose control again, I’m trapped in a dyad I can’t control, Ben and I are dreaming of each other’s memories – no, I’m not all right, but you can’t fix it!”

Finn’s eyes bulged as he gave an audible gulp. “You’re right,” he said in a low voice, “I can’t fix it, but I wish I could fix it.” His eyes shifted a bit. “Uh . . . is he here, you know, right now?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t appear at any moment.”

“Damn,” said Finn, “you . . . really don’t have any privacy at all, do you? That must be hell.”

Rey slowly kicked her feet back and forth in the water, her toes peeking through the surface before going back under. “Sometimes it is hell, but sometimes . . . it’s not.”

“How is it not?”

How could Rey explain it when she couldn’t understand it herself? “You’re not alone” – Ben’s words from so long ago echoed in her mind. That night when they’d touched hands, when she’d felt light within him . . .

“There are times . . .” She fumbled for words. “. . . times when it feels right.”

Chapter Text

“Do you need anything else before bed?” Renda asked as Ben spat into the basin and placed the toothbrush back on the tray.

“No,” said Ben, shifting his eyes to the side momentarily. He and Rey hadn’t linked all day, but instead of relaxing him, that only put him further on edge about when she might appear.

“All right,” said Renda, picking up the tray. “Just give me a moment and I’ll be back with the sleep aid.”

He expected Rey to appear as soon as the doctor left, but no, still there was nothing. Was the Force trying to lure him into a false sense of security and make him think he might not dream of her memories tonight? He stared at the emptiness next to him as if that would make Rey appear . . . did that mean he wanted her to appear?

Maybe he did.

In fact, why wouldn’t he?

After all, when they linked, it meant he wasn’t alone.

“All right,” Renda said, entering with the pill in one hand and a paper cup of water in the other, “if you need me during the night, just buzz me.”

“Do you ever sleep?” Ben asked as she handed him the pill and the water.

“Occasionally, but tonight I’ve got a late shift.”

Ben twisted his mouth. “So it’s okay when you don’t sleep, but if I don’t do it, I get into trouble.”

Renda gave him a smile that reminded him of the smile Leia used to give when Han tried to remind her that she was only human and couldn’t take care of the galaxy all by herself. “I do believe I’m the doctor and you’re the patient here.”

“You said I remind you of your daughter. Well you remind me of my mother. She was so wrapped up in the galaxy’s well-being that she sometimes seemed to think things like eating and sleeping were things you only did if the galaxy was in a stable enough state.”

A small snicker escaped Renda’s mouth. “I’m flattered, but I don’t have half your mother’s endurance.”

Ben let out a sigh as he looked at the blue pill in his hand, remembering his mother’s words from the coma. “You needed a mother. Not a senator, not a general, a mother.” “I admired her,” he murmured, “sometimes I wanted to be like her, but I knew that was impossible.”

“Why?”

Ben popped the pill in his mouth, but his throat still felt dry even after gulping down the water. “Because I felt too much. A kid who was scared all the time and got angry at everything couldn’t hope to be like her.”

“Oh, you think she never got angry or scared?”

“Sure she did, but she could handle it better than me. Why do you think she’s the only Force-sensitive in our family to never get tempted by the dark side?” He handed her the empty cup. “Good night.”

Renda looked like she didn’t know how to respond to that, but being the doctor she was, she tried anyway. “Your mother was still a person. She was flawed like all the rest of us.”

Ben dug his head into the pillow, closing his eyes and trying not to remember that moment when he heard Leia’s voice in his mind before feeling her die. “Good night.”

He sensed that she wanted to say more, but thankfully she knew when to back away. “Okay, good night. Remember, buzz me if you need me for anything – and that includes a shoulder to cry on.”

The door closed and Ben already felt himself drifting off, but in the back of his mind the uneasiness remained.

Where was Rey?

. . .

“Be with me . . . be with me . . .”

Rey didn’t know how long she had been sitting cross-legged on the couch in the far corner of the hotel’s lobby, but her legs were beginning to ache. “Be with me,” she repeated, her spirit reaching out, imagining itself freed from her body, freed even from the confines of the world, calling to the Jedi who came before her. “Be with me . . .”

But she heard nothing.

It didn’t exactly surprise her – it wasn’t like the dead Jedi just came when they were called, but couldn’t one of them take time out of their afterlife to talk to her about dyads?

“Mistress Rey, might I ask what you are doing?”

Rey opened her eyes and there was 3PO standing in front of her, R2 and D-O accompanying him. “Tr-tr-trouble?” D-O stuttered, rolling back and forth on his wheel.

“No,” said Rey, “I’m not in trouble. I’m just . . . wondering about things.” She looked up at 3PO. “I don’t suppose you know anything about Force dyads?”

“No, I am afraid my databases contain no information about Force dyads.” Though the protocol droid couldn’t actually change his expression, his slight lean forward indicated concern. “Why do you ask, Mistress Rey?”

Rey took a deep breath, seeing no reason why the droids shouldn’t know about her bond with Ben. To her surprise, 3PO didn’t interrupt once as she explained the dyad as best she could. R2 and D-O stayed equally quiet, intensely listening. How much did droids understand about the Force, anyway?

“Oh dear,” 3PO said when she was done. “Poor little Master Ben.”

“Little Master Ben?” Rey couldn’t stop her eyebrows from raising. “You knew him before?”

“Of course,” said 3PO. “Before Master Luke started his Jedi training temple, we would visit quite often.”

R2 beeped that when Ben was little, he used to love playing with them.

“When little Master Ben turned to the dark side, Mistress Leia and Master Han were quite devastated, but for some reason they ordered me not to tell anyone about it,” 3PO continued. “Master Han even threatened to have my memory wiped if I told anyone. Humans can be quite confusing.”

“Yes, they can,” said Rey, painfully uncrossing her legs and letting her feet rest on the green-carpeted floor. “Well, do you have any ideas on what to do?”

“I’m afraid not, Mistress Rey,” said the protocol droid, the hotel light reflecting off his metal plating. “Even Master Luke knew very little about dyads.”

D-O craned his little neck upwards. “Ca-can I help?”

Rey was about to say that she wasn’t sure how he could help, but then Leia’s words echoed in her mind: “Never underestimate a droid.” She thought back to when they’d found him, battered and abused, unwilling to even be touched.

Maybe he’d like to help another battered soul.

“Actually,” Rey said carefully, “I think you could help.”

Chapter Text

If Ben dreamed anything the night before, he didn’t remember it, though he wasn’t sure if he should be relieved about that or anxious about what might come tonight. Maybe the Force gave them a night off because it had something extra-frightening planned for tonight. Maybe tonight he’d dream he was Rey as her parents were abandoning her.

Maybe she’d dream about having villages murdered.

“Finished?” Renda asked.

Ben wondered why his doctor felt the need to ask if he was finished when the only thing left on the breakfast tray was the crusts of his toast, but he still nodded.

“All right,” said Renda, taking hold of the tray. “Let me get rid of this and then we can start you walking.”

Start you walking. Those words settled in his stomach like rotten food. He pinched the sleeve of his cheery light blue hospital gown and imagined it was a drab gray prison uniform: tight-fitting, squeezing his body, labelling him as someone who could never be part of the real world again.

. . .

“Are you sure about this?” Rey asked D-O as they rode up the hospital turbolift.

The little droid craned his head up at her “I-I want to help,” he said, and despite the stutter in his voice, he sounded full of resolve. Rey found her breath speeding up as the turbolift came to a stop and the doors slid open with a whoosh, revealing the hallway of doctors and nurses bustling this way and that. By now she had the route to Ben’s room memorized, and while she expected D-O to shy away from all the strangers, he dutifully followed Rey down the hall, though occasionally he stuttered incoherently. Rey couldn’t help but feel proud of the little droid facing his fears.

Room 5042, and there was the medical droid stepping through the door. “I’m here to see Ben Solo,” said Rey.

“Rey?” Ben called before the droid could answer. “You can come in.”

Rey did so, with D-O rolling behind her, his wheel slowing to what would be called a creep if he had legs. She expected to find Ben either in bed or practicing walking on the parallel bars – but she didn’t expect him to be walking on his own.

“Ben!” she gasped.

His face was flushed and glistening with sweat and he was wobbling with every step, but he was walking. Next to him, Renda was smiling warmly, though she had her arms held up to catch him in the event of a fall.

“Ben . . . I can’t believe it!” Rey exclaimed.

Ben only frowned at her. “You think this is something to be happy about?” he shouted, taking a series of hurried, wobbly steps towards her, seemingly unaware of how his body was swaying. “You and I both know what’s going to happen once I can walk out of here! We both know that . . . gah!” With that, he tripped, his large body suddenly slumping down on Rey’s, causing her to grab his sides and step around in small circles in an attempt to balance his weight on her and causing D-O to wheel backwards towards the doorway.

“Ben, I told you not to overexert yourself!” Renda exclaimed, wrapping her arms around his back and pulling him off of Rey. “Come on, I think you’ve had enough for today. Let’s get you back to bed.”

As the doctor helped Ben walk to bed, D-O cautiously rolled up to Rey and looked up at her. “Fr-friend?”

Rey slowly nodded, rotating her shoulders, which were suddenly sore from Ben landing on her. “Yes. He’s the one who needs a friend.”

Without any further coaxing, D-O rolled up to Ben’s bed. “H-hello. Friend. I-I am D-O.”

Ben pursed his lips, cocking his head at Rey. “What’s going on now?”

Rey carefully made her way to his bed and sat on the edge. “We found him on Pasaana. I think his previous owner abused him – at the beginning he wouldn’t even let anyone touch him.” She did her best to give Ben a warm smile. “And, well, I told him about you – about us – and he wants to help you.”

“Friend!” D-O exclaimed, rolling back and forth on his wheel. “Friend!”

Ben snorted as he looked down at the droid. “And did she tell you about how I tortured people probably far worse than how your owner treated you?? How I killed hundreds – possibly thousands – of people?? How I did nothing to stop Hux from destroying the Hosnian system??” His eyes were welling up. “Did she tell you what I did to my own father??”

With that, he broke down crying once again, burying his face in his hands. Renda was quick to hand him a box of tissues, but she said nothing. Rey could only stare, not knowing what to say or how to say it.

“Sad,” said D-O.

Ben sniffled, wiping his nose with a tissue. “And you think being sad makes anything better? I made lots of people sad!”

The little droid craned his neck up to its limit. “Friend.”

“And even if I deserved a droid friend, do you think they’ll let me have a droid in prison?” Ben shouted through his sobs. “Do you think you’d enjoy living in prison?”

Still D-O didn’t waver. “Ben Solo. Friend.”

“Do you even understand what I’m saying??” Ben screamed, his nose red and his eyes puffy. “I’m worse than the one who abused you!”

D-O kept staring up at Ben, making Rey hold her breath. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all – maybe it would even set D-O back and make him distrust people again.

“Help,” said D-O. “I-I want to help.”

“Why?” Ben sobbed. “Why would you want to help someone who’s no different from your old owner?”

“A-are different,” said D-O. “Sad about it. O-Ochi never sad.”

“Like I said, sad fixes NOTHING!”

“Ben, please,” said Rey. “He wants to help. We both do.”

There was that look in his eyes again – that hopeless, heartbroken look. “What if I can’t be helped? In fact, I shouldn’t be helped. None of you should be wasting your time on me!”

He broke down in sobs again, burying his face in one hand while digging into the tissues with the other. Renda glanced at Ben, then at Rey, then at Ben again before saying, “Maybe you should leave for now.”

Rey nodded, but D-O craned his head up in Renda’s direction. “C-can I stay?”

“That’s up to Ben,” said Renda.

Ben sniffled, blinking down at the droid, looking like a child nervous about making a new friend. “Fine,” he finally said, “you can stay.”

The droid excitedly rolled back and forth. “Friend,” he repeated. “Ben Solo. Friend.”

Chapter Text

Having a droid in his hospital room made Ben feel like a tenant sneaking a pet into an apartment where pets weren’t allowed. Were non-medical droids allowed here? Renda hadn’t said anything about them not being allowed and the regular medical droids hadn’t expressed any disapproval, but it still felt like something out of the norm.

He and D-O spent the afternoon in an on-and-off conversation that had started when D-O said, “Parents. I-I want to know about your parents,” which led to him talking sporadically about Leia teaching him to swim at Naboo’s lake country, Han letting him play with his lucky dice on the Falcon, Han braiding Leia’s hair and kissing her neck as she applied her makeup before going to senate events. Though there were long bouts of silence between stories, D-O didn’t push Ben, instead letting him talk about his parents in his own time.

“Th-they sound nice,” D-O said when it was clear that Ben was tired of telling stories.

“Yeah,” said Ben, “they were.”

D-O craned his head up at Ben. “You miss them.” It wasn’t a question.

Ben took several deep breaths to keep his eyes from welling up. “Yes, I do.”

. . .

That evening, Ben decided to try walking to his room’s adjacent refresher, which Renda approved of, though she insisted on giving him a cane to use in the refresher and standing outside the door herself in case anything would happen.

After washing his hands, Ben leaned on his cane and stared at himself in the mirror, realizing that this was the first time he’d seen his own face since waking. His skin was paler than he remembered, making the tiny freckles dotting his face more prominent, and his figure was skinnier, his skin hugging his bones in a tighter manner.

But what stood out the most was his eye.

In the last year he’d gotten used to the scar that cut across his face, inflicted by Rey on that night – that damn night! – but when Rey healed his body, she’d healed the scar too. Now his face looked empty without it.

He ran his finger down his face, tracing where the scar had once been, imagining that he could reinflict the scar by touching his face. After staring in the mirror for another few moments, he traced the scar a second time, this time actually scratching the skin with his fingernail, hard enough to bring pain but not hard enough to break the skin. Was it even possible to break skin with his fingernails?

“Ben?” Renda asked, knocking on the door. “Are you all right in there?”

Again he ran his fingernail down his face, welcoming the slight pain, staring at his reflection as if doing so long enough would make the scar appear again.

“B-Ben!” D-O called.

Ben let out a sigh, remembering the scar on his father’s chin and trying in vain to imagine him without it, remembering how he used to sit in his father’s lap and trace that scar with his finger, feeling either rough stubble or smooth skin depending on how long it had been since he’d shaved. “I’m fine,” he said. “Just thinking.”

. . .

Of course the Force chose to link Ben and Rey once he’d taken the sleep aid and the lights were out. Though he couldn’t see her very well, he assumed she was in bed too. The smell of flowery soap filled his nostrils, making him unwillingly imagine for a moment that they were bathing together, though he quickly shook that image out of his mind. Fantasies like that weren’t good for either of them.

“How’s D-O doing?” she asked.

Ben rolled over to face the corner where D-O had settled. “D-O? Rey wants to know how you’re doing.”

“I-I’m doing fine,” said D-O. “I-I like it here.”

Ben rolled back over to face Rey. “He says he’s doing fine and he likes it here.”

“Good,” said Rey, taking in a long inhale and letting it out in an incremented sigh as he felt her hand on his. “And you? How are you doing?”

“I don’t know,” said Ben, wrapping his fingers around hers. “I guess we’ll dream of each other’s memories tonight.”

“Maybe,” said Rey. “I guess it’s pointless to share more happy memories.”

“For dreaming, maybe,” said Ben, swallowing as he stroked Rey’s fingers. “We could still share memories to comfort each other.”

Rey’s hand pulled out of his. “I don’t know if that will do much comforting, especially if we end up dreaming about each other’s traumas anyway.”

There was silence for a few minutes, during which the sleep aid started to take effect, luring Ben into the darkness, but Rey’s voice jolted him awake.

“Are you angry?”

“I’m always angry,” Ben grunted, only halfway joking.

“Well are you angry about something specific?”

Ben fiddled with the corner of his pillow, his hand feeling cold without Rey’s touch. “I saw myself in the mirror today. You . . . healed my eye.” His chest tightened as he spoke. “Why did you do that?”

Rey gulped. “It just sort of happened – I wasn’t planning it – but why do you ask? Didn’t the scar just remind you of that night?”

Ben ran his teeth over his lower lip, unsure how to explain why it bothered him. Because I DESERVE to have a permanent reminder of that night, part of him wanted to say, the words were on their way to pushing themselves out of his mouth, but then something different came out.

“I don’t know if you noticed, but my dad had a scar on his chin.” Just mentioning his father brought Han’s grinning face to his mind. “I used to sit in his lap and trace the scar with my finger . . . I never knew him without it, to me it was just part of him.”

He sensed a bit of confusion flowing from her. “So . . . your scar became part of you?”

Ben gulped. “It showed the courage you had, protecting the stormtrooper, standing by your principles, avenging . . . avenging someone murdered by his own son!” His breath hurried, turning into pants. “Looking in the mirror reminded me of how you had the strength that I didn’t!” Again his eyes welled up, making him thankful for the dark even though Rey would undoubtedly sense his emotion.

“I’m not strong,” Rey muttered.

“What?”

“I’m not strong,” Rey repeated in a louder voice. “People keep acting like I’m a hero – I’m not. I was only able to stop Palpatine because I had the Jedi ghosts helping me. I ran away because I was afraid of the dark side!”

“So did Luke,” Ben muttered.

“He ran because of guilt. I ran because of fear. I mean, he told me that it was fear that kept him away, but he’d already done something to justify that fear – I was afraid of what I might do.” There was a tremble in her voice. “And I’m still afraid. I could still lose control again!”

Ben reached over and put his hand on her head, running his fingers through her slightly damp hair. “Fear doesn’t make you weak.”

Now she was the one with her hand on his head, her fingers running through his hair, their actions symmetrical to each other. “It doesn’t make you weak either.”

Her breath was steady, hypnotic, her lips inches away from his. In the haze of drowsiness, he remembered their kiss on Exegol and for a moment he was wondering if she would kiss him again, wanting her to kiss him again, but even on the edge of sleep, some part of him also wondered if it was the dyad making him want it.

It didn’t matter anyway, since no kiss came, though her touch remained, soothing him, letting him drift off to sleep as her fingers brushed through his hair.

Chapter Text

Ben jolted awake with a gasp, his mouth dry, his whole body aching. His arms and legs reflexively shot out only to slam into metal binders digging into his skin. After blinking several times, his world came into focus, revealing that mask staring at him. Sheer black except for silver outlining what would be the eyes, fully concealing whoever was under there.

“Where am I?” Ben demanded, doing his best to keep his voice steady.

“You’re my guest,” the woman in the mask said in a deep, menacing, eerily calm voice, keeping that continual stare.

“Where are the others?” Ben’s heart thumped at the thought of Finn, Han, Chewie, all possibly captured because of him. Maybe the First Order was torturing all of them in cells similar to this one. Maybe they even had BB-8 and they’d find Luke Skywalker as well.

“You mean the murderers, traitors, and thieves you call friends?”

Ben’s heart thumped at the word murderers. Finn . . . Finn was a stormtrooper, he’d lied about belonging to the Resistance, but he’d also left the First Order . . . he wasn’t a murderer . . . was he?

“You’ll be relieved to hear I’ve no idea,” Ren continued, her voice nonchalant, though her head cocked as if she sensed something. “You still want to kill me?”

She sounded surprised – almost amused – at that idea, as if holding Ben prisoner wouldn’t make him want to kill her, as if Ben was supposed to be gracious for her hospitality.

“That happens when you’re being hunted by a creature in a mask,” Ben grunted, expecting the woman to taunt him some more, maybe even torture him . . . but he didn’t except her to reach up to the mask and remove it . . .

. . . revealing a young, vulnerable-faced, normal woman.

Now it was Ben who was staring as the woman rose to her feet. He didn’t know what he had expected to see under the mask, but it wasn’t this. Someone so evil shouldn’t have eyes that looked like they were in pain or brown hair neatly tied up in three buns, shouldn’t look so normal.

In fact, in a different situation he might even think she was beautiful.

After throwing down the mask in what looked like a tub of gravel (what was that all about?), she strode up to Ben, towering over his helpless body, her eyes seeming to stare right into his mind. His mind . . . “The map, you’ve seen it” . . . oh shit, the stories he’d heard about Ren being able to read minds were true! She’d pry into his mind like a book and take out everything! For a moment Ben wondered if he could will himself to die before she could read his thoughts, then he wondered if thinking about something completely unrelated to the Resistance would fool her, then he wondered if making up something and thinking hard enough about it would fool her . . . dear gods she was about to take everything nothing he thought was safe SHIT!

“Tell me about the droid.” Even without the mask, Ren’s natural voice had such a force to it that Ben wondered if she could make him tell her everything.

“He’s a BB unit with a selenium drive,” Ben said rapidly, concentrating on BB-8’s mechanical specs. He rattled off specs one after the other, imagining his mind closing everything in a box except those specs, losing himself inside BB-8’s inner workings . . .

“Carrying a section of a navigational chart,” Ren suddenly interrupted, her face bemused, “and we have the rest, recovered from the archives of the Empire, but we need the last piece – and somehow you convinced the droid to show it to you.” Her glare fixed on him. “You . . . the scavenger.” She said the word as if it was a joke. “You know I can take whatever I want.”

The simple, nonchalant way she uttered that last sentence made Ben’s heart race so hard that he swore he could hear it beating. She raised her hand up inches away from his head, close enough that he could smell her leather glove. Though he flinched away, all his nerves tensing at once, his soul begging no, no, please, don’t let her do this! something ripped into his mind, cutting into his spirit like a knife, pain jolting through his head as if he’d been knocked into a daze, his every nerve screaming no, this isn’t right, something NOT PART OF YOU is invading!

Invading . . .

Invading . . .

. . .

“You! You’re afraid . . . that you will never be as strong as Darth Vader!”

The connection abruptly broke, though the boy’s words seemed to physically push her backwards. The scavenger Ben glared up at her, resolve where there had been fear, fierceness where there had been pain, seemingly aware of the dam he had broken in her mind, the memories pouring in her head so fast that it made her dizzy.

He knew.

She could tell just from his expression – the boy had seen that other life, seen Han Solo and Leia Organa, seen Rey Solo!

For a moment she wanted to strike him, but just looking at his face sent the torrent through her mind once more, made her stomach jump as if she’d actually vomit if she stayed here.

She saw Han Solo and Leia Organa cuddling their daughter, heard their laughter, felt their kisses . . .

No! No, that life was gone, that girl was dead!

Still the boy glared at her, a hint of triumph flowing from him, leaving her with only one option.

She ran.

. . .

Once again both halves of the dyad woke at the same time, staring into each other’s eyes in the early morning light, each trembling even when awake, covers twisted around their bodies.

“You dreamed . . .” Ben gasped.

We dreamed . . .” Rey gasped back, her eyes red as if she’d been crying in her sleep, her face glistening with sweat.

Ben wanted to wrap his arm around her, comfort her, let her rest her head on his chest, but no, he couldn’t, not now, not when that memory was staring them both in the face. He realized that his hands were shaking and though he willed them to stop, even grunting in the attempt, they wouldn’t obey his mind.

“I saw you,” Rey choked out, sounding like she was struggling not to cry. “In the dream. You were me.”

“I saw you too,” Ben mumbled. “You were me.”

“Why?” Rey’s voice came out in a sob, her chest rising and falling in a rapid motion. “Why that memory??”

“Rey . . .” said Ben, instinctively reaching out to her.

“DON’T TOUCH ME!” She flinched away, her face scrunching like it had when he tortured her, leaving his shaking hand hanging in the air.

He closed his eyes, wanting to cry himself as he brought his hand to his chest, grabbing his sweat-drenched hospital gown in a vain attempt to get it to stop shaking, wishing, wishing, wishing he could go back in time and stop himself from everything.

“I’m sorry.”

He opened his eyes to find Rey looking at him again, compassion in her teary eyes. “There’s nothing to apologize for,” he mumbled. “I’m the one who needs to apologize, but even if I apologize forever, it doesn’t take away anyone’s pain.” He swallowed, blinking at her. “I am sorry, I wish I could take it back, but I can’t!"

They lay in silence until Rey vanished, unable to talk about the dreams, both the dream and the real memory racing in Ben’s mind as if trying to break into the real world.

Chapter Text

Tomorrow.

The word nested in his mind as soon as Renda said it, throbbing like a headache as he walked around in circles with his cane and D-O excitedly rolled back and forth. Tomorrow he’d be released from the hospital, taken away from this sanctuary of relative comfort. He almost wanted to curse his own body for healing.

“Better!” D-O shouted. “B-b-better!”

“Yeah,” Ben mumbled, the cane seeming to vibrate under his arm every time it hit the floor. “I’m better.”

He hobbled over to the bed and sank down on the edge, his grandfather’s words from the coma whispering in his mind. “A chance to make things right” – what Anakin didn’t get, what Ben had now, what Anakin told Ben not to waste.

But how could he make anything right in prison?

. . .

“Rey, are you all right?”

Rey hadn’t even realized that Finn was sitting next to her. She’d been staring ahead out the restaurant’s window, watching the speeders zip by, only taking a few spoonfuls of soup, for . . . how long had it been? When did Finn arrive? “Wh-what? Finn?”

Finn’s brown eyes were wide, staring at her like he’d give his soul to make her feel better. “Did something happen? Did he do something?”

Rey’s mouth went dry, causing her to automatically take a gulp of her ice water – well, it had been ice water, but as it flowed down her throat, it gave the unpleasant bitterness of room temperature. “Yes, something happened.”

“What?” Now Finn’s hand was on her shoulder. “Rey, you can tell me.”

Just recalling the dream caused her eyes to well up. “That memory,” she choked out. “We dreamed of that memory last night.”

No more elaboration was needed. Finn’s arm draped around her shoulders, gathering her in a loose embrace. She took another spoonful of soup only to wince – it had gotten cold in the time she’d spent at the table.

“Here,” said Finn, handing her half his sandwich.

Rey looked at the sandwich, trying to ignore how her mouth watered at the fish salad expanding around the crusts. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” said Finn, and Rey sensed the sincerity in his words. She took the sandwich half and sunk her teeth into it, savoring the tangy, meaty taste. “Thanks,” she mumbled with her mouth full.

Finn stared into her eyes once more. “Rey, I think we should do something fun tonight.”

Rey licked excess fish salad off her fingers. “What do you mean?”

“I mean you’re falling apart!” Finn exclaimed. “I know you’re going through a lot of shit, but you still need to take care of yourself.” He took a deep breath, as if having to keep himself from exploding. “Rose and Jannah are going out tonight.”

“Rose and Jannah? Are they . . .?”

“A thing? I don’t know if they’re officially a thing, but they’re going out tonight and they invited us to come with them. Poe’s got to meet up with some representatives, but he said you and I could go – in fact, his words were ‘Go on, you deserve some fun and the Resistance won’t fall apart if you’re gone for a few hours!’” He gave her a slight smile. “So, are you in?”

Yes, absolutely! Rey wanted to say, but she held herself back. “And what if Ben and I link while we’re there?”

Finn’s mouth crumpled as if the mere mention of Ben was an offense. In a world where things were simpler, she might have just thought he was jealous, but simple troubles like who was dating whom weren’t luxuries afforded to them.

“Well,” he finally said, “if you link, you link, I guess. Does it really matter where you are when you link?”

“I guess not,” said Rey, “but if I start talking to nothing in a public place . . .”

“Fine, then I’ll pretend you’re talking to me,” said Finn, putting his hand on hers, letting her feel the honesty in his statement. “So . . . will you come? I really think it would be good for you.”

Finally Rey allowed herself a tiny smile. “All right, I’ll come.”

. . .

Rey had expected a fun night out with friends, but she did not expect Chancellor Naberrie to lend them all semi-fancy clothes for the evening. Where did she get clothes that fit all of them anyway? Did she keep them aside just in case any senators ripped their clothes or some other embarrassment happened?

As she and the others stood on the landing platform in the sunset, waiting for the airbus, Rey kept scratching at her yellow dress made of some sort of itchy material. Not only that, but the neckline was cut lower than she was used to, causing her to frequently glance down and make sure her bra wasn’t showing. Had she ever worn a dress before? She sure couldn’t remember ever wearing one – tunics and robes weren’t the same thing.

Meanwhile, Rose in her pink dress and Jannah in her purple dress looked much more jovial and relaxed, though Rey figured that they weren’t any more used to wearing dresses than she was. They were both staring out into the skylanes, Rose bouncing on her heels and Jannah shifting her weight from side to side, as if they were already dancing. Maybe Finn was right and they were a thing.

Finn, meanwhile, was standing next to Rey, looking rather handsome in the tan suit Pooja had lent him and smelling of some sort of musk – did Pooja lend him cologne too or did he obtain it some other way? He periodically grinned at her as if reminding her to try to have fun tonight.

Fun, yes, she would have fun. She wasn’t going to worry about Ben or dyads or lightning or anything else, right?

“Remember, everyone,” Jannah announced as she turned around, still shifting her weight and making her skirt swish back and forth, “tonight we’re normal! No former stormtroopers or orphaned mechanics or Jedi tonight – no misfits, no Resistance, tonight we’re just a bunch of friends having a good time.”

“Normal, I like that idea,” said Rose, grinning at Jannah with a certain intensity.

“Yeah,” said Finn, putting his hand on Rey’s shoulder. “Tonight we’re normal.”

“Normal,” Rey repeated, though she felt like a rock had settled in her stomach. Did any of them even know how to be normal?

“Hey look, there’s the bus!” Jannah shouted, and sure enough the airbus was flying over them, its engines hissing as it slowly touched down. Rose and Jannah rushed for it as soon as its door opened, but Finn lingered behind, squeezing Rey’s hand and smiling at her.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “everything’s gonna be fine.”

Rey wished she could believe him, but as they boarded the airbus, she couldn’t help but look around and make sure Ben hadn’t appeared.

Chapter Text

“It’s good to meet you, Representative Saress,” said Poe, shaking the firm, boney hand of the Corellian representative. Lavinia Saress had a mane of thick silver hair and a stern face that eyed him with skepticism, communicating that she remembered when a Republic fell and then an Empire fell and then another Republic fell and she was getting tired of the cycle.

“Mmm-hmm,” she said, her sharp eyes looking downward as if judging Poe’s character by his handshake skills.

“We’re honored that Han Solo’s home planet is considering joining us,” Poe said as he released her hand, hoping he wasn’t sweating, wishing Chancellor Naberrie weren’t currently busy with another representative. The stateroom with the arched ceiling currently contained at least twenty representatives, all from different planets – which was good, Poe knew that – but his talents lay more in the flying-X-Wings-into-battle direction than the convince-people-that-their-new-government-wouldn’t-destroy-itself direction.

“Han Solo’s home planet,” Saress replied with a bit of a snort. “With how much people talk about it, you’d think our planet’s only achievement was giving birth to a smuggler who happened to be in the right place at the right time when a Jedi needed a lift. Do you have any idea how many memorial services people who never even knew him held when word reached Corellia that he’d been murdered?”

“I’m sorry,” said Poe, shifting his eyes around, wishing Pooja or Lando or Chewie or someone would come to his aid. “I didn’t mean to imply . . .”

“Well I actually met him years ago,” Saress continued with no regard for his apology. “He had no manners and was about as at home at senatorial events as a gooberfish on Geonosis.” She let out a sigh. “But still, he managed to convince his wife to help lift our planet out of poverty, so I suppose having birthed a war hero has its benefits.”

“Good,” said Poe. “So you’ll consider joining our new . . . er, newer Republic?”

“We’ll see,” said the representative, her narrow eyes and twisting mouth reminding Poe of Zorii when she was pondering whether or not to take a not-quite-legal job. “For now, I have a few questions.”

“All right,” said Poe, smiling at her and hoping his smile looked natural. “What would you like to ask?”

“First of all, Han Solo’s killer, Kylo Ren.” Her eyes narrowed further until they looked like slits. “I understand you have him in custody?”

. . .

Rey let herself relax a little as the group entered the nightclub. It actually reminded her a bit of Maz’s palace on Takodana – an open, round area with a band playing on the center dais, people of various species dancing around the band, and restaurant booths outlining the room against the walls. The Toydarian lead singer of the band hovered at the microphone, her wings flapping almost in beat to the music as she sang a song about being powerless over who you fell in love with.

“So,” said Rose, “food first, then dancing?”

“Sounds good to me,” said Finn.

The four took seats at a booth, Rose and Jannah on one side and Finn and Rey on the other, Rey next to the window. The sun was nearly down now, giving a cooling gray tone to the skylanes where the speeders were beginning to turn on their lights and the buildings were beginning to come alive with color and light.

“This is nice,” said Rose, stretching her arms over her head, bringing prominence to the crescent pendant she wore even when trying to have fun. “I haven’t been to a recreational place of any kind since, well, since Canto Bight.”

Jannah gave her an understanding smile. “Well rest assured that this place doesn’t have any abused animals or child slaves, though I still wish I could have been there to see you and Finn tear that casino a new one.”

“Well it was interesting, to say the least,” said Finn.

Rey wanted to jump into the conversation, but she couldn’t think of anything to say – not just because she hadn’t gone to Canto Bight, but also because her thoughts were once again drifting to Ben, wondering if he knew about Canto Bight and other places like it that used children for labor.

Then again, he had known about the stormtrooper program kidnapping babies and grooming them to be willing slaves and he hadn’t done anything about it. She gulped, glancing at Finn and Jannah, only two of the possibly millions of lives the First Order had stolen.

They needed to get that stormtrooper reunion program funded.

By the time the waiter droid arrived to take their orders, the conversation had shifted to the man DJ who had helped Finn and Rose and then betrayed them. Rose suspected that the First Order had killed him after paying him, while Finn wondered if he was still out there somewhere. Though Rey had never met him, she couldn’t help but wonder what had led him to a life of complete amorality.

Maybe she really was spending too much time with Ben.

. . .

Dinner and dessert were spent in relaxed conversation, though Rey listened more than she talked. Occasionally she found herself looking around for Ben, but she managed to catch herself before anyone could ask questions. No one was going to worry about dyads tonight.

Right?

Now she was alone at the booth – Rose and Jannah were off dancing and Finn had gone to the refresher. She was still making her way through her rather rich shoberry cream cake, savoring every sweet, fruity bite.

Until the twitch in her senses made her drop her spoon, which landed with a loud ping on her plate.

Ben appeared to be sitting right across from her, his hospital gown dramatically contrasting with the fancy outfits everyone else wore here. She was tempted to grin at the sight, but she restrained herself due to the waves of discomfort flowing from him.

“Am I interrupting something?” he asked wryly.

“Does the Force ever care about that?” Rey said with a tiny sigh.

He tilted his head, taking notice of her uncharacteristic dress. “You look nice. Where are you?”

Rey sighed again. “Believe it or not, we were actually having a night out.”

“A night out,” Ben mused. “I don’t think I’ve had one of those since I was . . . twelve, maybe. It’s not the sort of thing that either the Jedi or the Knights of Ren are supposed to enjoy.” His eyes lowered. “I’m being released from the hospital tomorrow, which means . . .”

With only a bit of hesitation, Rey found herself pushing what was left of her dessert in his direction. “Here. It’s no release from prison, but it might help a little.”

“Are you sure?” Ben asked.

“Yes,” said Rey, remembering how Finn had given her part of his sandwich earlier that day. “Just give me back the plate and spoon when you’re done so we’re not stealing from the nightclub.”

“Well . . . thank you, then.” Ben started digging into the cake as if he couldn’t hold back the promise of a sugary treat any longer and Rey felt something that resembled happiness flowing from him.

“Hey Rey, you wanna dance?”

Rey looked up, seeing that Finn was back, smiling at her and offering his hand. She glanced at Ben, who was still making his way though the rest of her cake. “I . . . I would like to dance, but . . .”

Finn glanced at the seat that was undoubtedly empty to his eyes, but he instantly understood what was going on. “He’s here? Now?”

“Well, I did say this could happen!”

“So you can’t leave the booth until he disappears or what?”

“Are you talking to the stormtrooper?” Ben asked.

“His name is Finn and yes,” said Rey. “He just asked me to dance.”

The ghost of a frown crossed Ben’s lips, but he took control of it. “Then go ahead and dance with him.”

Rey’s lungs tightened. “I – we – will get sick if I get too far away.”

Finn looked like he wished he could yank the dyad apart with his bare hands. “Well . . . what if we don’t get too far away from the booth?”

Rey swallowed. “I . . . guess we could try that.”

Ben had gone back to paying attention to the cake, as if he were determined to ignore what would to him look like Rey dancing alone in his hospital room. A bizarre image to be sure, but Rey couldn’t help but wonder if there was another reason that Ben wanted to ignore her dancing.

She took Finn’s hand and let him lead her to the dance floor, making sure Ben was still in her field of vision. The band was now playing a fast-paced, upbeat song that seemed to invite everyone who wasn’t currently eating to dance regardless of whether or not they could keep in time with the rhythm. As the singer belted out lyrics that might have been about the mortal condition or might have simply been about sex, Rey and Finn both got swept up into the music, jumping, waving their arms, shuffling back and forth.

Soon Finn was laughing and to Rey’s surprise, she was too, though she was periodically glancing back at that booth, ensuring that she hadn’t gotten too far away from it.

Until she saw that the booth was empty.

For a moment she thought they’d disconnected, but then a tap on her shoulder told her otherwise. She whirled around and there was Ben, appearing to stand in the middle of the dance floor in his hospital gown and bare feet, handing her the now-empty plate and spoon.

But she didn’t take them right away. Instead she closed her eyes as her body still swayed to the music, concentrating on the rhythm, then let out an exhale, allowing her mind to connect with Ben’s.

When she opened her eyes and finally took the plate and spoon, there was a bewildered expression on Ben’s face, but neither of them could overlook how his feet were slightly tapping.

He heard the music from her mind.

Chapter Text

“Ca-can’t sleep?”

D-O’s voice penetrated the darkness Ben was staring up into. “No,” he said. “Even the sleep aid doesn’t seem to be doing any good tonight.”

He heard the buzz of the droid’s neck craning. “Scared?”

“Maybe.” Ben rolled over to face the general direction where D-O was, though of course it was as dark to his side as it was above him. “You really should go back to Rey tomorrow. It’s not that I haven’t appreciated having you around, but prison is no place for a nice little droid like you.”

He heard D-O’s wheel skid towards him – it sounded like the droid was right next to the bed now. “Friend. Ben Solo. You need a fr-friend.”

Ben would have argued further with the droid except for the familiar twitch in his senses. He rolled back around, sensing Rey lying next to him, heard her breathing, smelled the familiar worn, sweat-lined odor of the t-shirt she wore to bed.

“Did you have a good time?” he asked, figuring that was as good a way to start a conversation as any.

“Yes,” said Rey. “Did you enjoy the cake?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

A silence followed, during which Ben wondered if she’d fallen asleep, but then she spoke up again. “Ben . . . I wish I could have done something to stop . . .”

“Don’t,” Ben interrupted in a hard voice. “Don’t apologize for what’s going to happen tomorrow – don’t even mention tomorrow!” A twitch was growing in his hands. “If you had just let well enough alone, neither of us would have to worry about tomorrow!” With every word he spoke, his breath shortened more until his chest was hurting. “That moment when you kissed me, I actually felt peace – if you’d let me die, I’d be free of everything I did and you’d be free of me!”

He sucked in a gasp of air so loud that he almost missed Rey’s whisper.

“I don’t want to be free of you.” It came out so small and so soft that Ben wondered if she’d even meant for him to hear it.

“Don’t lie,” he muttered. “You were talking about splitting the dyad earlier, remember?”

“All right, this – this thing – yes, it’s annoying, it’s scary, I don’t know what’s going to happen with it, but that doesn’t mean I want to lose you.”

“And the kiss?” Ben didn’t know why he was bringing it up now of all times, but it came out anyway. “What did that mean?”

A sudden wave of embarrassment came flowing from her. “Why do you ask?”

Ben closed his eyes, not that it made any difference in terms of what he could see, but it felt more private behind his eyelids. “Because if it did mean anything, then you’re setting yourself up for heartbreak.”

“What if I don’t know what it meant?”

His eyes opened. “What do you mean?"

“Just what I said. I don’t even know what romantic love feels like and quite frankly, right now I’ve got enough to worry about without worrying about love!”

Why did Ben feel like a vice had tightened around his chest? If Rey didn’t love him, that was for the best, right? “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

Rey let out a long sigh, tickling Ben’s face with her breath. “I’m not saying I don’t love you – or that I do – because I honestly don’t know. That’s the best answer I can give right now.”

Ben gave a tiny nod. “All right.” He didn’t mention how some small part of him had been wanting her to kiss him again almost every time they’d linked since his waking – for that matter, he wasn’t sure if that wasn’t the dyad making him want it. In fact, he admitted, he wasn’t sure what romantic love felt like either – he only knew that being with her felt right, as if part of his soul slept when she was gone and woke when she was around.

But maybe that was the dyad too.

“Ben?” Rey’s voice wavered slightly, as if worried that she had broken his heart.

“What?”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

The invisible vice around Ben’s chest tightened further, squeezing him almost to the point of physical pain. His hands twitched, twitched, twitched, as if his fingers were determined to run away from his hands. In his mind’s eye he yet again saw his father’s pained, devastated face, glowing red in the lightsaber’s flames . . .

“H-hold me . . . please . . .” The words were small, vulnerable, desperate, uttered almost without any signal from his brain. “P-please . . . hold me . . .” He sputtered the words out, the twitch in his hands extending to the rest of his body, reducing him to a shaking mess as hot tears started welling up in his eyes. “Please!”

Rey wrapped her arm around him, pressing his head against her shoulder, letting him feel her warmth. His own arm wrapped around her as the tears flowed into her t-shirt and she stroked his back in long, soothing movements, helping to calm the trembles.

“You’re not alone,” she murmured. “We told each other that long ago and it’s still true, no matter what happens.”

His breath and hers slowed bit-by-bit until they were inhaling and exhaling almost in synchronization, drawing comfort from each other’s breathing. Ben found himself wishing he could pause time and remain in this moment for as long as he wanted, remain in the embrace with the woman he loved maybe romantically and maybe some other way.

Did it really matter?

“Do you think you can sleep now?” Rey whispered.

“Maybe,” Ben mumbled, realizing that his eyes had closed without his mind registering it. “If you stay.”

“I don’t know how long I’ll stay,” said Rey. “Neither of us do.”

“Yeah . . . I know,” said Ben, his eyes drooping shut again. “It’s just . . . wouldn’t it be nice if our biggest problem was sorting out our feelings?”

“That would be very nice,” Rey said with a slight groan as she ran her fingers through his hair. “Now sleep.”

Ben yawned, feeling himself sinking down, her touch lulling him as it had done many other nights, but there was still an undeniable truth pricking at his mind, trying to keep him from fully relaxing.

He could fall into the most peaceful sleep, but he would still have to wake up.

Chapter Text

Ben and Rey didn’t swap memories during the night, but that did nothing to raise his spirits when he woke. The fact that he could take a real shower instead of getting a sponge bath didn’t raise his spirits either; nor did the fact that he could shave by himself instead of the medical droid shaving him. In fact, when he was in the shower he thought about ramming himself against the wall until he broke a bone or two so he would have to stay here longer.

When he emerged from the refresher, there was Renda, holding up his old black shirt and pants, neatly folded. “Here,” she said in an awkward voice, “they’ve been freshly washed and I even patched up the holes.”

The holes. Of course he’d never told the doctor – or anyone else, for that matter – about how Rey had run him through with his own lightsaber and then healed him after Leia died. After taking the clothes from Renda, Ben ran his hand over the patches. They were as stark black as the fabric surrounding them and attached with black thread – the only way anyone would even know they were there was if they touched them and felt that they were softer than the rest of the shirt.

There was probably a metaphor somewhere in there about the patches representing his rise out of the dark side, but Ben couldn’t think of a good one.

“Ben?” Renda asked.

Ben gulped, concentrating on not letting his body tremble. “Th-thank you.” He took a deep breath, looking his doctor in the eye, imagining her running his shirt under a sewing machine or maybe even mending it by hand. That probably wasn’t something most doctors did for their patients. “Not just for this, for everything.”

Renda smiled at him, though sadness was flowing from her, making him wish it was socially acceptable to hug his doctor. “I still stand by that offer I made earlier to be a character witness for you.”

“Maybe,” said Ben.

Even though he was sure that no amount of character witnessing would change his fate.

. . .

Now fully-dressed except that he was wearing hospital slippers instead of shoes (apparently his boots had been left on Ajan Kloss), Ben was making slow work of the breakfast tray, savoring every bite of toast and hotcakes and every sip of water. Would they serve toast and hotcakes in prison? Unlikely. Maybe this would be the last time he’d ever eat decent food.

“C-coming with you,” D-O said. “I-I’m coming with you today.”

Ben couldn’t respond. Surely the droid understood what prison was, didn’t he? Why was he so insistent about staying with Ben?

All too soon he was finished, leaving nothing except the crusts and remembering how Leia would scold him for not eating his crusts while Han would say don’t worry about it since he didn’t eat his crusts either. He was contemplating eating the crusts this one time when the medical droid entered with an announcement.

“Ben Solo, you have two visitors: Rey and Chewbacca.”

Ben nodded. “Let them in.”

Rey and Chewie burst into the room, which caused D-O to give a happy squeal. Chewie started roaring about healthy Ben looked, but Rey just stood there, staring at him with sad eyes.

“Rey? What is it?” Ben asked as soon as Chewie was done ruffling his hair.

Rey blinked at him, her eyes glistening. “They’re here. Right outside your room.”

Her words settled in his stomach with no need to ask who “they” were. He looked into her hazel eyes that reminded him of his father’s and wanted to say something, but what?

Now Chewie was ruffling his hair again. [Ben, you should pay your debt to the galaxy. It’s the honorable thing to do.]

Honor. Even before he turned to the dark side, Ben had never seen much point in doing something for the sake of honor. What was honor, anyway? Just a way to feel good about yourself? A way to gain favor with whatever higher beings were out there even though it was obvious that bad stuff was going to happen whether you were honorable or not?

Suddenly Rey threw her arms around him, breathing into his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m sorry I didn’t stop this, I should have tried to help you escape during the night or something . . .”

“Rey,” Ben interrupted, squeezing her into a tight hug, “don’t be sorry.” He tried to sound reassuring, but he couldn’t stop the waver in his voice. “I-I brought this on myself. I made choices . . . and they have consequences.”

“I won’t let them kill you!” she promised yet again.

Ben didn’t know how to respond to that.

. . .

The next several minutes went by in a blur. Renda gave him a datapad with medical information and instructions stored in it, telling him to continue his exercises to help his muscles keep recovering, though she made no mention of where he would have to continue those exercises. There were more hugs from Chewie and Rey and D-O still insisting that he was going with Ben.

Then finally, the door opened.

There stood Commander Dameron along with that stormtrooper – Finn, Ben corrected himself – surrounded by other Resistance soldiers, all of whom had blasters pointed at him.

“Ben Solo,” Dameron announced, “in the name of the Resistance, you are under arrest.”

. . .

“Ben! Friend!”

D-O skidded out the door as soon as the group – including his own friend Finn – grabbed Ben and cuffed his wrists. The general Poe was telling Ben that his rights included not having to say anything that would condemn himself and a fair trial by jury, but Ben seemed to hardly be listening. He didn’t resist as they led him down the hall, around the stretchers floating by and the patients on hoverchairs, which was making it difficult for D-O to follow, especially since the floor’s smooth, polished surface made it easy to slide out of control.

“Friend!” D-O called, wishing his single wheel was faster, wishing the organic beings would help him, but no one even seemed to notice him. “B-Ben! Friend! Coming with you!”

They were at the turbolift now, leading Ben inside. Just a little further, a little further, a little further . . .

The turbolift doors slid closed, leaving the droid to stare upward at the buttons he couldn’t reach.

“Friend . . .”

Chapter Text

“Rey . . . I’m sorry.”

Rey hadn’t even noticed that Finn was next to her. How long had she been sitting in the hospital waiting room, mindlessly watching people enter and exit and listening to the advertisements playing on the various holoscreens? At her feet, D-O leaned against the chair leg, occasionally making noises that sounded like a droid’s version of sighs.

“Rey?” Finn repeated. “Rey, do you hear me?”

“Yes,” Rey whispered, though she still couldn’t move. She felt almost as drained as she had after Palpatine had sucked out her energy and Ben’s to restore himself even though she knew that this time it was mental.

She felt Finn’s gentle hand on her shoulder. “It’s all right, Rey. Poe and I made sure he wasn’t mistreated on the way.”

“On the way to prison,” she spat out.

There was a moment’s pause before he spoke. “Yes.”

Finally Rey looked at him. “He might not have been mistreated on the way to prison, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be mistreated in there!”

“I know,” said Finn, “but that part’s out of our hands . . .”

“It was the Resistance’s choice to send him there!” Rey retorted. “At least here he had people who cared about him and a comfortable room – he could live something like a normal existence! In prison they’ll only see Kylo Ren – it might drive him to see himself as Kylo Ren again!”

“Wait, wait,” said Finn, eyes bulging. “Are you saying he could lapse back to the dark side??”

“I don’t know,” said Rey, “but he wishes he were dead – he told me that just last night. If he doesn’t feel that he’s loved, he might actually try to harm himself . . .”

“Rey, Rey,” interrupted Finn, staring into her eyes, “slow down!”

“I’m serious!” Rey couldn’t keep the sobs out of her voice. “You may not care what happens to him – it might even be convenient for the Resistance if he ended up killing himself – but I do!”

A sudden wave of hurt flowed from him. “Do you love him? Is that it?”

Rey groaned. “Not this again!”

Suddenly D-O perked up at this twist of subjects. “D-do you love him?”

“This isn’t about that!” Rey exclaimed a bit too loudly for a hospital waiting room, causing several patrons to take notice of them before going back to their business. “Caring whether or not someone kills himself doesn’t mean I’m in love with him!”

“But are you?” Finn asked.

“I don’t believe this!” Rey ground her teeth, kneading her fingers into her forehead. “I’m talking about suicide and you two are trying to spin this into a romance!”

“Sorry,” D-O squeaked.

Now Finn’s hand was on her back, rubbing it in little circles. “I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t act like a jealous boyfriend – I mean, er, we’re not boyfriend and girlfriend anyway, right, we’re definitely not . . .”

Suddenly Rey looked up at him, something in her mind clicking into place. “That’s what you wanted to tell me on Pasaana, isn’t it?”

Finn let out a long sigh, abruptly turning to the holoscreens, his twisting mouth looking rather adorable. “It doesn’t matter.”

Rey’s throat went dry. Did she really have two people imply their love for her in less than twenty-four hours? She took a deep breath, wishing again that deciding who to date was her biggest problem. “I don’t know if I love you – or Ben. Maybe I love you both, maybe I love neither of you, I don’t know, but right now it’s not a good idea for me to get in a relationship.”

“All right, I understand that.” Finn’s voice was gentle, devoid of any resentment as he kept rubbing her back. “Really, I do . . . but if you did decide you were in love with him, I don’t think that’s a good idea – and that’s not me being jealous or anything. I mean, if you decided to date Poe or something – well, I’m not gonna lie, I might be a bit hurt, but I’d still be happy for you guys cause, you know, Poe’s a great guy, but Ben . . .”

“I know, I know,” said Rey. “You don’t need to remind me of all the things he did – I’ve been dreaming about them enough, and so has he! He can’t escape what he did – ever!” She swallowed a sob. “Last night when we linked he was begging me to hold him, like . . . like he was drowning in his own emotion – I could feel his suffering!” The next sob resisted being swallowed and came out like a raspy cough. “He killed his father and his mother gave her life for him – both his parents are dead because of him – and he has to live with that reality every minute of every day!”

“At least he knew his parents,” Finn muttered. “He might not have been in charge of the stormtroopers as such, but he still led the organization that stole babies from their parents and didn’t do anything to stop that!”

“I know that.”

“But that doesn’t matter?”

“Of course it matters!”

“But not enough. Not enough to want to see justice done.”

“Justice.” The word tasted sour in her mouth. “Is it really justice to lock someone up for the rest of their life when they want to fix what they’ve done?”

Finn’s hand ceased its massaging, his fingers spreading out over her back. “Rey, a lot of the stuff he did can’t be fixed. You know that and he knows that.”

Some part of Rey wanted to deny his words even though she knew they were the truth. The ugly, unchanging truth that could never be erased. “Yes, he knows that,” she said, “and the fact that they can’t be fixed haunts him every day and night. Even when he was still in the dark side, it haunted him.”

“Yeah, well, that interrogation haunts you. Poe’s interrogation haunts him. I’ll bet a lot of others are haunted by other stuff he did.”

How could she respond? Any attempt to explain how Ben wished he was dead or was suffering depression sounded like she would be making excuses for his actions or trivializing the countless dead and tortured souls. Probably most people would say he should be suffering depression and should wish he was dead.

“Sad,” said D-O, reminding Rey of his presence. She looked down at him, seeing that his neck was craned upward and though he couldn’t change his expression, he still looked strangely pensive. “B-Ben is sad.”

“Yes,” said Rey. “He’s sad.”

Finn responded only by wrapping his arms around her.

Chapter Text

They took holos of Ben from every angle, they made him strip naked to measure and weigh him and make sure he wasn’t smuggling anything into the prison, then they made him bend over so they could examine his intimate areas (did they seriously think he had somehow fit a lightsaber up his ass?). When he could finally dress again, it wasn’t in his own clothes – it was in a stiff, weird-smelling gray prison uniform. Would they burn his old clothes now? Maybe Renda’s patchwork on his shirt would go to waste.

All the while there were guards pointing blasters at him from every direction, encircling him with blasters. No doubt Commander Dameron had told them about how he could block blasterbolts with the Force – maybe they were hoping that he wouldn’t be able to stop so many at once. Truthfully, he didn’t know if he could, but he wasn’t about to find out.

Finally the guards escorted him down the long, lonely gray halls. They did give him back the datapad with the medical information, but only after examining it and making sure it couldn’t connect to the HoloNet and didn’t contain any explosives. Now, however, he could hardly grip it in his sweat-drenched hands. He found he only had the strength of mind to look at the concrete floor as the guards poked him with their blasters, forcing him to walk on.

And there it was.

The cell.

In one swift motion, two guards shoved him in while another activated a red forcefield, barring him from the outside world. None of them said anything as they walked away, leaving him alone to take in his surroundings. A bunk taking up one wall, a toilet against the wall across from it, a sink next to the toilet, all bathed in the eerie red light from the forcefield. No windows.

He sat on the bunk, his stomach flipping, the datapad shaking in his hands. There didn’t seem to be any cellmates . . . of course he wouldn’t have any cellmates, they wouldn’t want to endanger other inmates by putting them in the same cell as Kylo Ren.

Maybe he wouldn’t be allowed out of the cell at all.

With that thought, he nearly dropped the datapad. He barely gained enough presence of mind to put it down next to him before the spasms started. Once, twice, three times his legs involuntarily kicked out as his breath shortened so much that his lungs hurt. He wrapped his arms around his chest as if trying to hug himself, but it was only a moment before his hands started shaking, his fingers digging up and down into his flesh to the point of pain despite the prison shirt.

“You’re alone,” a silent voice pressed into his mind.

“N-no,” he moaned out loud even though he knew no one was actually talking to him. “The dyad . . .”

“She wants to split the dyad. She wants to leave you alone.”

He flopped down on the bunk, his knees rising to his chest and his arms wrapping around them, his entire body reduced to a trembling ball. Alone, alone, alone . . . the word rattled in his head, draining all warmth from his being. Alone . . . alone . . . alone . . .

“Rey?” he whispered like a frightened child even though he knew he couldn’t will her to appear. “Rey? Please . . . I need you.”

But of course there was nothing.

“Rey . . . Mom, Dad? Are you there? Can you hear me?” he choked out, his throat getting scratchy. “Mom, Dad, please, I know you’re out there!”

“You’re alone. You DESERVE to be alone!”

The silent words and the truth they represented filled his eyes with tears, blurring his surroundings. “Mom, Dad, please!” Why did they visit him in the coma but not here? “P-please . . .” He closed his eyes, fiercely trying to imagine that he was lying in bed between his parents, sandwiched in their embrace, his father’s heartbeat thumping against his ear, their warmth protecting him from the nightmares.

“They’re dead. They’re dead because of YOU!”

A scream pushed its way out of his mouth. “Mom, Dad, please!” he cried. “Help me, please!”

Silence.

. . .

“Ben?”

His mind was foggy, hardly registering that something soft was resting on his head, his eyelids feeling stuck together for a few moments before he had to remind himself that he had to stretch them to get them to open. When they finally did open, he had to blink the world into focus and rub the specks out of his eyes before realizing that Rey was standing over him, her hand on his head.

“Rey!” he gasped, flying into a sitting position and throwing his arms around her. For one glorious moment, he thought prison was only a dream, but the artificially clean smell of his prison uniform brought reality back.

“Ben, are you all right?” she asked, cradling his head in her hands. “You were calling for your parents in your sleep.”

“What? I fell asleep?” But now that she mentioned it, he had some fuzzy memory of being lost in some dark place, desperately looking for his parents.

“Yes.”

“What time is it now?”

“I don’t know exactly – late afternoon.” She kissed the top of his head. “Ben, I’m so, so sorry . . .”

“Don’t apologize!” he interrupted, burying his face in her chest and breathing in her scent. “I’m here because of what I did.”

Rey swallowed, running her finger under his chin and coaxing him to look up at her. “Are they . . . are they treating you all right?”

Ben shrugged. “I don’t know yet. I haven’t seen anyone since they put me in the cell.” He figured he didn’t need to mention the embarrassing body-scan – that was likely standard procedure for all prisoners.

“I’ll visit you,” said Rey. “In person, I promise.”

Ben shrugged again. “I think I like this better. They probably won’t let us touch when you visit in person.”

A slight, sad snicker escaped Rey’s mouth. “Well this is one thing no one can stop.”

Ben squeezed her tighter, wishing again that they could just remain in the embrace. In Rey’s arms, he could almost forget where he was.

“Oh!” Rey suddenly exclaimed. “D-O, I almost forgot! He wanted to be here when we linked so I could give him back to you!”

The thought of seeing that sweet little droid again almost perked him up, but he stopped himself from being too relieved. “No, don’t get him, he shouldn’t be in prison.”

“He doesn’t have to be,” said Rey. “We can pass him back and forth when we link so he doesn’t have to spend all his time there.”

Pass him back and forth – well, that didn’t sound like it would be too hard on him and it would mean that he could still spend time in freedom – but just as he was about to give his approval, she vanished, leaving his arms embracing only empty air.

He was alone once again.

Chapter Text

Ben tried doing the leg-lifts the datapad instructed, but after twenty of them he found himself just lying on the bunk, staring at the ceiling, lacking the motivation to continue exercising. Then he started pacing around the cell, counting the number of times he circled the tiny room, but he lost count after fifty or so and by then his legs were sore, forcing him to sit back down on the bunk and stare at the walls tinted red from the forcefield. Red . . . the same shade as the flaming lightsaber that pierced his father’s heart . . .

Suddenly Ben decided that he didn’t like the color red. Red was too loud, too forceful – he definitely preferred cooler, gentler colors like blue and purple.

His stomach growled. Had he slept through lunch? When were they going to feed him? Surely they weren’t planning to starve him to death, right? Then again, if Kylo Ren starved to death, that would be highly convenient for the Resistance . . .

“You’re never gonna be hungry, son.”

He remembered Han saying those words many times during his childhood. Han would tell stories about his days as Proxima’s scumrat and how hunger was a terrible, terrible thing. The stories always ended with Han promising that Ben would never, ever have to go through what he went through.

“You’re never gonna be hungry, son.”

His stomach growled again.

. . .

Maybe an hour passed, maybe several hours passed – Ben had no idea how time was working in this cell – but finally a line of guards showed up on the other side of the forcefield, all pointing blasters in his direction. They didn’t lower their blasters as one of them deactivated the forcefield and said, “Come with us, Ben Solo” in a clipped, low voice.

“What’s going on?” Ben asked, figuring they couldn’t shoot him just for asking a question.

He sure didn’t expect the guard’s answer.

“The Resistance generals wish to speak with you.”

. . .

The guards put Ben’s hands in binders and escorted him to the warden’s office, clustering around him as if any gap between them would be an opportunity for him to escape. Their fear enveloped Ben even though they all had their blasters drawn, making him involuntarily tremble as they walked.

When they reached the office, there were Commander – no, General – Dameron and General Finn seated on either side of a long desk, flanking a tall, slender human woman Ben assumed was the warden, the setting sun from the window behind her casting her face in shadow. However, seated on the other side of Finn was someone Ben hadn’t expected.

“Rey?”

“Friend!” D-O shouted, rolling from Rey’s feet up to Ben.

“Hey, little guy,” said Ben, managing a small smile at the droid despite the circumstances. “Nice to see you.”

The warden loudly cleared her throat. “Have a seat, Mr. Solo.”

To Ben’s surprise, the guards removed the binders, though they kept their blasters pointed at him as he sat in the empty chair in front of the desk, where there sat a plate with a sandwich and a glass of blue milk.

“You must be hungry,” the warden said in a clipped, no-nonsense voice. “Help yourself.”

Hunger overcame any desire to ask questions – Ben grabbed the sandwich and took a large bite even before the warden finished her sentence.

“Rey here says that droid belongs to you,” the warden said, the sun gleaming in her blonde hair.

“Well, not exactly,” Ben said with his mouth full. “Not officially.”

“Ben Solo. Friend,” D-O interrupted, craning his neck up like a pet.

“He is yours,” Rey spoke up. “He and I have been talking about it.”

“Y-you’re my friend,” said D-O, and Ben imagined that the droid would be smiling if he were able to do so.

The warden cocked her head, as if she hadn’t expected Rey’s words to be true. “She also said that the droid’s previous owner abused him and that separating him from you could be bad for his well-being.”

“Really?” Ben asked, talking more to Rey than the warden. “I think being in prison would do him more damage.”

“Perhaps,” said the warden, “but I think we can still arrange for him to visit you regularly.”

Ben gave a slight nod. “Thank you, ma’am . . . am I supposed to call you ma’am, or Warden, or what?”

“Warden Zimmer,” the warden said. “Or just Warden.”

“All right, Warden,” said Ben, taking a gulp of blue milk. “I assume you didn’t just call me here because of D-O.”

“You assume right,” said Warden Zimmer, nodding at General Dameron and General Finn. “These two wish to make negotiations with you.”

“Negotiations?”

Dameron cleared his throat, straightening up as if trying to conceal the fear flowing off him. No doubt he was thinking about that interrogation. “Ben Solo,” he said, “the war may be over, but that doesn’t mean the First Order or something like it can’t rise again.”

“We don’t want to make the same mistakes the previous Republic made,” said Finn, giving a suspicious glare. “If you’re really serious about being all light side or whatever, you can help us.”

“How?”

“Information,” said Dameron. “Base locations, names of First Order loyalists, anything you can give us. If the information bears results, we’re willing to argue for a lighter sentence when your trial comes.”

Ben couldn’t help but snort. “Life in prison instead of an execution, how nice of you.”

“Ben,” said Rey, “please.”

“Fine,” said Ben. “I can give you information, but I don’t know how much of it will be useful. No doubt the surviving First Order officers will have abandoned their old bases by now and gone into hiding. If the Empire could bide their time for years until they were ready to strike, the First Order probably will too.”

“And that’s what we want to avoid,” said Dameron, narrowing his eyes at him. “Right now, you’re our best link to the remnants of the First Order, but if you’re not willing to help us, then we don’t need to continue this conversation.”

“No, wait.” Ben took a deep breath, trying to smooth out his face and widen his eyes in hope that the generals would believe him. “I am willing to help, I’m just saying that information I have might be outdated.”

“We know that,” said Rey, “but you can at least try.”

“A chance to make things right.” Again his grandfather’s words echoed in his mind. “All right,” he said, trying to ignore how the generals were scrutinizing him and the guards were still pointing blasters at him, “here’s what I know.”

Chapter Text

As the sun went down, Ben talked.

He gave names of planets that had First Order bases, planet leaders that were First Order sympathizers, even speculations about what their future plans might have been. By the time he was finished, his throat was parched, but fortunately the warden provided a glass of cold water. The whole time, the generals recorded the conversation on their datapads and kept their faces stoic, as if they were playing sabacc and trying to bluff their opponents.

“One more thing,” said General Finn. “We are trying to fund a program to reunite stormtroopers with their families. I know there were stormtrooper training facilities scattered at various locations around the galaxy, but I don’t know where all of them were. Any information you can give would be helpful.”

Ben took a deep breath, gulping down the last of his water. “I know there was a stormtrooper facility on Teth and another on Felucia. There were others too, but I don’t know the locations or how many there were since I wasn’t very involved in the stormtrooper program. You might actually have more luck asking stormtroopers themselves where they were trained.”

The two generals glanced at each other and Ben sensed their disappointment. “Well,” said Dameron, “thank you. We’ll let you know if we need anything else.”

Now the guards would put his hands back in the binders and lead him back to the cell, but before they could do so, D-O stretched his head up once again.

“Helping,” he chirped. “Helping.”

. . .

“Lights out” wasn’t really lights out – it just meant the ceiling lights in the halls and the cells were turned off. The red glow of the forcefield was still very much active, piercing into Ben’s eyes even when they were closed, even when he was turned around to face the wall. The bunk only had one blanket and one pillow and there were no nightclothes in sight, so Ben had stripped down to the regulation undershirt and briefs to sleep, though the single blanket was letting air through, making him shiver and almost wish he had kept the uniform on for warmth.

Was he allowed to ask for another blanket? Was he allowed to ask for anything?

He felt like an invisible weight was crushing his body, leaving him only able to take short, gasping breaths. “Mom? Dad?” he whispered again. “Can you hear me? Please, I need you. I don’t . . . I don’t know what to do.”

His parents remained silent, but the familiar twitch in his senses occurred, which at least enabled him to take a long, relieved exhale.

“Rey . . .”

Rey put a gentle hand on his head, running her fingers through his hair. “Are you all right?”

“I’m cold.”

He opened his eyes just in time to see her attempting to cover him with her own blanket, her face glowing that eerie shade of red. “Here, you can have . . .”

“No,” Ben interrupted. “If we’re caught passing stuff through the Force, we’ll both get in trouble.”

“Well at least let me keep you warm for now.” She spread half the blanket over him while still covering herself with the other half. “See? This way the blanket should stay with me when you disappear and no one else should see anything.”

Despite the circumstances, Ben couldn’t suppress a tiny grin. “All right, I guess that works.” He couldn’t deny that the extra warmth felt nice.

“At least something made you smile,” said Rey, giving her own tiny grin. “I like your smile.”

“And I like yours.”

Her smile suddenly faded. “Ben . . . I’ve been thinking . . . about last night.”

“What?” Ben asked. I don’t love you, he imagined her saying, the thought making his stomach twist even though his logical mind said that would be for the best.

Rey let out a small sigh, taking a sudden interest in her fingers. “I like . . . this,” she said, pointing whole-handedly at herself and then Ben. “Touching. Hugging. Cuddling. Even that kiss . . . but, well, I thought a lot about it today. I imagined going further than that kiss – with you, with Finn, with others, male and female both, and . . .” She swallowed. “. . . the whole idea of doing it with anyone just wasn’t appealing. It felt like I was trying to like a food that I just plain didn’t like.” Ben thought he saw tears pricking the edges of her eyes. “I don’t want to hurt you or Finn or anyone, but I think I’m . . . asexual.”

The word hung in the air, numbing Ben’s mind and causing his jaw to drop slightly. Whatever he had expected her to say, it certainly wasn’t this.

“I’m sorry,” she said, as if her sexuality was her fault. “It’s not the sort of thing you have much time to think about when you’re a scavenger or a Jedi trainee, but now that I have thought about it, I realized that I’ve never felt the urge people talk about.” She swallowed a sob, reminding him of when she’d begged him not to take over the galaxy. “It doesn’t mean I don’t love you – I’m still not sure about that – but . . .”

Ben gazed into her beautiful eyes as she trailed off, wishing he knew what to say. “Don’t . . . don’t apologize. It’s not something to be ashamed of.”

She sniffled. “Look at me, here I am talking about my sexuality with you in prison, what kind of a friend does that?”

“An honest friend,” said Ben, putting his hand on her cheek. “I mean, how many times has the Force linked us in bed with neither of us wanting to get sexual?”

Rey smirked slightly. “We were fighting on opposite sides of a war some of those times.”

“Not recently, though.” Ben took a deep breath, a sudden realization hitting him. “Maybe . . . maybe I’m asexual too.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Ben, you don’t have to say you’re asexual just to make me feel better.”

“No, no, hear me out. I didn’t exactly get much opportunity to date first as a Jedi trainee and then as a Knight of Ren, but I never really wanted to date either.” He cupped his hand around her ear. “I’ve had fantasies, I won’t deny that, but I haven’t felt any urge to act them out in reality.”

Rey blinked at him as if seeing him for the first time. “So . . . this doesn’t change anything?”

“Why would it change anything?”

She gulped. “I don’t know . . . I’m still processing it, I guess, and some people think asexuals just need to find the right person to have sex with and then they’ll be cured . . .”

“Rey!” exclaimed Ben. “There is nothing wrong with you. People can go their entire lives without having sex and still have full, happy lives.”

Finally she was smiling again, her fingers brushing his cheek. “Thank you. Thank you for understanding.” She wrapped her arm around him. “I still like this, though. This is enough.”

Ben closed his eyes, smiling as he absorbed her embrace. “Yes,” he murmured. “This is enough.”

Chapter Text

Rey fell asleep with her head resting on Ben’s chest, and though her weight was pressing down on him, he didn’t want to move her, especially since she could vanish at any moment. He ran his fingers through her hair, listening to her deep breathing, trying to let her soothing presence lull him to sleep as well. But no matter how much he focused on her, he couldn’t forget that she wasn’t actually here, that here was a cold prison cell, that he might be here for the rest of his life and the rest of his life might not be long.

No, no, don’t think about that, think about something else . . .

Rey said she was asexual.

Well, that was as good a distraction as any. What did normal people do when the ones they loved revealed something like that? Not that he’d ever been any good at pretending to be normal, though. And was he asexual too? She was lying on top of him and nothing was happening in his private areas – was that a sign of what he was? He thought of his parents – their lingering kisses, the sensual looks they gave each other – and he wished that having to say Mom, Dad, I think I might be asexual, but there’s still a girl I like could be his biggest concern.

“Mom? Dad?” The whisper came out unintentionally. “Where are you?” His heart was thumping under Rey’s head. “You talked to me before – why aren’t you talking to me now?” He tried to keep the hurt out of his voice, but a tiny sob escaped nonetheless. “Why? Please . . . please . . . let me hear you . . .”

Rey groaned in her sleep, making Ben inadvertently hold his breath, wondering if she was dreaming about his memories. Did they have to both be asleep in order to swap memories?

Or maybe she was dreaming about the interrogation.

His throat tightened and another sob escaped. “What do you think you’re doing?” that silent voice of his doubts said. “You think you can fall in love like a normal person? Do you seriously think for even a second that a monster like you deserves love?”

Monster, Rey had screamed that at him and he’d affirmed it. He ground his teeth, scrunching his eyes, concentrating on not letting his body tremble when Rey was sleeping on him. “You should be dead,” the silent voice pressed. “How many lives have you ended? Hundreds? Thousands? How can you live while they’re dead?”

A shiver that had nothing to do with the cold rushed through his body, jolting Rey slightly, though she didn’t awaken. “Murderer,” the silent voice said. “Murderer, murderer, murderer . . .” The word looped in his head like a song – a depressing, mournful song. “Murderer, murderer, murderer, murderer murderer murderer murderer MURDERER!”

A small cry escaped as he clutched Rey’s body like a drowning man clutching a life raft. “Murderer murderer murderer . . .” Now the word was pounding his skull to the point where he thought he felt actual pain, filling his being with the truth.

Rey vanished, leaving him alone.

. . .

“NO! NO! STOP!”

Finn jolted awake to the familiar screams of his roommate that frequently reminded him of why he and Poe were still sharing a room even though Pooja had offered them individual rooms.

He didn’t want Poe to suffer the nightmares alone.

“No . . . I won’t tell you anything . . . NO!”

Finn got out of bed and made his way to Poe’s bed, gently shaking his friend’s shoulder. “Poe? Poe, wake up! You’re having the nightmare again!”

Poe gasped awake and Finn turned on the lamp, revealing the pilot’s tear-stained face. “Finn . . .” he whispered between pants, “. . . I’m sorry . . .”

“Why are you apologizing?” asked Finn, sitting on the edge of Poe’s bed. “It’s not your fault that Kylo tortured you!”

“So now he’s Kylo again?” Poe asked, a slight smirk peeking through his gasps.

“He was Kylo when he did that to you,” said Finn, wishing he could figure out how to take away the nightmares from both Poe and Rey. “As for who he is now – I don’t know about that.”

Poe sniffled, running his pajama sleeve under his nose. “Do you think we’re doing the right thing? Trusting the info he gave us and all?”

“We’re not trusting him,” said Finn.

“We’re sending scouts to the worlds he named, aren’t we? If it turns out that he was playing us and they end up walking into a trap, their blood’s on our hands.”

“No,” said Finn, rapidly shaking his head, “their blood’s on his hands!”

“Our hands!” Poe insisted, staring at Finn with red eyes. “We’re the ones who decided to go to him for info.”

Finn gulped, trying not to see the sense in his words. “Well . . . you trust Rey, don’t you? She’s got that Force dyad thing with him and she says he’s changed his ways . . .”

“And what if he’s playing her too?” Poe interrupted.

“Poe,” said Finn, “our scouts are well-trained and we told them to expect a trap. They can handle themselves.”

Poe swallowed, his hands gripping the blankets, his forehead glistening with sweat. “So many people died in the war. People I chatted with at meals, people I ran into in the hangar, people whose names I didn’t even know but I got used to seeing their faces . . . dead!”

BB-8 had been sitting in the corner, shut down for the night, but as if he’d sensed his master’s turmoil, he suddenly reactivated and rolled over to the bed. Though Finn didn’t fully understand the droid’s beeping language, the concern in his tone was obvious.

“Yeah, little buddy,” said Poe, wiping his eyes. “I’m tired of death, I’m tired.”

Finn wrapped his arms around Poe. “I was raised to kill and I chose a different path. Maybe he has too, I don’t know, but we need to make sure the First Order doesn’t rise again.”

“I know,” sobbed Poe. “I just don’t want to send more people to their deaths.”

BB-8 gave a sad beep. Finn didn’t know what to say since he couldn’t truthfully assure his friend that no one else was going to die, so he simply tightened his embrace, letting Poe draw comfort from his touch.

Chapter Text

Ben might have dozed a little bit during the night – he wasn’t sure, but he was definitely awake when the prison lights came back on. He rubbed his eyes, blinking at the ceiling, wondering what would happen now. Did they have morning inspection here like in holoshows? Would he be put to work making license chips for speeders? Or would he just never leave this cell at all?

He dressed back in the prison uniform, which was starting to smell a little. Surely they’d at least provide him with clean clothes, right? There wasn’t a washing machine or a laundry chute in the cell, after all.

At least there was a toilet.

It was while he was washing his hands when the guards appeared at the forcefield again, one deactivating it while the others crowded around Ben and put the binders on his wrists without letting him dry his hands first. “Are we going to see the warden again?” he asked, shaking his wet hands as best he could in the binders.

“Yes,” said the lead guard, his voice gruff, though he wouldn’t look Ben in the eye. “Along with your counselor.”

“Counselor?” No one had told him about a counselor, but then again, no one had told him much of anything.

The guard continued to not tell him anything as they led him out of the cell and down the hall, weapons always at the ready.

. . .

Instead of the warden’s office, the guards escorted him to an open room furnished with large, overstuffed couches around a caf table, on which there sat a plate of scrambled eggs and toast and a glass of jogan juice. The warden sat on a couch in front of the caf table, along with an orange-skinned male Zabrak in a cream-colored bodysuit, holding a small datapad.

“Have a seat and help yourself,” Warden Zimmer said in her clipped voice.

The guards removed Ben’s binders so he could sit on the couch opposite from the warden and the Zabrak. Once again, hunger overtook desire to ask questions and Ben picked up the plate and took a large forkful of egg.

“This is Krain Avan,” said the warden, nodding in the Zabrak’s direction. “He’s our prison counselor and you will be having sessions with him.”

“And who said I needed a counselor?” Ben said with his mouth full.

“Your doctor from the hospital contacted us,” Krain said in a deep, understanding voice.

“Renda?” Ben asked, a sudden twitch in his nerves.

“Yes,” said Krain. “She seemed quite concerned about your mental health.”

The eggs suddenly got stuck in Ben’s throat, forcing him to swallow a second time as he blinked rapidly to keep himself from crying at the thought of his doctor’s gesture. He had to take a long gulp of juice before he could speak. “I-I had therapy as a child, before Mom and Dad sent me . . . th-they thought it would help me control my powers so they wouldn’t have to send me . . . but it didn’t do much good . . .”

“I understand,” said Krain. “Many inmates are skeptical at first, but they find in time that it really helps to have someone to talk to.”

“Someone to talk to,” Ben repeated, having to restrain himself from saying I can talk to Rey. It probably wasn’t a good idea to tell anyone here about the dyad. He took a deep breath. “Aren’t therapy sessions supposed to be confidential? Are we going to do this with the warden and all these guards here?”

“I can leave,” said the warden, “but the guards have to stay for safety reasons.”

“Safety reasons.” Ben felt his brow tighten. “So you think that if I’m left alone with him, I’ll Force-choke him, is that it?”

No sooner had he said it than a cold blaster barrel pressed against his neck as the warden glared at him. “Be careful, Mr. Solo,” she said. “Misbehavior is not tolerated here and you may very well find that your behavior here could influence what happens at your trial.”

“All right,” said Krain, raising a hand as if trying to stop a fight before turning to the warden. “Kay, why don’t you leave the room so we can get started.”

Warden Zimmer nodded and stood up without looking at Ben, not giving him much time to process that her first name was apparently “Kay” before Krain leaned forward in his direction.

“Now, Ben,” the counselor said as if there weren’t seven or eight guards circling Ben’s couch, “how would you say your mood is right now?”

“Terrified,” Ben said without thinking.

Krain nodded. “And what would you say you’re terrified of?”

Ben’s lips curled. “I’m in prison and awaiting a trial – what do you think I’m terrified of?”

“A looming trial is a scary thing,” said Krain, typing something into his datapad, “but would you say that’s the only thing you’re scared of?”

“No,” Ben said between bites of toast, “but if we listed everything I’m afraid of we’d be here all day.” He tried not to think about how the voices in his head used to say his fear made him weak and the dark side was necessary to overcome his fear.

“I see,” said Krain, but he didn’t press the matter. “How are you sleeping?”

“Not well. I have nightmares.”

“I see,” Krain repeated with a slight nod, his yellow eyes looking down to type something else on his datapad. “Would you like to tell me what you dream about?”

“My parents,” Ben said automatically, shifting his gaze to the half-eaten breakfast. “I dream about my parents a lot, especially of when they abandoned me on Jakku.”

“Jakku?” The counselor sounded surprised for the first time. “Why do you think you dream about Jakku?”

“Because that’s where my parents left me . . . no, wait, they didn’t, I’m . . . I’m mixed up.”

“That’s all right,” Krain said in a kindly voice. “Maybe you dream about them leaving you on Jakku because Jakku represents something in your subconscious.”

“Maybe . . .” said Ben, unwilling to look the Zabrak in the eye. He was not going to talk about the dyad with the guards present.

Not even when his stomach knotted at the idea that his slip might have been more than just a slip.

“Would you like to talk about your parents?” Krain asked.

A lump formed in Ben’s throat. “They’re dead . . . because of me.” His eyes welled up at the memory of Han’s shocked, devastated face, red in the lightsaber’s glow. “My dad . . . he came to me, invited me to come home, a-and I . . .”

He broke down crying.

. . .

One moment Rey and Finn were eating breakfast together at the hotel restaurant, the next moment Rey was overtaken by sobs so intense that she had to spit out her hotcake into her napkin.

“Rey??” Finn shouted, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Rey, what is it? What’s wrong?”

“Dad . . .” she choked out.

“What?”

“Dad . . . I killed Dad . . .”

“What??”

Rey blinked at him as if waking from a dream, shifting her eyes from side to side as if trying to get her bearings. “No . . . I didn’t,” she said, gripping the side of her head and wiping her eyes, “but . . . Ben! I need to see Ben!”

“Now wait a minute, we’ve got meetings after breakfast . . .”

“I need to see him now!”

Without waiting for his response, she leapt out of her chair and went running out of the restaurant, leaving Finn and her unfinished breakfast behind.

Chapter Text

“Rey did WHAT?” Poe exclaimed.

Finn held up his hands in a calming gesture – he seemed to be doing that a lot these days. “Look, I don’t get it, but it’s something to do with the Force and she felt she had to go see Ben immediately.”

Poe groaned, resting his elbows on the meeting room table and digging his fingers in his forehead. “And what about how I already told today’s representatives that they’d be able to meet the Jedi who defeated Palpatine? This isn’t gonna go well with them.”

“Well . . . we could comm her during the meeting or something.”

“And tell the representatives that she couldn’t come because she’s visiting Kylo Ren?”

“Okay, so we tell them that she’s interrogating him for information or something.”

Poe looked up, twisting his mouth. “So we lie to the representatives? That’s a great way to earn their trust! How the hell are we supposed to rebuild the Republic if we can’t even keep our word about who’s coming to the meetings?”

“Well, they still get to meet the general who led the attack on Exegol,” said Finn, giving a slight grin in hopes of calming his friend. “Meeting you oughta count for something.”

Poe sighed. “It’s not like meeting the last Jedi. The Jedi – they’re mystical, people are fascinated with them.”

Finn put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Don’t sell yourself short, Poe. You’re important.”

Poe took a deep breath, looking in Finn’s eyes. “Well, at least they get to meet the stormtrooper who deflected the First Order and became a Resistance general.”

Finn gave an embarrassed grin. “With a lot of help from the general who led the attack on Palpatine.”

. . .

For once Rey wished she knew how to activate the connection with Ben. The airbus took a long time to get anywhere near the prison with Ben’s pain throbbing in Rey’s soul the entire way. Behind her blinks she kept seeing Han’s face, glowing red. Even after she got off the bus, she still had to walk a good distance to get to the prison, her stomach knotting more and more with each step.

The prison guards led her down what seemed like endless gray halls flanked on each side by red forcefields. She tried not to peer inside the cells, though occasionally she caught a glimpse of a prisoner staring through a forcefield at the passing guards or pacing aimlessly around their cell, which made her shudder. How long could someone stay here before they lost all hope?

Finally they reached Ben’s cell, where the guards ordered her to stay away from the forcefield. She did so, but her heart started racing as soon as Ben saw her and made his way to the forcefield, a smile breaking on his face despite the bags under his eyes.

“Rey,” he murmured.

“Ben!” Rey exclaimed, releasing a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. “Are you all right?” She had to restrain herself from telling him about what happened in the restaurant – it definitely wasn’t a good idea to talk about that with the guards present.

“As all right as I can be here,” said Ben. “Is D-O with you?”

“No, but I’ll bring him next time. This was kind of a . . . spontaneous decision.” She swallowed, trying not to think of how the forcefield tinted Ben’s face that same shade of red as Han’s face in her . . . vision? Memory? Something else?

Ben’s eyes widened as if he sensed what was in her mind. “I . . . I had a therapy session this morning. The prison counselor seems nice, but something . . . strange happened during the session.”

Rey gave a slow nod, clenching her pants to keep her hands from shaking. “Something strange happened at breakfast this morning too.”

They stared at each other through the forcefield, understanding passing between them. Her mind’s eye saw him claiming – remembering – that he’d grown up on Jakku, that he was her. She wished she could break down the forcefield and wrap her arms around him – ironic, when they were physically in the same place, she felt more separated from him than when they linked through the Force.

“Tell D-O I said hi,” Ben said in an awkward voice, as if he were trying to get acceptable conversation going.

“I will.”

What else could she say with the guards watching? She could feel their stares on her, as if they wondered if she was in league with Ben and would attempt to break him out. Her heart was ramming against her ribs, the memory of Han’s dying face dancing in her mind. When she’d witnessed the event from the balcony, she hadn’t seen his face – that devastated, heartbroken face.

“Rey,” said Ben, briefly eyeing the guards before looking back at her, “you should probably leave.”

“I’m not leaving.”

“I’m serious, the Resistance needs you and this . . . this isn’t a good environment to talk in.”

Rey swallowed, wishing they could talk about what happened but realizing they couldn’t with the guards here. What had she expected, anyway? “Well, I’ll see you later, then.”

As the guards led her away, she took a deep breath, closing her eyes, filling her mind with what she couldn’t say out loud and concentrating on sending it to Ben’s mind.

Next time we link.

. . .

Next time we link.

Ben heard the words in his mind as he stared at the guards leading Rey away. The words settled in his stomach like a rock, confirming that yes, the identity confusion had happened to her too. His body trembled as he sat on the cot, his sleep-deprived brain going through this morning’s event for what felt like the millionth time.

In that second when he’d blurted out Rey’s memory, had he actually thought he was Rey?

Again he had no answer. The moment had come and gone in such a blur that he couldn’t remember just what he was thinking then. He closed his eyes, inhaling, counting one, two, three seconds, and then exhaling, just like his Jedi training taught him, but just like during his Jedi training, it made him dizzy.

His eyes opened as he flopped down on the cot, trying not to feel like the cell walls would close in on him. “You belong here,” that silent inner voice said. “You belong here, you are dangerous, you NEED to be here . . .”

He needed to be here . . .

That was the truth . . .

But he didn’t want to be here.

He let out a long exhale and ran his hands over his face as he closed his eyes, contemplating taking a nap. Maybe sleep would clear his mind or maybe he’d dream he was Rey. Of course, that was assuming that he’d be able to sleep.

Next time we link.

There wasn’t much point in thinking about the incident right now, was there? It wasn’t like he could talk to anyone about it before he and Rey did link, right?

“You belong here . . .”

Again his chest tightened so hard he could barely breathe. His mind saw his victims’ terrified faces, heard his prisoners screaming as he pried into their minds, smelled his father’s burning flesh as the lightsaber pierced him . . .

“You belong here . . .”

He couldn’t deny the words no matter how much he wanted to. Though again he inhaled, counted to three, and exhaled, nothing felt better. He ground his teeth, trying to imagine that he was lying in his parents’ bed, snuggled up between them, swaddled in their warm embrace, but the fantasy wouldn’t come.

Instead, they were stiff, cold, unmoving.

Corpses.

Chapter Text

“. . . I regret to inform you that Rey was unable to be here, but she sends her regards to all of you,” said Poe, nervously glancing around the crowded meeting table and trying to ignore the little fact that Rey hadn’t actually sent her regards before leaving, but he was sure she would have if she hadn’t felt a sudden Force urge to go to the prison. It was true from a certain point of view, right?

Right?

“What??” exclaimed the representative from Toydaria (what was his name? Darren?) flying up out of his seat, his wings nearly colliding with the heads of those sitting next to him as they flapped. “You said she would be here!”

“I know,” said Poe, “and I apologize for that, but something came up for her.”

“What?” The Toydarian was glaring at Poe as if it was his fault that Rey was a no-show. “What was more important than this meeting?”

Great, that question. The question Poe had hoped no one would ask. “She . . . got a sign from the Force that she was supposed to be somewhere.”

“And where would that be?”

Poe could swear that his stomach was trying to sink out of his body. “I don’t know if she wants me to tell you.”

“Is she visiting Kylo Ren, by any chance?” snapped Oma Rane, the representative from Lothal, her green eyes flaring.

Poe gulped. “What makes you say that?”

“I know she was a frequent visitor when he was in the hospital,” Oma said. “Rumor even has it that she’s in league with him.”

“That’s ridiculous.” Poe tried to ignore the bead of sweat dripping down his face.

“Then I guess the rumors about her parentage are also ridiculous?” Oma’s eyes were narrowing in Poe’s direction.

“What rumors?” asked Poe.

“The rumors that she is Emperor Palpatine’s granddaughter and she is working with the grandson of Darth Vader to seize the galaxy.”

How the hell did that get out? As an explosion of chatter erupted through the meeting room, Poe found himself wishing he could hide under the table and not come out until everybody was gone. Then he found himself wishing that Leia had picked someone else as her successor.

“Order!” Finn shouted from his seat next to Poe. “ORDER!”

As the chatter died down, Finn glared out at the crowd. “Look, we’re not here to discuss Rey’s heritage, are we? Could General Organa and Master Skywalker help that they were Darth Vader’s offspring? No. One of the Resistance’s strongest principles is that you aren’t defined by your heritage or your upbringing.” He nodded in Poe’s direction. “I was brought up to kill for the First Order, but when I met Poe here, he never held that against me. It’s because of him that I was able to turn my life around.” He gave Poe’s hand a reassuring squeeze with one hand while gesturing across the table with the other. “And look at Jannah over there. She too was raised to kill for the First Order and she too chose a different path.”

Jannah twisted her mouth in an awkward manner, but next to her Rose was squeezing her hand in a similar manner to how Finn was squeezing Poe’s.

“In the Resistance, we believe in second chances,” Finn continued. “If Rey failing to show up for a meeting is really enough for you decide not to join us, then maybe you should take a look at yourselves. Do you believe in second chances too? When you make mistakes, do you want everyone to walk out on you, or do you want a chance to redeem yourself?”

None of the representatives looked happy, but at least they didn’t protest, allowing Poe to continue the meeting. Though Finn kept squeezing his hand, it did little to calm his stomach, since he could still feel the representatives’ disapproval.

. . .

Rey meant to get back to the meeting before it ended – she meant to – but the airbus had to pick up and drop off so many passengers that she wondered if the Force was trying to keep her from getting back to the Resistance on time. By the time she did get back, after running down the hall so fast that sweat exploded out of her pores, people were leaving the meeting room.

“So there you are!”

As soon as she entered the meeting room, Rey found herself face-to-face with Poe, bearing a frazzled expression as he picked up his datapad. “How did it go?” she asked, even though she could already sense the answer.

“Not well,” said Poe. “Got a lotta maybes and we’ll-sees. I think most of them were disappointed that the last Jedi wasn’t there!”

Rey swallowed. “I had to . . .”

“See Ben, I know!” Poe interrupted. “Everything with you is about Ben these days!”

“Poe, I know it’s hard to understand, but . . .”

“But what?” Poe looked at her like she’d betrayed the Resistance. “Did you know some people think you and he are joining forces to take over the galaxy and other crazy shit like that? Oh, and there’s apparently a rumor about you being a certain someone’s granddaughter.”

Rey’s heart jumped. “Did someone tell . . .?”

“No, of course not. Me, Finn, Rose, Jannah, Lando, Chewie – we’ve all kept quiet about that. That’s everyone who knows, right? Well, besides Ben.”

“He hasn’t told anyone,” Rey said automatically.

“Well the rumors got out somehow!” Poe let out a long sigh, running his hand through his hair. “Look, I’m sorry, I don’t wanna yell at you, but we’re all under a lot of stress right now and you always going off to see Ben doesn’t exactly look good to the representatives.”

“He gave us information, didn’t he?”

Poe sighed again. “Yeah, information that could get more of our troops killed. If he’s playing us, they’ll be walking into a trap, but even if he’s not playing us and the info’s legit, they could still get killed by remnant First Order officers!”

Rey put her hand on Poe’s shoulder, wishing she knew the right thing to say, wishing she had at least accomplished something by seeing Ben. “Poe, I’m sorry, I really am. I know it’s hard to understand this thing I have with him – I don’t understand it myself – but he needs me right now.”

“Well we need you too,” said Poe.

“I know that, and I’m trying!”

“Then maybe you could try a little harder?” By now Poe was panting between words and Rey noticed bags under his eyes. How long had those been there?

“Rey!” exclaimed a third voice.

Both Rey and Poe turned to find Finn standing in the doorway. “Finn,” Rey breathed as he walked up to her and gathered her into a hug. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get to the meeting in time.”

Finn shrugged as they pulled out of the hug. “Well, it could have gone better, but there’s one piece of good news.”

“What?”

A nervous grin crept across Finn’s face. “Even though most of the representatives were hesitant about joining us, they were willing to help us fund the stormtrooper reunion program.”

Chapter Text

Even though the Force frequently linked Rey and Ben when she didn’t want to link, he was nowhere to be seen now that she did want to link. She waited for him during lunch, while exercising in the hotel’s gym, during dinner, nothing. For the whole day, she periodically repeated My name is Rey, I grew up on Jakku in her head in case another identity slip happened.

She went to bed with her stomach in a knot, expecting Ben to appear next to her like he’d done so many nights before, but still there was nothing. My name is Rey. I grew up on Jakku. She blinked up into the darkness, pressing the words into her head even though she knew they might not remain once sleep claimed her. My name is Rey. I grew up on Jakku. My parents saved me from Emperor Palpatine. She took in one deep breath, then another, as if deep breaths would protect her from forgetting who she was. My name is Rey, my name is Rey, my name is . . .

Finally the twitch.

She rolled over and there was Ben, his face glowing in the Coruscant city lights. “Rey,” he whispered.

The next thing she knew, he threw his arms around her, squeezing her as if she were the only thing keeping him alive, his body shaking against hers. She could feel sweat soaking through his undershirt and drenching his arms. “Are you all right?” she whispered.

“No,” Ben muttered into her neck. “Ever since you left I’ve been alone!”

“Alone?”

“The guards serve me meals in this damn cell without talking to me.” He sounded like he was swallowing a sob. “A-and I saw other prisoners getting to leave their cells for meals or other stuff – I’m the only one who had meals brought to the cell!”

“Well . . . you got to leave when you gave us information.” The words sounded feeble coming out of her mouth.

“That doesn’t mean they won’t keep me in here now!” His voice became faster, more desperate. “I’m too dangerous to be allowed out, too dangerous to even interact with other prisoners!”

Rey swallowed, running her fingers through his damp hair. “Maybe . . . maybe you can negotiate for time out of your cell.”

“Negotiate?”

“Well, I’d think that keeping you in the cell all the time would count as prisoner abuse . . . wouldn’t it? I don’t know, maybe not, but there should be something we can do!” She pulled out of the embrace, looking into his vulnerable eyes. “I’ll speak up for you, tell them you saved my life . . .”

Ben sighed, brushing his fingers behind her ear. “And how many people will believe you?”

“Maybe no one,” said Rey, “but I can at least try.”

“And what if they think Kylo Ren brainwashed you?”

Rey let out a sigh. “Some people probably already think that.”

“What?”

Rey found herself telling him about the missed meeting and how rumors about her parentage had somehow gotten out, which left him staring at her in bewilderment.

“How did anyone find out . . . wait, there were several stormtroopers and First Order officers present when I told you . . . some of them could have told someone who told someone else . . .”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Rey. “What matters is that the word is out.” She took a deep breath. “And . . . this morning . . .”

“I know,” Ben said with a slow nod. “During the therapy appointment, there was . . . a moment . . . when I said my parents had left me on Jakku.”

Rey nodded back, a lump in her throat. “And I had a moment where I broke down crying, thinking that I’d killed Han.”

“I guess you don’t have any idea what it means?”

“Maybe the Force is trying to drive us both crazy?” Rey tried to grin, but the attempt was futile. “Or maybe our souls are merging into one and we eventually won’t be able to separate our identities.”

Ben blinked at her as if trying to memorize her face. “No . . . no, your soul can’t merge with mine! Your soul – it’s too beautiful, it can’t be tainted by darkness!”

“My soul isn’t beautiful!” Rey insisted, her stomach twisting. “There’s already plenty of darkness in it.” She held up her hand in front of her face, remembering the lightning that had shot from it. “On Exegol – if you hadn’t been there, I would have let Palpatine possess my body, I was going to do it before I saw you!”

“But you didn’t.”

“I stabbed you!”

“Then you healed me.”

“Ben, please!” Rey abruptly pushed herself to a sitting position, bringing her knees to her chest. “I’m not a beacon of light, I’m not a beautiful soul, and if you think I am, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment!”

Her breath shortened into tiny sobs, overtaking her to the point where she barely registered Ben sitting up and rubbing her back. “I’m sorry,” he murmured.

Rey wiped her eyes. “No, I’m sorry. I just . . . I wish things were different.”

Again Ben’s strong arms were around her, pressing her against him. “So do I.”

She let out an exhale, nestling herself into the embrace, feeling his heartbeat against her head, inhaling his scent. In a moment like this, she could easily believe that he was really here, that it wasn’t just the Force connecting their souls, that he wasn’t actually in a cold prison cell.

She wished she could forget that he wasn’t really here.

“Rey?”

“Yes?”

Ben pulled out of the embrace, again looking into her eyes. “I was thinking about last night, how you said you were asexual, and I was wondering if I was too.”

Rey wasn’t sure whether to groan or smile. “Ben, I told you, you don’t have to think you’re asexual just because I am . . .”

“I’m not,” said Ben. “I don’t need to have sex. Sex isn’t important to me, but . . .” His face suddenly looked shy, more boyish, almost panicked. “. . . but there is something I’ve been wanting to do since Exegol.”

Rey’s heart thumped – she didn’t need the Force to figure out what he wanted. “You want to kiss again, don’t you?”

It was difficult to tell in the dim light, but Rey thought she saw a hint of blush in his cheeks. “Yes . . . but only if you want it too.”

Did she? Rey gulped, remembering the kiss on Exegol and how right it felt but also wondering if it had been the dyad controlling her to feel that. That kiss had been an act of impulse – but this wouldn’t be. If she kissed him now, it wouldn’t be out of gratitude for saving her life or happiness that he had conquered the dark side – and even though her rational mind knew that kissing him a second time didn’t mean they were bound in unbreakable love for the rest of their lives, it still felt like this was a moment of decision.

A moment of decision . . .

She leaned closer and closer, closing her eyes . . .

Their lips touched.

An explosion of emotion flowed through her as the kiss deepened and they threw their arms around each other. Her heart raced and her head spun, but not with any desire to yank his clothes off – simply with the desire to remain in this moment for as long as possible, to feel Ben in her spirit.

When they pulled out, there was that smile again – that beautiful smile she’d first seen on Exegol, and even without the Force she would have known what he was going to say next.

“I love you,” he whispered.

There they were. Those words were out in the open, making Rey’s ears feel numb. Her heart was beating so hard that it felt like it was trying to break out of her chest. Was the dyad making her feel like this? Would she feel like this if they weren’t connected?

How would she even know?

“I-I . . . I know.” The words came out in a rasp.

Now his smile grew even wider, his eyes glistening. “Did Mom tell you about . . .”

“. . . how your father said that in the carbon freezer and it became their personal way to express love after that, yes,” mumbled Rey.

“Well . . . did you mean it that way?”

She stared into those eyes that had captivated her even when they were enemies, feeling like she was about to jump in cold water but at the same time feeling that this was right.

“Yes.”

They kissed again.

Chapter Text

There was no sex after the kisses, but there was a content, beautiful tiredness during which nothing needed to be said. Ben fell asleep soon afterwards, a relaxed expression on his face, almost a smile. Rey drowsily gazed at him, running her fingers through his hair as she listened to his slow sleep-breathing, a certain giddiness in her soul. Some part of her couldn’t believe what had happened, yet she couldn’t stop smiling.

My name is Rey. Even with what had happened, she couldn’t forget that her identity was possibly in danger. My name is Rey, I grew up on Jakku, my parents saved me from Emperor Palpatine. She took in several slow, deep breaths. My name is Rey, I grew up on Jakku, my parents saved me from Emperor Palpatine, and I’m in love with Ben Solo. Her heart thumped. I’m in love with Ben Solo. She brushed her fingers over his cheek, wanting to repeat the words over and over. I’m in love with Ben Solo, I’m in love with Ben Solo, I’m in love with Ben Solo. Maybe it wasn’t smart to fall in love with a man in prison who could possibly be executed soon . . . but since when did love care about logic?

I’m in love with Ben Solo . . .

It felt so good to think that, as if she had finally figured out part of her identity.

I’m in love with Ben Solo.

But as she felt herself drifting off to sleep, there was still a question settling in her mind and twisting her stomach.

How would she tell the others?

. . .

“Rey, don’t worry. Mom and Dad will love you. In fact, they already do.”

Though her boyfriend was squeezing her hand and giving her that grin she loved, Rey couldn’t stop her stomach from jumping. Talking to Ben’s parents on the comm was different from actually meeting them in person.

“It’s all right, sweetheart.” Ben leaned over and kissed her cheek.

Rey took a deep breath, shifting her weight from side to side as she gazed at the big white door of Leia Organa and Han Solo’s apartment, some part of her still unable to believe that she was about to meet the war heroes she’d heard such amazing stories about growing up.

Suddenly the door slid open and there were Ben’s parents, their eyes shining and warm smiles on their faces. “Rey!” Leia Organa exclaimed, offering her hand for Rey to shake. “It’s so great to finally meet you in person!”

Rey swallowed as she shook Leia’s firm hand. “It’s nice to finally meet you too, Mrs. Organa, Mr. Solo.”

“Hey,” said Han Solo, cocking his head. “One thing you should know – no one calls me Mr. Solo. You call me Han . . . or maybe Dad, someday?” He shot a sly grin at his son.

“Dad,” groaned Ben. “We’re not engaged . . . not yet, anyway.”

“Ah, but there’s a yet,” Han said as he offered his own hand to Rey. “You’re takin’ care of my son, right?”

“As best I can,” said Rey, shaking his callused hand.

“Good,” Han said with a crooked grin that greatly resembled Ben’s. He rubbed his son’s shoulder with his free hand. “I know my son’s a handful.”

Rey felt herself smiling back at him. “He is, but he’s a wonderful handful.”

“I know,” said Leia.

“Well,” said Han, “lunch won’t be ready for a while – Ben, why don’t you give her the grand tour while we’re waiting?”

. . .

“. . . and this was my room growing up.”

Rey felt herself grinning as the door slid open, revealing Ben’s childhood bedroom. A large window brought a view of the bustling city outside, surrounded by drawings of Ben and his family in crayon and sketches of various animals in pen, showing the evolution of Ben’s drawing skills. There was a desk against one of the walls, letting Rey imagine a younger Ben sitting there and working on schoolwork or drawing.

“Mom and Dad always keep it ready in case I want to make an impromptu visit.” Ben said as he entered, sheepishly running his hand through his hair.

“I love it,” said Rey, entering the room and wrapping her arms around him from behind and gazing at the toys sitting on the shelves, particularly the various stuffed animals and the toy Millennium Falcon given a place of honor on the top shelf. “It’s so cozy.” Without warning, she leaped onto the bed with the X-Wing covers, disturbing the toy taun-taun and toy tooka sitting on the pillows.

Ben stared at her for a moment, but then that grin broke onto his face and he leaped onto the bed next to her and they both burst into dazed laughter before dissolving into a kiss.

“Mmm,” Ben murmured after they broke out of the kiss, wrapping his arms around his girlfriend, “what did I ever do for the Force to bless me like this?”

“I wonder the same thing about myself,” said Rey, letting out a happy sigh as she rested her head against his chest, listening to his beautiful heartbeat.

They lay in content silence, relishing in each other’s touch. If Han and Leia weren’t making them lunch, Rey felt that they could stay like this for hours and drift off to sleep in each other’s arms.

Drift off to sleep . . .

Something distant poked at the back of Rey’s mind – small, but insisting that something was wrong. No, ignore it, savor Ben’s embrace, enjoy her boyfriend’s old room. Soon lunch would be ready and they’d enjoy a meal with Ben’s parents.

Ben’s parents . . .

This isn’t real.

She gasped, her eyes shooting open. This isn’t real. Her heart started racing. This isn’t real. Ben was . . . His parents were . . .

“This isn’t real,” she found herself whispering.

“Mm, what?” Ben’s eyes had closed and he looked half-asleep, a smile on his face.

“This isn’t real,” Rey said louder, pushing herself to a sitting position. “We’re dreaming.”

Ben’s eyes opened and his mouth curved downward. “No, we’re not dreaming.” He reached up and stroked her arm. “This is real.”

No matter how much Rey wanted to lie back down with him, she found herself shaking her head. “No . . . no, Ben, don’t you remember?”

“I remember us,” Ben said in a fiercer voice. Suddenly his arms were around her waist, gripping her with that anxious tightness. “This is real and Mom and Dad are alive! We don’t need to worry about anything else!”

Rey stroked his hair. “Ben, I understand wanting to believe that, but sooner or later we’ll have to wake up.”

“N-no,” Ben whimpered, trembling against her body. “Mom and Dad are alive, they’re alive, they’re ALIVE!”

. . .

Rey opened her eyes in the real world to Ben’s devastated face staring at her, his eyes wide and glistening in the early dawn light, his body still trembling as it had in the dream.

“Why?” he gasped. “Why did you wake us up??”

“I didn’t mean to . . .”

Ben shot up to a sitting position, a tight sob escaping. “We could have stayed there just a little bit longer!” He punched the mattress as if it was the mattress’s fault that he woke up. “Just a little bit longer . . .” He broke down crying, burying his face in his hands.

Rey felt her chest tightening as she sat up, gently wrapping her arms around him. “Ben . . .”

“Don’t. I know that world never existed. Maybe the Force decided to torment us by showing us what could have been if I hadn’t . . .”

Rey gathered his face in her hands, wiping his tears with her fingers. “Ben, even though that wasn’t real, this is.” She kissed his lips in a tender manner, concentrating on sending him love through the Force. “This is real, Ben, this is . . .”

Ben vanished.

Chapter Text

“Finn . . . I need to tell you something.”

Rey’s stomach had been turning somersaults all morning, but now that she and Finn were at their little restaurant table by the giant window, she wondered if she would end up regurgitating her breakfast. Part of her wanted to postpone this indefinitely, but no, he had a right to know.

Even if it would tear their friendship apart . . .

“What is it?” Finn asked in that voice that always made her feel safe and comfortable.

Rey gulped, concentrating on not letting tears flow as she looked into his soft eyes. “Finn, what you told me the other day . . .” She fumbled for words. “You’re my best friend, you were the first one to care about me since my parents left, and I do love you – but I love you as a friend.” She reached over and squeezed his hand. “I’m sorry, I really am, but . . . I can’t force myself to feel things I don’t feel.”

Finn just stared at her for several moments, scarcely blinking, sadness flowing from him, but not surprise. “It’s . . .” he finally said, “. . . it’s Ben, isn’t it?”

Rey’s mouth went dry. How could she answer that?

Finn’s gaze shot downward to his empty plate. “Look, if you don’t love me, fine. I don’t want you to try to force yourself to love me, but . . .” He looked back up at her, his eyes wide. “. . . but when we’re talking about someone we both saw murder his father . . .”

“I know,” said Rey, “but he’s not Kylo Ren anymore.”

“And that makes everything he did okay?”

“Of course it doesn’t! Believe me, I’ve seen inside his head and it haunts him every single day. He wishes with all his heart that he could undo everything he did as Kylo, but he can’t!” She felt her breath increasing its intensity. “I’m not asking you to forgive him or invite him into the Resistance, but could you try to imagine that you did something horrible that haunts you every minute of every day, but you can’t change it because it’s already done? No matter how much you try to atone for what you did, you can never erase it! Ever!”

Finn gazed downward again, drumming his fingers on the table. “Look,” he said after several moments, “even if everything you say is true, I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“He won’t hurt me.”

“Maybe not intentionally,” said Finn, “but that doesn’t mean you won’t get hurt.” He wrapped his fingers around her hand. “Rey, he’s in prison. Most of the galaxy wants him dead. Even if he is all changed, how could you and he have anything resembling a normal relationship?”

Rey was silent, shifting her gaze over to Rose and Jannah seated at a nearby table. They were laughing together about something, their body language relaxed as if they were totally at peace with each other. Rey found herself feeling a stab of envy as she remembered the dream of the world with no Kylo Ren – the world that never was and could never be.

“I don’t know,” she whispered.

. . .

Rey wasn’t going to miss today’s meeting. She was at the meeting room half an hour early, even before the food and drinks were set up, which provided a surprise to Poe when he pushed in the floating cart with the caf maker and the snacks.

“Rey?” he exclaimed, stopping in his tracks.

Rey stood up and headed over to him, figuring this was as good a time as any to make amends with him. “Here, let me help you with that.” Without waiting for his answer, she picked up the heavy caf maker with the Force and gently placed it on the table, causing him to cock his head and raise his eyebrows at her.

“So . . . no emergency visits with Ben today?” he asked.

“I’m here, aren’t I?” said Rey, hoping she wouldn’t have a moment like yesterday morning during the meeting. My name is Rey, I grew up on Jakku, my parents saved me from Emperor Palpatine, and I’m in love with Ben Solo. Again that last thought made her heart thump.

“Yeah,” Poe said, picking up the plate of cheese and fruit before Rey could, “but, well, Finn told me something rather interesting about the two of you.”

Her heart thumped again, but this time in nervousness. She hadn’t told Finn not to tell anyone, so she couldn’t be angry at him, but she still found that she couldn’t look Poe in the eye. “He did?”

“Yeah,” said Poe. “Look, I’m not gonna go poking into your love life, but you do realize that if this gets out, people are gonna question your loyalty to the Resistance, right?”

Rey suddenly found her distorted reflection in the caf maker’s surface rather interesting. “Well, aren’t they already questioning my loyalty with that rumor about my parentage going around?” She picked up a stack of plates – not using the Force this time – and placed them on the table next to the fruit and cheese plate. “It’s also apparently a known fact that I was visiting Ben so much in the hospital.”

“Yeah, which means we’re walking a very thin line here,” said Poe. “We’ve already got to convince who-knows-how-many planets that another Galactic Republic won’t crumble like the previous two did and one of the Resistance’s heroes frolicking around with the First Order’s Supreme Leader isn’t going to help convince . . . wait, do you two do it when you Force link or whatever it is that happens?”

Finally Rey looked at him, unable to stop herself from glaring. “No, we don’t, and neither of us have much interest in doing it with anyone.”

“Sorry,” said Poe, letting out a sigh as he carefully placed the pastry plate next to the fruit and cheese plate. “Look, it would be nice to think that a union between the last Jedi and the former Supreme Leader of the First Order would miraculously bring peace to the galaxy and love would conquer all and their love would inspire everyone to lay down their arms and all that stuff that happens in children’s stories – but this isn’t one of those stories. Real life’s more complicated than that.”

. . .

My name is Rey, I grew up on Jakku, my parents saved me from Emperor Palpatine.

She kept repeating those words throughout the meeting. Though she remembered to smile and greet the representatives, the meeting progressed like a haze in her mind.

My name is Rey, I grew up on Jakku, my parents . . .

Poe was talking about something . . . something to do with how Ben had provided information about the First Order . . . Ben . . . was he all right? Why couldn’t she concentrate?

My name is Rey, I grew up on Jakku, my parents are Leia Organa and Han Solo . . .

Wait . . . no, that wasn’t right . . . was it?

If it wasn’t, why could she remember snuggling between them on a couch, smelling grease and sweat from Han and flowery perfume from Leia?

Her hands started shaking under the table. My name is Rey, my parents are . . . my parents did . . . Her teeth were chattering behind her lips. I grew up . . . Palpatine . . . Solo . . . I killed my . . . no, I didn’t! . . . my name is . . . my name is . . .

“Rey? REY!”

She blinked as if waking from a dream, realizing that Finn had his hand on her shoulder and everyone in her field of vision was staring at her. “Wha . . . what?”

“Are you all right?” Finn asked. “We were talking about the stormtrooper reunion program and you – you spaced out.”

“I’m . . . I’m sorry,” she stammered, unable to say anything else, wishing she could run out like she had during the meeting on Ajan Kloss and wondering if Ben had just experienced the same lapse in memory she had. She took a deep breath, trying to pay attention to the meeting but still finding herself unable to do so.

My name is Rey, I grew up on Jakku, my parents saved me from Emperor Palpatine, and I’m NOT Ben.

I’m not . . .

I’m not . . .

Chapter Text

“NO! COME BACK! COME BACK!”

Ben reached up, stretching his arm as if he could grab the ship if he tried hard enough, but no – they were flying away forever, the ship shrinking in the sky. “COME BACK!” he screamed again, tears blurring his vision, his arm still reaching, reaching, reaching . . .

He blinked and found himself standing in the middle of his prison cell, his arm still outstretched.

It took several short breaths for him to orient himself and even then he wasn’t sure what happened. Had he been sleepwalking? Seeing a vision? Why couldn’t he tell?

He slumped down on the bunk, knowing one thing for certain: that wasn’t his memory he’d just seen.

“Rey?” he whispered, even though he knew he couldn’t summon her just by calling her name. He wiped his cheeks, finding that they were wet. “Rey, whatever’s going on, we need to find some way to get a handle on it before we completely forget who we are.”

She didn’t appear, though he still saw the memory of her parents leaving in his mind.

. . .

Flor Greeves didn’t hate being a prison guard, but she did hate the night shift for one simple reason: it was boring. Walk up and down the hall, flash your handlight around every space, look into every cell to make sure the inmates weren’t up to anything (even though they were always sleeping or at least appeared to be sleeping), repeat for the rest of the night.

She stopped in front of Kylo Ren’s cell, perhaps longer than she was supposed to. He was asleep, his body bathed red from the forcefield. The man who’d murdered countless beings – including his own father – who could read minds, choke people without touching them, stop blasterbolts in midair, now looked helpless as a child, curled up almost in a fetal position under the blanket. She wondered just how many stories about his abilities were true and how many were exaggerations.

“No . . . no . . . NO!”

She froze, despite the fact that she’d seen inmates have nightmares before and had been specifically trained to ignore them. Something compelled her to stare at the former Supreme Leader of the First Order thrashing around like a frightened child.

“No . . . DAD!”

Dad? Her eyes bulged. Someone who’d murdered his father in cold blood was crying for him in his sleep?

Suddenly the prisoner gasped loudly, his eyes shooting open. “Rey!” he exclaimed.

Rey? The Jedi who defeated Palpatine and had apparently been visiting Kylo frequently?

Flor gulped. Now Kylo was pushing himself to a slight sitting position and holding up his arms as if he were embracing someone. His eyes were closed, his head leaning forward like it was resting on some invisible support, his fingers stroking the empty air.

Then his head tilted upward and his lips puckered as if he were kissing someone.

Flor stepped backwards and sharply turned around to continue her patrol, but her heart was ramming against her ribs. When her shift ended, she would have to report this to the warden.

Kylo Ren, Ben Solo, whatever he called himself now, was delusional.

. . .

Ben abruptly broke out of the kiss, staring at something unseen from Rey’s perspective. “Ben?” she asked, looking in the same direction but only seeing the hotel room’s window and its view of the lit buildings and endlessly flying airspeeders.

“Someone saw us,” Ben muttered, “well, saw me, at least.”

“Who?”

“A guard, probably,” said Ben, gulping as he lay back down. “I felt . . . shock coming from them . . . and fear.” His wide eyes reflected the city lights outside. “Maybe we shouldn’t be doing this.”

“Ben,” said Rey, lying back down and wrapping her hand around his, “I’ll back you up. I’ll tell people about the dyad so they know you’re not crazy.”

“Will that help, or will they just call us both crazy?” Ben mumbled, his fingertips lightly stroking her hand. “People are already wondering if you and I are plotting together to take over the galaxy – maybe that would be just the push they’d need to put you in here as well.”

Rey gently raised his hand to her mouth, kissing his knuckles one by one. “Then I’ll take that chance.”

“Take that chance for someone who’s going to be executed anyway?”

“Don’t say that!” Rey exclaimed too loudly for the middle of the night, putting her hand on Ben’s cheek. “We don’t know what’s going to happen! Remember, Finn and Poe will argue for a lighter sentence if that information you gave them proves useful, your doctor offered to be a character witness . . .”

“None of that means I won’t be executed,” said Ben, his eyes glistening now. “Or lynched.”

A sudden lump formed in Rey’s throat as an image came into her head of Ben seated in a tiny room, an emotionless officer plunging a lethal needle into his arm. Her mind’s eye saw Ben’s body convulsing, his eyes rolling back into his head, his limbs thrashing into the walls before he collapsed.

“I won’t let that happen!” she whispered, squeezing him in a fierce embrace. “I didn’t let you die on Exegol and I won’t let you die here.” Yet even as she repeated the promise she’d made several times before, part of her wondered how she could keep it.

Ben hugged her back, his breath heavy and labored. “I wish we could touch for real,” he whispered. “Be together physically without having to worry about you vanishing at any moment.”

Rey swallowed as she pulled out of the embrace. “Well if we end up forgetting who we are, then we’ll always be together, won’t we?” She took a deep breath. “I had another moment today where I thought I was you.”

“So did I,” said Ben. “In fact, I thought I actually saw your parents leaving.”

Rey blew air out of her mouth, again taking his hand for comfort. “We’re not getting anywhere by just wondering what this means. I haven’t found anything in the Jedi texts and even though I’ve tried to contact the dead Jedi, they’ve been silent.”

“Jedi have a tendency to not be around when you need them,” Ben said with a snort. “I don’t think we can rely on ghosts telling us what’s going on.”

“Then what else is there?”

“I don’t know,” said Ben, kissing her hand. “Maybe we have to figure this out by ourselves.”

Rey did her best to smile at him, though her stomach was still twisting. “Then we’ll work together.” She planted a kiss on his forehead. “I’ll come visit you tomorrow morning – I’ll bring D-O too.”

“It won’t interfere with any meetings?”

“No.”

“All right.” A tiny smile grew on his face, nearly invisible in the dim light. “We won’t be able to touch, though.”

“Well we can touch now.” Rey gathered his face into her hands and kissed him, letting them savor each other’s being. During those few glorious seconds, she could almost forget about Kylo Ren, prison, nightmares, dyads . . .

Almost.

When they pulled out of the kiss, Ben gave her that relaxed smile she loved, lifting her soul for a few more glorious seconds before he disappeared once again.

Chapter Text

Poe stared bleary-eyed out the window at the city bathed in soft early dawn light. It probably wasn’t a good idea to get up so early when he’d barely slept the night before, but what was the point of staying in bed when every time he closed his eyes he felt himself back on the interrogation table, those invisible hands prying through his mind . . .

He shuddered, knowing that he should try to sleep more so he’d be clear-minded for yet another day of negotiations, but was it really clearing his mind to keep going back there? Caf – he’d just need a good amount of caf and he’d be fine, right?

But caf didn’t fix problems like their great hero apparently being in love with that monster.

He let out a long exhale, fogging up the window. Everyone deserved a second chance; he liked to think that he believed that. Hell, he’d even accepted General Hux’s help of all people. Sure, he’d only helped them because he wanted to bring Kylo Ren down, but still. If he could accept Hux’s help, surely he could accept Ben’s help, especially since Rey kept insisting that Ben was truly changed.

Except Hux didn’t torture Poe the way Kylo had . . .

“Poe? Are you okay?”

Poe gulped. “Sorry, Finn,” he mumbled. “Didn’t mean to wake you.”

He felt his friend’s comforting arm wrapping around his shoulders. “The dream again?”

Poe gave a hesitant nod, glancing at the carpeted floor. “I do wanna believe Rey that he’s all changed, but . . .”

“I know,” said Finn, stroking his shoulder. “I’ve got my doubts too.”

Poe yawned, his head drooping to rest on Finn’s shoulder. “I wanna do the right thing, you know . . . but ‘m not sure what the right thing is . . .”

Finn took a deep breath, his shoulder gently rising and falling under Poe’s head. “Well, keeping quiet about Rey’s relationship with Ben is probably one of the right things.”

Poe closed his eyes, feeling like he could fall asleep standing up in Finn’s arms. Maybe the dream wouldn’t return if he did. “Sorry things didn’t work out with her.”

“What?”

“C’mon, I saw the way you looked at her.” He yawned again. “Sometimes we fall for people who just don’t love us back. Happened to me with Zorii . . . it’ll probably happen to me again.”

“All right, I think we should go back to bed.”

“Don’t wanna,” Poe mumbled, though by now he was more asleep than awake.

“Well you don’t want to fall asleep during the meeting, do you?”

Poe didn’t answer, but he also didn’t protest as Finn led him back to bed.

. . .

Again Ben was led to the prison counselor's room where again both the counselor and breakfast were waiting for him. “What’s going on?” he asked as soon as the guards removed his binders, though there was a sinking feeling in his stomach that this had to do with last night.

The counselor Krain was giving him a way-too-friendly smile. “Ben, don’t worry. We all care about your well-being.”

Ben couldn’t stop his teeth from grinding. “This is about last night, isn’t it? You think I’m crazy!”

“No, you’re not crazy,” said Krain, keeping that calm demeanor. “Your mind is simply using a coping mechanism.”

“Coping mechanism?”

“Yes,” Krain said with a nod. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. This construction in your mind could be a result of the immense guilt that you’re feeling.”

“Construction in my mind?”

Now the doctor was looking him in the eye, his yellow eyes wide with sympathy. “Ben, I know this is difficult to hear, but your mind needs to know the truth in order to heal. You’re not the first person here to suffer hallucinations . . .”

“I’m not hallucinating!” Ben yelled, though in the back of his mind, part of him wondered if seeing Rey’s parents leave counted as hallucinating.

The counselor let out a sigh through his nose as he looked at his datapad. “Ben, last night a guard saw you talking to that Jedi Rey and wrapping your arms around nothing.” He looked back up at Ben, seeming to put all his effort into making his face compassionate. “She wasn’t here last night, Ben. Your mind is creating visions of her.”

Ben wanted to leap out of his seat and storm out of the room – the effort to keep himself from doing so caused his hands to shake in his lap and his upper arms to tense up almost to the point of pain. “I’m not delusional,” he said, forcing himself to sound as calm as humanly possible. “You can prescribe all the medications you want, but it won’t stop Rey from appearing to me.”

“All right,” said Krain. “Can you explain why that is?”

“You won’t believe me,” Ben said in a hard voice.

“Well why don’t you explain anyway?”

Ben took a deep breath, feeling the guards’ stares on him, sensing them preparing to shoot him in case he tried anything. He couldn’t tell anyone about the dyad . . . he’d be institutionalized for sure . . . but then again, was a mental hospital really any worse than where he was now?

“Fine,” he said in a sharp voice, “I’ll tell you. The Force has me bonded with Ben and he appears to me periodically.”

“Bonded with Ben?” Krain asked quizzically, tilting his head.

“I . . . AUGH, not again!” Ben leaned forward, squeezing his head as if that would fix his memory. “I’m . . . my parents are . . . I’m not Rey, I’m NOT!”

. . .

“Friend!” D-O squealed when he and Rey reached Ben’s cell. He rolled as close to the forcefield as the guard would allow and craned his neck up to look at Ben.

“Hey, D-O,” said Ben, smiling at the droid. “How are you doing?”

“F-Fine,” said D-O, rolling back and forth. “A-are you all right?”

Ben sighed, looking up at Rey with a forlorn expression. “Rey, did you have one of those memory lapses today?”

Rey frowned, not wanting to think about how when she was repeating her name to herself at breakfast, she had briefly thought My name is Ben as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “Yes,” she admitted, “it was just for a moment, but I thought I was you.”

Ben’s mouth hung open slightly. “I had a lapse too – I’m guessing we have these lapses at the same time – but mine was in front of the prison counselor.” His breath was shortening as he gazed into her eyes. “Now he thinks I have disassociation and wants me to have hypnotherapy!”

“Hypnotherapy?” Rey exclaimed in a low whisper. “What did you say?”

“I said no, there’s no way I’m gonna let anyone hypnotize me!” Ben’s voice grew into a loud snarl, his eyes narrowing as if the counselor was here with them. “I’m not letting more voices into my head after what Palpatine and Snoke pulled and how I let them lure me into . . . into . . .” He broke into a sob, burying his face in his hands.

Rey gulped, wishing she could get rid of the forcefield and give him a hug. “Ben, hypnotherapy wouldn’t be like that.” She sucked in a small gasp as an idea suddenly came to her. “What if . . . what if we both had hypnotherapy together?”

Ben slowly looked back up at her, his glistening eyes apparent even through the forcefield. “What?”

“Just hear me out. We don’t know how to control this thing, the Jedi texts have no answers, and the Jedi ghosts aren’t telling us anything. Maybe going into an altered state of consciousness together will help us find answers.”

“An altered state of consciousness,” Ben spat. “Like meditation? I’ve never been good at that.”

Rey gave him the softest smile she could manage. “This would be different – and I’d be with you.” She held out her hand as if asking him to take it. “We’d be together.”

“Together,” Ben murmured, slowly reaching out his own hand. Their hands stopped at the forcefield, but Rey concentrated on sending him calming thoughts through the Force of their hands actually touching.

“H-help you,” D-O said.

Ben closed his eyes, steadying his breath before opening them again and gazing into Rey’s eyes. “All right,” he whispered, his voice still trembling, “I’ll do it.”

Chapter Text

The next day, Rey and Ben were seated together in Krain’s office with D-O settled at their feet and giving hums of encouragement. If it weren’t for Rey’s presence, Ben probably would have bolted, guards or no guards – but she was squeezing his hand and running her thumb over his knuckles in a soothing manner. Though she was putting on a stoic face, he still sensed nervousness coming from her. Part of him couldn’t believe that she’d actually told the counselor about how she was having memory lapses as well and requested that they have hypnotherapy together – it made him want to kiss her again just thinking about it.

“Now,” Krain was saying, leaning forward with his hands clasped in his lap, “I don’t know much about the Force, but these memory lapses you’re both having could be a sign of disassociation and have nothing to do with the Force. This is just speculation, but your lapses could be a result of your shared trauma on Exegol.”

“And you think hypnotism will stop them?” Ben asked.

“I can’t promise anything,” said Krain, “but hypnotherapy can help people who suffer disassociation to settle themselves into one identity. The fact that you’re both aware that you’re having identity lapses shows that your condition isn’t as severe as some other cases. Some people with disassociation can go for years completely unaware of their identity lapses.”

Rey gulped. “Do you think we could end up completely forgetting who we are if this continues?”

“I don’t know,” said Krain. “Hopefully we’ll get to the root of the problem before it gets that bad.” He took a deep breath. “Are you two ready?”

D-O looked up at them. “R-ready?”

Ben sucked in his breath, suddenly feeling like he was about to be thrown naked into the Hoth tundra. Run, hide, don’t do this, don’t let your mind be overtaken again! part of his mind was screaming, but again Rey squeezed his hand, looking at him with a warm smile. “It’s okay,” she whispered. “I’m here.” She kissed his cheek. “We’re together.”

Together.

With another deep breath, Ben faced the counselor. “I’m ready.”

“So am I,” said Rey.

. . .

After Krain had Rey and Ben sign his datapad to give consent for treatment, he smiled warmly at the couple as if he were inviting them to a party. “Now, contrary to what you might see in holofilms, hypnosis is not about taking over your mind and stripping you of your free will. It’s about inducing a relaxed state in which your mind will be more open to solutions.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” said Rey.

“It’s not,” said Krain. “Now listen, I want you two to get comfortable.”

Get comfortable? How was Ben supposed to get comfortable when he was about to be hypnotized? Still, he leaned back, letting his head sink into the cushiony back of the sofa, and Rey followed suit.

“Good,” said Krain. “Now take a few deep breaths and let them out as slowly as you can. Take a few moments to listen to your own breath.”

This was starting to sound like meditation, but still Ben obeyed, listening to his own breath merging with Rey’s. In . . . out. In . . . out. In . . . out. This wasn’t so bad . . .

“Good,” Krain repeated in a steady voice as he took an object that looked like a small handlight out of his pocket. “Now I want you to look at the light. Focus on it.”

The light was tiny, soft, flickering . . . easy to focus on despite the slight pinprick in his retina.

“Keep your eyes on the light,” said Krain. “Let it relax you . . . Feel your eyelids get heavy . . . heavy . . . let them close . . .”

Yes . . . Ben wanted to let his eyes close. It felt good to close his eyes and block out everything except Krain’s soothing voice.

“Yes, good. Just relax, don’t worry about anything, let yourself float in the soft, comfortable blackness and don’t open your eyes until you hear me clap my hands.”

Let yourself float . . . Ben did indeed feel like he was floating, as if the world behind his eyelids was a deep, endless sky. It felt . . . nice, like he could float forever and leave his worries behind. He breathed in, out, in, out, enjoying the sound of his own breath.

“Yes . . . yes . . . now listen to my voice. You are calm . . . comfortable . . . relaxed. I want to talk to only one of you at a time, do you understand?”

“Yes,” Ben said, needing no thought to answer.

“Good. Now first, I want to talk to Ben. Which one of you is Ben?”

“I am.” Again the answer came without any thought.

“And which one of you is Rey?”

Again no thought was needed. “I am.”

Now the voice sounded disappointed. “Listen, only one of you is Rey and only one of you is Ben. Now, I want to talk to Ben.”

“I’m Ben.” If he weren’t so comfortable floating through the darkness, he might have found the questions annoying, but the floating was too nice for anything to annoy him. He breathed in, inhaling a sweet, fresh scent, like a field full of flowers on a sunny day.

“Ben, tell me something about your childhood.”

“My childhood?” he asked in a drowsy voice. “Well . . . when I was little I wanted to be a pilot like my dad. I’d follow him around when he was working on the Falcon and I’d play with his lucky dice . . . his lucky dice, where are they now?” There was only the smallest moment of uncertainty before an image came into his mind of the little golden dice hanging once again in the Falcon’s cockpit. “No wait . . . they’re back in the Falcon again, where they belong . . .”

“I want to talk to Rey now,” the gentle voice said.

“I’m Rey.” The answer came as naturally as the “I’m Ben” answer had.

“Rey, tell me something about your childhood.”

“My parents . . . they left me on Jakku to protect me from my grandfather. I wish I remembered them better. I think that when I was little, back before they left, I remember my mother holding me and singing me to sleep. The song . . . it went like this.”

His mind’s ear heard a woman’s soothing, high voice humming a song with lingering notes and within a moment he was humming along with her. Yes, he remembered her voice, he remembered . . . while floating in this comfortable darkness, he could imagine himself wrapped up in her arms . . .

But then there was a scream.

It was distant at first, so distant that he wondered if he imagined it, but it grew louder and louder. A child’s scream, joined by another, then another, then another, screams from every direction, burying him in screams.

“Wake up!” the voice commanded somewhere in the distance, but the screams even drowned that out. Screams everywhere . . . everywhere . . . everywhere . . .

. . .

Ben awoke with a sudden gasp, taking a moment to realize that both he and Rey were lying on Krain’s floor, Krain and all the guards hovering over them and D-O nudging his head.

“Friend!” D-O was screaming. “W-wake up!”

“I’m awake,” Ben said in a raspy voice, seeing that Rey was also blinking awake and looked as confused as he felt.

“What happened?” Rey asked, pushing a handful of her mussed hair behind her ear.

Krain took a deep breath. “Well first of all, once you were under, you both answered every question at the same time, saying the exact same things. I tried to talk to you individually, but you kept answering in unison, even when I asked you to share childhood memories.” He actually looked baffled. “You shouldn’t have remembered each other’s childhoods.”

“I told you,” said Ben, “it’s the Force that has us joined.” He groaned, rubbing the back of his head. “Now how did we get on the floor?”

Krain licked his lips. “You both suddenly started screaming. I tried to wake you up, but then you both tried to stand up and you fell.”

“I heard children screaming,” said Rey, pushing herself to a sitting position. “Lots of them.”

“So did I,” said Ben, also pushing himself to a sitting position, groaning as he did so. “Was that supposed to happen?”

Krain’s eyes were wide as he shook his head. “I’ve got to tell you, this is something I’ve never seen before.”

Rey let out a frustrated huff. “Well, maybe we should try again?”

“Get hypnotized again?” Ben exclaimed.

“Maybe the screams mean something,” Rey persisted, looking him in the eye. “Besides, maybe it will take more than one session to stop these lapses.”

Ben gave a deep sigh. “Fine, but I don’t like it.” He was about to stand up, but then he remembered something from the trance or dream or whatever it was – it was hazy in his mind, but he was pretty sure he’d seen it. “Rey?” he asked.

“What?”

“Did you . . . did you put Dad’s dice back in the Falcon’s cockpit?”

Rey nodded. “Luke took them, but before I left Ahch-To, I swiped them when I swiped the Jedi texts.” She gave him a small smile. “I gave them to Leia, but after she died . . . I figured they belonged back in the Falcon.”

Ben felt his eyes welling up as he remembered how Luke’s Force-projection of the dice had vanished in his hands. Without caring that Krain and the guards were present, he grabbed her face and pressed a kiss on her lips. “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

A month passed. Three more hypnotherapy sessions had all ended with Ben and Rey hearing those screams and they were still having periodic memory lapses. The guards still brought Ben’s meals, clean clothes, and other necessities to his cell and only let him out for therapy sessions, showering, and another meeting with the Resistance generals. There were times when he wondered if the prison was trying to protect the other inmates from him or protect him from the other inmates.

Maybe both.

Ben and Rey still dreamed of each other’s memories some nights. He experienced her cuddling her doll on long Jakku nights, going on missions with Finn and Poe, Jedi training with Leia – the latter of which had him waking up sobbing. “She talked about you all the time,” Rey said while embracing him that night, to which he could only respond, “I miss her” before breaking down in tears. They lay in silence after that, Rey squeezing him close to her and wiping the tears until she disappeared.

Missions were sent out to some of the worlds Ben had named, but it was only to find that the bases were abandoned. It didn’t surprise Ben – and he suspected it didn’t surprise the generals either – but now it meant stopping whatever remained of the First Order was getting more difficult. Ben shared other locations they might have fled to, but he could sense that the generals were doubting his words.

Especially since at the end of the meeting, General Finn seized a moment to hiss into Ben’s ear.

“I can accept that you and Rey are together if you’re good to her,” he said, “but if you hurt her in any way, I’ll kill you!”

. . .

“I don’t know if I can do this,” Jannah moaned, leaning against the wall of the dressing room, the same dress Pooja had lent her for their night out pinching in all the wrong places.

“You can,” said Rose, also wearing her gown from the night out, the pink fabric complementing her skin, smelling of flowery perfume as she touched Jannah’s shoulder with that beautifully strong hand.

“I mean, I want to learn who I really am . . .” Jannah’s chest felt tight. “. . . but at the same time I don’t, you know what I mean? If they do find out who my parents are, will we even like each other?”

Now Rose’s fingers were rubbing up and down her girlfriend’s shoulder. “I don’t know. I’m not going to say it will be easy, but your parents would be crazy to not love someone as brave and caring as you.” She wrapped her arms around Jannah, gently pulling her away from the wall and kissing her cheek. “And no matter what happens, you’re still Jannah. Kind, caring, courageous, fun Jannah.”

Jannah’s heart thumped as she gazed into Rose’s beautiful eyes. Even though they were sort-of-officially girlfriends now, they hadn’t actually kissed – not on the lips, anyway – but now there was a feeling. Maybe it was the Force or maybe it was Jannah’s own instincts, but the moment felt right.

She gathered Rose’s face into her hands and kissed her, intending for it to be a short, simple kiss, but Rose throwing her arms around Jannah’s neck extended the kiss, letting them both savor it for a long, passionate moment.

. . .

The ceremony would open with Chancellor Naberrie delivering a speech about how today marked the beginning of hope for the families that the First Order tore apart. After her speech, Finn, Jannah’s tribe, and Lando would step onstage for a medical droid to collect DNA samples in front of the entire galaxy.

Finn felt like he could pass out as he stood in the wings. His stomach was turning somersaults and his head was spinning – maybe the only things keeping him from passing out were Rey and Poe standing on either side of him with their arms embracing his shoulders.

“You can do this, buddy,” Poe was saying, giving his shoulder a squeeze.

“Then why am I shaking so much?” Finn asked only in half-jest.

“It’s all right, Finn,” said Rey.

“Yeah, what she said,” said Poe. “I mean, no matter what happens, we’ll all still be friends and you’ll still have us.”

Finn turned around and wrapped his arms around them both in a similar matter to how they had hugged after the Battle of Exegol. He squeezed his two best friends in the galaxy close to him, savoring the warmth from their bodies, wishing he knew how to express how thankful he was to have found them.

“You two should get to the audience,” he finally said, releasing them from the embrace. “You’ll see my big moment better that way.” He grinned halfheartedly. “Don’t want to miss them cutting my hair and swabbing my mouth, after all.”

. . .

Rey, Poe, Rose, and Chewie had seats in the front row of the theater. Though Rey was trying to listen to Pooja’s speech, the twitch in her senses soon after the chancellor started speaking diverted her attention. With a deep breath, she turned her head to the right, where the seat next to her had previously been empty.

There was Ben, gazing at her in the dim light. “You’re dressed up again,” he said. “Are you having another night out?”

“Not exactly,” Rey whispered back, hoping the others wouldn’t notice. “They’re starting the first phase of the stormtrooper reunion program today and I’m watching the ceremony.”

“All right,” said Ben. “I won’t bother you.”

Rey swallowed, gently wrapping her arm around Ben’s shoulders. “You’re not bothering me,” she said, though at the same time she hoped no one was looking in her direction and noticing that she had her arm wrapped around nothing.

She felt Ben’s muscles relax slightly under her arm. “For what it’s worth,” he said, “I am glad that you’re doing this. I hope Lando can find his daughter . . . I even hope General Finn can find his family.”

“I’ll tell them you said that.”

“I remember playing with Ava – Lando’s daughter – when she was a baby, back before the First Order took her, back before . . .”

Rey squeezed his arm, resting her head against his shoulder. “We’re sending missions to both Teth and Felucia – maybe the stormtrooper facilities there haven’t been abandoned yet and we can rescue them. I mean, those are pretty remote worlds – they might not even know the war’s over.”

“Maybe,” said Ben, though Rey could sense the doubt even without the Force. He wrapped his own arm around her, stroking her shoulder. “What’s happening right now?”

“Your cousin Pooja is giving a speech.”

“Pooja . . .” Ben swallowed, seemingly unable to say anything more about his cousin. Truthfully, Rey wasn’t sure how Pooja felt about Ben – she seemed to care about Ben when they arrived on Coruscant, but then she voted to imprison him. Then again, maybe she truly thought imprisoning Ben was the best thing for the galaxy as a whole. Rey couldn’t say she knew the chancellor well enough to tell.

“I think Pooja still loves you,” she found herself saying. “When we first arrived, she looked at you like she was about to cry. And, well, since she believes that the stormtroopers deserve another chance, I’m sure she believes you do too.”

“And yet here I am,” said Ben, staring ahead as if he could see his cousin on the stage. “I’m not stupid – I know the chancellor’s approval was needed for me to be here.”

Rey didn’t know how to respond.

Chapter Text

Beep BEEP! Beep BEEP! Beep BEEP!

Jannah groaned, having been pulled from a nice sleep by the comm beeping. Next to her, Rose groaned in a similar manner. “Ignore it,” Rose mumbled, pulling the covers over her head. “They can call back later.”

But the beeping persisted, causing the former stormtrooper’s bleary eyes to blink open to the early dawn light. “Maybe it’s important,” she grumbled. “I’d better answer it.”

“Jannah,” Rose whispered as she peeked out from under the covers.

“What?”

“You’re naked.”

Jannah felt her cheeks heat up at the realization that she’d forgotten that little fact. “Well, so are you.”

An embarrassed glance passed between them before they both burst into sleepy giggles. Jannah quickly pulled the blankets up to cover her breasts so she’d be decent enough to answer the comm, since whoever was on the other side clearly wasn’t giving up.

“Hello?”

The hologram of the medical droid who’d taken her DNA samples the other day popped out of the comm. “Jannah,” he said in his deep, emotionless voice, “my apologies for contacting you so early in the morning, but this is important.”

Jannah’s stomach did a sudden flip, all thoughts of sleep drained from her mind as Rose gently touched her back. “What?”

“We have found a match to your DNA.”

. . .

“NO! NO! GET OUT OF MY HEAD!”

The screams jolted Ben out of sleep. His eyes shot open to find Rey lying inches away from him, bathed in the dim red light that told him it wasn’t officially wake-up time in the prison yet. Her shut eyes were emitting tears and her covers were twisted around her body.

“GET OUT! GET OUT!”

“Rey?” His suddenly-dry mouth couldn’t produce anything more than a whisper and his heart was beating so fast that he thought he could hear it. “Rey, please wake up.”

“STOP! STOP! NO!”

He shivered, wanting to wake her, but should he wake her when she was dreaming of . . . that? Even after confessing love, seeing his face in the middle of that dream could . . .

“NO! GET OUT OF MY HEAD!”

“Wake up!” Again his voice came out in a whisper. “Please Rey, wake up!”

Finally she gasped mid-scream as her eyes opened. One blink, two blinks, three blinks, staring at him in horror.

“Rey, I . . .”

She rolled away from him as if ducking a blasterbolt, a choking sob escaping as she tightened the covers around her.

“Rey?”

“Please,” she whispered in a raspy voice. “I love you, Ben, but I . . . I need a minute.”

Ben swallowed as he silently rolled over to face the wall despite every instinct within him wanting to hold her, kiss her, wipe away her tears, take away her pain. Why did he torture her and everyone else? Why, why, why?

She sobbed again and he had to stop himself from rolling back over and wrapping his arms around her. A minute . . . she needed a minute . . . he wasn’t going to make this even worse . . .

He wished he could will himself to disappear, wished he could move away from her without making both of them sick, wished he’d never tortured her!

“Ben?” Her voice was raspy, but a bit steadier.

Ben took a deep breath. “Maybe we shouldn’t be together.”

“Don’t say that.”

“What if it’s the truth? I tortured you – there’s no way around it.”

“It was Kylo Ren who did that.”

Ben found himself biting his lip until he tasted blood. “No, Kylo Ren is dead. My son is alive.” His father’s spirit had made it sound so simple, like Kylo Ren was a separate entity that had possessed his body.

Except it wasn’t that simple.

“If I’m not Kylo Ren, then why am I in prison for the things he did?” he whispered, blinking back tears in a fierce, useless manner. “Why do the memories of being him still haunt me every minute of every day?”

He felt Rey’s hand on his shoulder. “Ben, this won’t be easy for either of us – I’m not going to pretend it will be – but we can make it work.”

Finally he rolled back around to face her, seeing her eyes glistening in the eerie red light. “I-I want to hug you,” he whispered. “Hold you, cuddle you, take the hurt away . . . but I’ll make things worse if I do that.” He couldn’t stop the tears from dribbling down his face.

Rey didn’t agree, but she didn’t argue either. Instead, she took in a long inhale as if about to make a public speech. “These nightmares . . . I don’t know if they’ll ever stop, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be with you.” She brushed her finger over his chin. “Neither of us can change the past and maybe . . . maybe I’ll always need a minute after dreaming about it.” She swallowed loudly. “But I’ll still want you – you, Ben, who’s not Kylo anymore – when that minute’s over.”

Some part of Ben wanted to protest about how she could comfort him after nightmares, how her embrace helped him get through so many hard nights and he wanted to help her in a similar way, but another part of him realized that maybe the best way to help her was to give her that bit of space. “All right,” he said. “I can give you that minute. I can give you an hour, a day, whatever helps you.”

A slight smile broke onto her face. “Thank you,” she whispered before running her hand down his cheek. “By the way,” she added, “tonight’s minute is up now.”

They wrapped their arms around each other.

. . .

Jannah felt like her feet would slide out from under her if it weren’t for Rose walking by her side as they made their way down the hall of the senate building to the familiar meeting room.

“You can do this,” Rose kept repeating, her arm around her girlfriend. “You can do this.” She brushed her free hand over her crescent pendant. “If Paige were alive, she’d say this is the beginning of a whole new stage of your life.”

“But will I like this stage?” Jannah blurted out. “I’ve been Jannah so long . . .”

“And you’re still Jannah,” said Rose. “Learning the name you were born with won’t change that.”

Far too soon, they reached the meeting room, where Pooja was there to greet them outside the door, a warm smile on her face.

“Jannah,” she said, “congratulations!”

The congratulations only tightened the knots in her stomach. “Are you guys sure it was a match?”

“Yes,” said Pooja. “The droids ran the data several times – we wouldn’t have called you if we weren’t sure.” She took a deep breath. “Would you like a moment before we go in?”

Did she want a moment? Was it better for her nerves to gather herself or to just go in there and get it over with? Why was the prospect of meeting her birth parents frightening her more than invading an unknown Sith world had?

Now Rose was running her hand up and down Jannah’s back. “It’s all right, I’m here, you can do this.”

For a moment Jannah closed her eyes, absorbing her girlfriend’s massage and her words. Yes, she could do this . . . if she could rebel against her lifelong brainwashing, she could face her birth parents.

“All right,” she finally said, opening her eyes. “I’m ready.”

With that, Pooja nodded and pushed the button to open the door. The three entered the room, Rose’s arm once more around Jannah’s shoulders.

The room was empty, except for . . .

. . . General Calrissian?

He stared at Jannah as if seeing her for the first time, blinking fiercely as if making sure he wasn’t dreaming, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“Ava . . .” he sobbed. “My little Ava.”

Chapter Text

Ava Calrissian.

Jannah repeated the name over and over again in her head as she sat at the table next to Lando . . . her father . . . who had been crying for several minutes, only able to say “Ava” several times. Rose and Pooja had left the room to give them some time alone, but now she was wishing Rose were here. Ava Calrissian. Could she fit that name with herself? For most of her life she had been TZ-1719 until she rebelled and picked the name Jannah for herself. Did she have room for a third name?

Ava Calrissian.

“I’m sorry,” Lando finally choked out, wiping his eyes. “I’m so, so sorry. I should’ve protected you better.”

“Gen . . . Dad.” The word felt foreign. “There’s nothing to be sorry about. It wasn’t your fault.”

Lando sniffled again, staring into his daughter’s eyes. “The First Order officers . . . I tried to fight them, but there were too many of them and they . . . they held me down and made me watch as they took you away . . . you were crying so hard and I couldn’t do a thing to comfort you.” Another sob escaped. “Then they thanked me for my contribution to the galaxy, as if I’d given you up willingly . . .”

He buried his face in his hands, crying again, and Jannah found herself instinctively wrapping her arms around him. “It’s all right,” she whispered. “I’m here now.”

With that, he threw his own arms around her, squeezing her with a tightness like he was trying to make up for over two decades’ worth of hugs. He smelled of freshly-washed fabric and a musky cologne – she wondered if she would have associated that smell with love and comfort if she had grown up as Ava Calrissian.

His eyes were still glistening when they pulled out of the embrace. “I wish . . . I wish I knew what to do, how to start over . . . I mean, they take a baby and I get back a grown woman.”

“Well,” Jannah said in an awkward voice, “maybe you could start by telling me about my mother? I know she died, but what was her name?”

A sad smile pulled at Lando’s lips. “Gemma,” he said, wiping his eyes again. “We were friends with benefits, not in love, but when she told me she was pregnant, I told her we’d work together and I’d be the best dad I knew how to be even if we didn’t get married.” He sniffled again. “I dunno if we would’ve ever gotten married or not – you came early and there were complications with your birth and well . . . she didn’t survive.” Another sniffle. “Suddenly I was a full-time single dad.”

“I’m sorry.” It was the only thing Jannah could think of saying.

Again he wiped his red eyes, a slight smile on his face. “Her last words to me were ‘I regret nothing.’ She loved you so much.”

Jannah’s mind felt blank. “I-I . . . I don’t know what we’re supposed to do now.” Suddenly a torrent of words burst from her mouth. “I mean, who would Ava Calrissian have been if she’d never been stolen? Would I have different favorite foods, different skills, different likes and dislikes? Would Ava Calrissian want Ben Solo set free because they grew up together or would she feel so betrayed that she wouldn’t want to ever look at him again?” She swallowed. “I don’t know Ava Calrissian!”

Lando took a deep breath. “Well I can tell you a bit about Ava Calrissian. She’s a brave, fierce young warrior who rebelled against what she’d been taught in order to do the right thing and I’m very proud to be her dad.”

. . .

When the guards told Ben he had a visitor, he was expecting Rey or Chewie, but not his doctor. In fact, he hardly recognized Renda when she was wearing a simple red t-shirt and black skirt instead of her doctor’s uniform, her green skin tinted red from the forcefield.

“Renda,” he said awkwardly, “nice to see you.”

Renda gave her warm smile. “Nice to see you too.”

“How’s your daughter doing?”

“She’s doing okay – at least as okay as anyone can be in juvenile hall,” said Renda with a slight glance at the floor. “She thought it was really cool that I got to take care of you in the hospital. I think she finds you fascinating.” She cleared her throat. “How are you doing?”

Ben shrugged. “I could be worse, I guess. They’re feeding me well enough and Rey and I have been having hypnotherapy sessions together.”

“You have? How have those been going?”

Ben shrugged again. “Hard to say. Remembering them is like remembering a dream, but near the end of every session, before we wake up, we keep hearing all these kids screaming and our counselor has no idea what it means.”

Renda’s mouth twisted from side to side. “Kids screaming, huh? Well, I don’t know much about the Force, but if I were Force-sensitive, I might think you were supposed to help these kids. Have you tried talking to them?”

“I don’t think so. I mean, we can’t even see them.”

“Can you make out any words in their screams?”

“Not that I know of. I mean, Ben and I started having these hypnotherapy sessions because we’ve been having moments where we think we’re each other but instead we’re hearing these screams . . .”

“Ben and I?” Renda’s eyes bulged.

“No . . . I . . . AUGH!” He buried his face in his hands. “See, this keeps happening! I don’t know what to do!”

For several moments he heard nothing except the low hum of the forcefield, but then his doctor finally said, “Ben, look at me.”

With a deep breath, he slowly looked up at his doctor, whose warm eyes were gazing at him with a compassionate expression. “I don’t have the Force,” she said, “but remember what I told you before about how running from a problem doesn’t solve it? When are you supposed to have your next hypnotherapy session?”

“This afternoon.”

“Well that’s perfect,” said Renda. “If you want my advice, I’d suggest that if you hear the kids this afternoon, try to talk to them – and tell Rey to try talking to them too.”

Ben ran his teeth over his lower lip. “I might not remember that when I’m under.”

“Well, just see if you do.” Renda smiled at him. “Who knows, maybe this will be a way to prove to the Resistance that you’ve left Kylo Ren behind.”

Chapter Text

“I want to talk to Rey now . . .”

“I’m Rey . . .”

“. . . I want to talk to Ben . . .”

“I’m Ben . . .”

He floated through the dark, answering questions as they came to him even though they were of little importance. Why was this voice interrupting him when he just wanted to float in the comfortable blackness?

Except . . . he wasn’t floating anymore, he suddenly realized. The darkness was still complete, absolute, but now he was walking on some solid surface, his footsteps echoing all around him. Was this a tunnel? If it was, did it lead somewhere?

Maybe he was supposed to find where it led.

“Ben, can you tell me where you are?”

“I’m going through a dark tunnel,” he replied.

“Rey, can you tell me where you are?”

“I’m going through a dark tunnel,” he replied again, wishing the voice would be quiet. He needed to get somewhere, somewhere, somewhere . . .

Then came the screams.

He couldn’t discern the individual voices or any actual words – all he could tell was that they were children. Children who needed help. Help . . . help . . . help them!

His pace broke into a run towards the voices.

Something stabbed at his mind – an intense, persistent feeling that he needed to remember something, remember . . . what? The screams were growing louder, pouring into his ears to the point of near-pain, making him want to sink to his knees and cover his ears, but he forced himself to keep running.

Suddenly a stifling heat seemed to envelope him like a blanket, causing sweat to drip down his face, but still he stumbled down the tunnel, following the screams.

“Talk to them . . .”

That wasn’t the voice that had been asking him questions; it was female . . . warm . . . familiar . . . seeming to come from a memory . . .

“Hello?” he called out, the echo of his voice bouncing against the unseen walls. “I’m . . . I’m . . .” Well, names weren’t important right now. “Who are you? Do you need my help?”

Then it was like a dam broke, sending a torrent of cries into his mind, forcing him to use all his willpower not to cover his ears.

“Help us!”

“Please!”

“They’re hurting us!”

“HELP US!”

“I want to help you,” he said steadily, trying to ignore the jumping in his stomach and the sweat drizzling down his face. “Where are you?”

“They brought us here after the war ended . . .”

“It’s a dusty, sandy planet with lots of tunnels . . .”

“Lots of dark underground tunnels . . .”

“Tunnels like this one . . .”

“A dusty, sandy planet with tunnels like this one,” he repeated. “I’ll remember – I hope.”

Suddenly something soft and vulnerable wrapped around his legs. Though the darkness was still as absolute as ever, he could sense the child’s fear and neediness. He bent down, wrapping his arms around the child as the child started to cry. “It’s all right,” he whispered, “it’s all right, I’ll find a way to help you.”

If he remembered, at least.

. . .

“Wake up!”

Krain’s voice and his three gentle claps pulled Ben out of the . . . trance? Dream? He still wasn’t sure exactly what these hypnotic states classified as. At least they were waking on the sofa instead of the floor. His eyes blinked open to bring the counselor’s office into focus. Next to him, Rey was also blinking the world into focus, running her hand over her eyes as if waking from a peaceful sleep.

“Rey!” Ben quickly exclaimed, desperately trying to keep the children’s voices in his mind before they vanished. “Did you hear them? The kids?”

“Yes,” said Rey. “I tried to talk to them like you said and they said something . . . something about being on a planet with tunnels – and one of them hugged my legs.”

Ben nodded. “That happened to me too – or maybe it happened to us, if our consciousnesses really do merge when we get hypnotized.”

Krain cleared his throat as if trying to remind them of his presence. “Well, I don’t know anything about these children, but perhaps Ben is right and your consciousnesses are merging during these sessions.”

From the floor, D-O craned his head upward. “K-kids need your help?”

“I don’t know,” said Ben. “Maybe.”

The little droid rolled back and forth in a slow, inquisitive manner. “I-Is it like Ochi?”

“Maybe,” said Rey, looking down at him with wide eyes. “I don’t know if they’re being abused like you were, but they sounded like they were in a lot of trouble.”

“W-we should help,” said D-O.

Ben swallowed, his legs feeling cold, as if they’d actually felt the warmth of the frightened child’s embrace. Even though he didn’t know what the child looked like or its species or even its gender, he found himself wishing he could have somehow pulled it out of the trance state and taken it to safety, maybe found its parents . . . did it have parents?

“That one kid,” Rey was musing, as if she’d unconsciously picked up his thoughts. “The one who hugged me – us – I think we’re supposed to find him or her.”

“I think we’re supposed to find all of them,” said Ben.

“Yes,” said Rey, “but that particular child – I felt a connection with it, like we’re supposed to get to know it.”

“A-adopt it!” D-O suddenly exclaimed with an excited whistle.

“What?” Rey, Ben, and Krain exclaimed together.

“Adopt the child,” D-O repeated as if he’d come up with the greatest idea in the galaxy. “W-we can all be a family then.”

The droid saying family yanked at Ben’s heart. Surely D-O understood that once Ben’s trial came, the best thing he could hope for was life in prison, right? For the briefest of moments, he saw that nonexistent universe in his mind – himself, Rey, an adopted child, and D-O as a family. Then he figured that so long as he was fantasizing, he might as well throw Leia and Han in there as well – they would have definitely loved to be grandparents in that Kylo Ren-less world that never existed.

But now it was too late for that world to ever exist.

“D-O,” said Rey, “we don’t know anything about that child. It might have parents of its own, and it wouldn’t be right for us to take it away from its parents.”

“B-But maybe it doesn’t have parents.”

Ben sighed – even though D-O had been abused, he could still be persistent when he wanted to be. “Well, first of all we need to find the children,” he said, trying to keep his voice from shaking. “A dusty, sandy planet with tunnels.”

“Geonosis, maybe?” asked Rey.

“Maybe.”

“I could have the Resistance send a scouting mission there.”

“Or maybe . . .” Ben couldn’t believe the words as he spoke them, but he couldn’t stop himself. “. . . maybe we’re supposed to go there ourselves.”

Chapter Text

As soon as Jannah told Chewie she was Lando’s lost daughter, the Wookiee swept her off her feet, squeezing her in a hug so tight she wondered if it would crush her ribs and screaming happily in his language. While Lando and Rose laughed, she thought she heard some of the other hotel lobby patrons groaning, making her almost wish they had been in a less public place when they shared the news with Chewie.

“What’s he saying?” Jannah asked Lando when Chewie finally put her down.

“That you’ve grown into a lovely young woman,” said Lando. “And Han would be so proud of you being part of our family.”

Our family. The words made her shudder as Chewie went on to ruffle Rose’s hair.

“He says you’re part of the family too, Rose,” Lando translated.

A cute blush filled Rose’s cheeks. “I’m honored, thank you.”

Jannah gulped. “Well, if I’m part of the family, I guess I should try to learn the Wookiee language, shouldn’t I?”

“Only if you want,” said Lando. “For now, I can translate for ya.” His eyes still glistened as he rubbed his daughter’s shoulder – in fact, Jannah didn’t think they had dried since this morning. “You’re here,” he murmured, “you’re really here. Sorry, I just . . . I’m still processing it, you know?”

“I am too,” said Jannah, giving her father a small smile. Family. The word still sent shivers through her body.

“Well,” said Lando, “how about we go out to eat tonight and get to know each other better?” He looked at Rose and then Chewie. “You two could come too if you want.”

“I’d love to,” Rose said as Chewie was growling what Jannah assumed was an affirmative.

Jannah felt her smile growing more relaxed. “All right,” she said. “It looks like we’re all going out tonight.”

. . .

“WHAT??”

Rey expected Poe to react like that, which was the reason she’d invited Finn and Poe to her room to present the request instead of presenting it during a meeting. “Listen, I know it sounds crazy,” she said, “but these kids, they could be prisoners of the First Order or . . .”

“Or stormtroopers-in-training,” Finn muttered, his eyes slowly widening as he leaned forward in his chair. “Teth was abandoned. Felucia was abandoned. What if they were brought to Geonosis or whatever planet this was in your vision?”

“Even if they were,” Poe said, flopping back on the bed next to Rey and running his hand over his forehead, “that doesn’t mean we have to take Ben on a mission to rescue them!”

“Do the remnants of the First Order know that Ben’s defected?” Rey asked.

“Has he defected?” Poe exclaimed. “What proof to we have there? He’s sent us on wild bantha chases to abandoned bases . . .”

“He saved Rey’s life,” Finn interrupted.

Poe groaned, gazing at the ceiling as if he’d find the answer there. “Okay, yes, he did that, but Rey, are you sure you’re not letting your feelings for him cloud your judgment?”

An awkward silence filled the room, during which Rey felt her stomach jumping. Was Poe right? “All right,” she finally said in a soft, careful voice, “yes, I have feelings for him, I won’t deny it anymore.” She swallowed, feeling Finn’s hurt gaze on her. “But this isn’t about that. You two haven’t felt how much he’s suffering like I have. The horrors he’s committed – he can never take them back.”

“That still doesn’t mean we should take him with us,” said Poe.

“I’m getting there,” said Rey. “If the remaining First Order officers don’t know he’s defected, he could act as a double agent – pretend he’s still Supreme Leader and order the children moved.”

“So we let him go on his merry way back to the First Order??” Finn exclaimed.

“No,” said Rey. “Not alone. I would watch him. I’d guard him on the way to Geonosis – he could be kept in one of the Falcon’s cabins or something and not allowed to leave – and I’d guard him when we got there. I could pretend to be his prisoner or something.”

“And then you could easily find yourself his real prisoner,” groaned Poe. “Forgive me if I don’t think this plan is very smart.”

Rey leaned over Poe’s prone body, staring into his eyes. “You’re worried about more people dying.” It wasn’t a question. “I can sense it. If Ben acts as a double agent, we could maybe rescue the children without more people dying.”

Poe let out a long sigh, closing his eyes and leaning as far back as the pillow allowed him. “I guess we could bring it up at tomorrow’s meeting, but I doubt the majority would vote for it.”

“You’re sure you can guard him, Rey?” Finn asked.

“Yes,” said Rey, looking up at Finn, “and I’m sure Rey will agree to it.”

Finn blinked at her several times before she realized what she’d done. “I’m sorry,” she gasped out. “I meant . . .”

“I know what you meant,” said Finn. “but if this does get approved, let’s just hope that doesn’t happen when Ben’s pretending to be Supreme Leader.”

. . .

Lando took Jannah, Rose, and Chewie to a high-level Coruscant restaurant that specialized in Corellian food (“It makes me think of Han,” Lando had said). Though Jannah had no familiarity with Corellian food, the meaty stew she’d ordered was spicy and flavorful. She also found herself frequently gazing up through the transparasteel domed ceiling at the dark sky, letting her head sway to the gentle music the Mon Calamari keyboardist was playing.

Lando showed Jannah and Rose several holorecordings of Jannah (or should she call herself Ava now? She still wasn’t sure about that.) when she was a baby: sleeping in a crib, crawling for the first time, playing with baby toys.

And Ben Solo playing with her.

Ben and baby Ava playing in the sand together, Ben blowing bubbles and making Ava giggle as she tried to catch them, Ben trying to teach Ava to say his name. There were plenty of holos of Ben’s parents holding Ava and playing with her as well.

“They loved you,” Lando said. “In another world where you hadn’t been taken . . .”

Jannah gulped, her throat suddenly dry. “Leia Organa and Han Solo . . . they could have been like an aunt and uncle. And their son . . .”

Her father gave her a sad smile. “He loved you so much. For a brief, wonderful time, I think you were like the little sister he never had.”

Jannah suddenly found herself taking a long gulp of cold water as Rose patted her back. Chewie roared something she couldn’t understand, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to understand. Was he saying she should go visit him in prison and welcome him as a big brother?

“I don’t . . .” she finally said, “. . . I don’t think I can talk to him right now. I’m sorry, but even though he technically wasn’t in charge of the stormtrooper program, he still did nothing to stop it.” She felt her eyes welling up, but she couldn’t do anything to stop it. “If he really thought of me as a little sister, then why didn’t he try to put an end to the child kidnappings when he knew what they did to me??”

Lando’s eyes lowered, gazing down at his food. “I don’t know. There’s a lot about him I don’t know now. Even though he’s renounced the dark side, it’s still hard to come to terms with everything.”

Now Rose was massaging her girlfriend’s shoulder. “Jannah, you don’t have to think of him as a brother or anything. You don’t even have to see him.”

Jannah ran her hand over her eyes, taking a few calming breaths. “What if I don’t know what I want to do yet?”

Lando smiled at his daughter – this time a warm, fatherly smile. “That’s perfectly okay too.”

Chapter Text

As was typical, the Force linked Rey and Ben that night. Rey used the opportunity to tell Ben what she had suggested to the generals and how he might get a chance to go on the mission to Geonosis. As she spoke, it felt like his chest was in a brace that was tightening more and more with every word, to the point that by the time he was finished, he was cocooned in the blanket as if it could protect him from the outside world.

“Ben?” Rey asked, placing her hand on his head.

“Pretend to be Kylo Ren?” Ben gasped.

“Only for a little while,” said Rey. “Think about it – you could order the children moved, you could find out where else the First Order remnants might be hiding, you could stop them once and for all!”

Ben thought about it. He thought about donning that dominant, threatening persona again, striking fear into people by merely looking at them, watching them cower before him. He remembered believing for years that he was a man to be feared, not loved, that it was impossible for anyone, even his parents, to love him as he was now.

The red flames impaling his father . . .

“Ben?” Rey repeated.

Only then did Ben realize he was trembling. “I-I don’t think I can do it,” he whispered.

“I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it . . .”

Now Rey was running her fingers through his hair. “Ben, I know it will be hard, but I’ll be there.”

Ben placed his shaking hand on top of Rey’s. “Hard? I can handle hard, but this is beyond just being hard. In order to convince everyone, I’d have to . . . I’d have to be Kylo Ren again.”

“Kylo Ren is dead.” She said it with the same forcefulness and confidence that Han did.

“So were you,” said Ben. “And yet here you are.”

“Because of you.” Rey gave his sweaty forehead a gentle kiss. “And you won’t be alone.”

“I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it . . .”

He peeled her hand off his cheek and brought it to his mouth, kissing her knuckles one by one, closing his eyes as he did so. “I couldn’t keep a fake prisoner by my side all the time. If anything happened to you . . .”

“I’ll take that risk,” Rey interrupted.

Those words caused Ben’s heart to ram against his ribs as he remembered embracing her dead body, looking into those beautiful eyes staring up at nothing, his mind crying no, no, not her, NOT HER! The answer had seemed so simple then. His life for hers, more than a fair trade.

“Ben?”

He opened his eyes, once again looking into those gorgeous eyes he loved, slightly reflecting the dim red light as if she were actually in the cell with him. “What?”

“Can you promise me something?”

His heart rammed against his ribs again. “What sort of promise?”

“If . . . if something does happen to me, don’t bring me back to life again.”

“What??”

“I mean it,” Rey said in a steady, serious voice. “I want you to live.”

“Live without you?” The words came out in a near-sob, his throat suddenly feeling tight.

“If it comes to that, yes.” Her stare weighed down on him as she once more ran her fingers through his hair. “And don’t say you can’t live without me because I know you can. You’re stronger than you think.”

“I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it . . .”

Ben felt his eyes welling up, blurring her beautiful gaze. “You don’t know what it was like,” he whispered. “Seeing you dead . . .” Then there was also the fact that she hadn’t listened to him when he asked her to let him die. “I can’t make that promise.”

An awkward silence followed. Ben sensed disappointment flowing from Rey, but how could he possibly promise that he would allow her to stay dead? “Could you make that sort of promise to me?” he whispered after what might have been several minutes of silence.

He heard her swallow. “No,” she admitted.

“Then don’t ask me to,” said Ben, wrapping his arms around her.

Rey let out an exhale as she spread part of her covers over him and nestled her head into his chest, enveloping him in warmth and making him wish he could enjoy the warmth without always being on edge that she would disappear at any moment and take the warmth with her. Maybe the old Jedi Order would consider it dark side to not be able to make such a promise, but did that really matter anymore?

“By the way,” Rey said suddenly, as if she’d only just remembered something, “Lando found his daughter.”

Ben drew in a sudden breath. “Ava,” he whispered, remembering that chubby, happy baby. “Where was she?”

Now Rey was grinning, her eyes shining in the dim red light. “It’s a really interesting story, actually.”

As she told him about how Ava grew up into the defected stormtrooper Jannah, Ben felt his eyes well up again. Though he knew Ava – or Jannah – probably wanted nothing more to do with him, he would still find some way to apologize to her.

. . .

“Poe! Poe! Wake up!”

Poe jolted awake, finding himself once again wrapped up in Finn’s arms, his covers twisted around his legs, his face soaked with sweat. “Finn,” he gasped. “I . . .”

“Shh,” Finn whispered. “It’s okay. Just breathe.”

Poe breathed, in and out, in and out, but still part of him felt Kylo Ren ripping through his mind . . .

“Why’d I let Rey talk me into this?”

Finn ran his hand through Poe’s hair. “We don’t have to bring it up at tomorrow’s meeting.”

“But maybe Rey’s right and it is the best way to avoid more death.” Poe sniffled, wiping his nose with his pajama sleeve. “I just wish I could be sure.”

“Well . . . you weren’t sure about me at the beginning, but you still gave me a chance.”

“That’s different,” said Poe. “You . . . you’re good. I mean, just look at what you’re doing right now.” He nuzzled himself against Finn’s chest. “With how much you’ve been comforting both me and Rey, don’t forget to save a little comfort for yourself.”

“I’m all right,” said Finn.

“C’mon,” said Poe, “I know what heartbreak feels like. You’re hurting more than you let on.”

Finn didn’t answer, confirming Poe’s statement.

“I’m sorry,” said Poe, wrapping his own arms around Finn. “I wish I could take your pain away.”

“It’s not your fault,” Finn muttered. “It’s not Rey’s fault either. It just . . . happened.”

It just happened. Poe found himself gulping as he squeezed Finn, listening to his heartbeat, wanting to tell Finn just how amazing he thought he was, but he restrained himself. Now wasn’t the time, not when he was still getting over Rey. Then there was the fact that after Zorii, Poe wasn’t sure if his own heart was ready for another relationship.

Yet as he felt himself drifting off, the words I love you were on his tongue, though they remained unsaid as sleep took him.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Chewie came to visit Ben, but just as the guards were telling the Wookiee that he needed to stay away from the forcefield, he roared something rather unexpected at them which made Ben’s stomach flip.

“What’s he saying?” one of the guards asked the others, only to be met with blank looks.

“He’s saying you need to let him in the cell,” Ben said quietly.

“What?” the guard exclaimed, perhaps thinking that Ben was lying, but then Chewie started nodding in an eager manner.

“Sir,” said another guard, “we’re not going to allow this, are we?”

One threatening growl from Chewie later, the Wookiee was allowed in the cell, though the guards reactivated the forcefield, shutting the two of them in together and keeping their blasters at the ready on the other side.

“What’s going on?” Ben asked as Chewie sat next to him on the bunk, filling his nostrils with that thick, comforting Wookiee smell he remembered so well from his childhood.

[You’re getting a chance to speak at today’s meeting,] said Chewie, pulling a comm out of his satchel.

“I’m . . . what?”

[It was Rey’s idea,] the Wookiee continued in an excited voice. [She thinks the Resistance is more likely to let you go on the mission if they hear you speak up for yourself.]

“The mission,” Ben murmured, part of him wanting to ask why everyone assumed that he wanted to go on the mission, but the question went unasked, perhaps because of that child from the hypnotherapy session who had clung to him, desperate for protection. Was that child even real? Maybe the only way to find out was to go on the mission.

[Rey will contact us during the meeting,] Chewie said in a slower voice, cocking his head as if he sensed Ben’s uneasiness. [Is that all right with you?]

“I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it . . .”

Leia would get on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek and tell him that he could do it. Han would squeeze him in a Dad hug and ruffle his hair. Suddenly he felt cold, his body longing for their loving gestures. He closed his eyes, imagining their relaxed smiles, remembering their warm embraces. Mom, Dad, you’ll be with me, right?

With a long exhale, he opened his eyes, gazing up at Uncle Chewie, who was giving him that understanding look he remembered from his childhood.

“All right,” Ben finally said. “I’ll do it.”

. . .

Rey wished she were the one with Ben in his cell instead of Chewie, but Poe and Finn had insisted that her presence was needed if she wanted to convince anyone that this was a good idea. When she brought up the proposal, she tried to ignore the gasps and glares and accusations of betrayal – she even tried to ignore the fleeting thoughts that came jumping from people’s minds, many of them consisting of two words.

Rey Palpatine . . .

“Listen,” she said after a deep breath, praying that her voice wouldn’t waver, “neither Ben nor I are asking any of you to forgive him, but we don’t want to repeat the mistakes made after the last war. If we don’t want our children to have to fight another Imperial remnant, we need to act now. Enlisting Ben’s help is the best chance we have of eliminating them for good.” Again she did her best to ignore the mutters as she placed her comm on the table. “Please, at least give him a chance to speak.”

Without giving anyone a chance to protest, she entered Chewie’s comm frequency and out came Ben’s hologram, his face looking vulnerable as he gazed at her.

“Rey,” he said.

“Ben,” she replied, wishing she could hug him, “are you ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

Giving him a slight smile, she rotated the comm so that he could face the others at the table. “Honorable members of the Resistance,” he began, his voice wavering slightly, “I can’t undo the damage I’ve done to you or your loved ones, but I can offer my help.” He swallowed. “I wish . . . I wish I knew what to say. Maybe there’s nothing I can say except that I know the First Order and I’m willing to help you take the rest of it down. I will submit to any precautions you want to take.”

“Would that include a tracker?” Poe asked.

“A tracker?”

“Yes,” said Poe, his mouth rumpled. “Would you consent to have a tracker injected into you so that we would know your location at all times? It would be removed after the mission.”

Though Ben’s eyes bulged for a moment, he quickly regained his composure. “Yes.”

“Ben, dear,” said Pooja, her voice calm and steady despite the uncertainty flowing from her, “I want to believe in you, I really do, but you have to understand that this is a difficult request.”

Ben’s eyes lowered as his hologram flickered. “I do understand. Rey and I wouldn’t be asking you to do this if we didn’t think it was the best way to bring down what’s left of the First Order with minimal casualties.” A sniffle escaped. “I’ve taken so many lives and I did nothing to stop Hux from kidnapping children. I know nothing I do can change that, but I want to help save some of those children that the First Order took.”

“Chancellor?” Finn suddenly asked.

“Yes, General?”

Finn cleared his throat. “Rey and Ben have this . . . Force bond thing. I’m not gonna pretend I understand it, but they can feel each other’s feelings and see each other’s memories.” He glanced over at Rey. “And I trust Rey with my life. If she says Ben has genuinely changed, then I for one believe her.”

The ghost of a smile brushed Ben’s face as he looked at Finn. “Thank you, General.”

“That doesn’t mean I trust you,” Finn said in a harder voice, “or that I like you, or that I’ll want anything to do with you after the mission. It just means I’m willing to give you a chance.”

“I understand,” said Ben.

Aftab Ackbar glared at the hologram. “A supernatural bond with Rey isn’t enough to convince most of us to trust you. Neither is saving her life. One life saved doesn’t undo thousands of lives taken!”

Ben’s eyes lowered. “I know.” He took a deep breath, looking Aftab in the eye. “Your father was a good man. So was mine. I’ve killed a lot of fathers and mothers and daughters and sons.” He blinked as if trying to hold back tears. “But there are other mothers and fathers who are still grieving their lost children.” He glanced in Lando and Jannah’s direction. “Even with the new program, most of the families haven’t been as lucky as Lando and Ava.”

Jannah audibly sucked in air through her nose at the mention of her birth name. “My father showed me old holos of you – of us – when we were children. Maybe you think I’d forgive you after seeing you as this innocent little boy, but I just can’t yet. You had the power to stop the stormtrooper program, but you let Hux and his soldiers continue kidnapping babies.”

Ben swallowed. “I don’t expect you to forgive me.”

“However,” said Jannah, glaring hard at him, “I’m willing to set that aside for the sake of the kids who are still being held. Not your sake, just theirs.”

Ben nodded, letting out a sigh. “For what it’s worth, I am glad that you and Lando have found each other.”

Poe loudly cleared his throat. “You understand that even if this mission is successful, you would be returned to prison immediately afterwards and still brought to trial?”

“I understand.”

“And,” said Poe, “you understand that if the tracker records any suspicious actions – including any attempt to remove or deactivate it – all Resistance members will be given immediate authority to kill you on sight?”

“I understand.”

Poe inhaled as if about to dive underwater. “All right. All in favor of allowing Ben to come on the mission, raise your hands.”

Chapter Text

One vote.

The votes were counted again – Poe even stated that anyone who wished to change their vote was welcome to do so – but the result was still the same. One vote. It passed through Poe’s mind to declare that they needed a two-thirds majority in order to pass the motion, but no: it wouldn’t be right to change the rules just because he didn’t like the outcome of a vote.

Ben’s hologram bowed his head, saying “Thank you. I promise I’ll do all I can to help you take down what’s left of the First Order” and then it flickered off and Poe dismissed the meeting. People filed out of the room muttering, making Poe wish he knew how to reassure them, but how could he reassure them when he didn’t know how to reassure himself?

Before he knew it, the room was empty except for himself and Finn, who made his way to the head of the table and placed his hand on Poe’s shoulder. “Hey,” he said, “are you okay?”

Poe inhaled through his nose, closing his eyes. “I just hope we’re doing the right thing.”

“We all do,” said Finn, giving an audible swallow. “Are you mad at me for voting yes?”

“No. I mean, you wanna help the kids too. And well, everyone deserves a second chance, right?” He opened his eyes, staring down at his hands clasped on the table, fingering a cuticle. “You got one, Jannah got one, so Ben should get one too, right?”

“Right,” said Finn, though Poe didn’t need the Force to sense the hesitance behind his answer.

. . .

Ben held his breath as he took tiny steps towards the casket that was illuminated by candles shining at its corners - the only light to be found in the dark void. He didn’t want to go near the casket, but it was silently calling to him and his only other option was to get lost in the dark. Light . . . light was more desirable than dark, right?

Even if light meant death?

There he lay, eyes closed, hands clasped atop his chest, as if he could be sleeping, except there was no breath, no sound, no movement of any kind. Why did people want to make corpses look like they were sleeping anyway? Anyone who looked at them for more than a second would be able to see that wasn’t the case.

Besides, Ben knew his father liked to sleep on his side.

He took a deep breath, a lump forming in his throat. “Hey Dad,” he whispered. What else was there to say? “I . . . can you hear me? I wish you were alive - I could really use your support right now.” His eyes started welling up, blurring Han’s eerily glowing face. “I miss you and Mom . . . so damn much!”

Tears flowed down his cheeks, his words coming out in choking sobs. “Dad, please, I’m scared, I need you!”

Silence.

“I’m talking to a corpse,” Ben whispered through his sobs. “A corpse, a thing!” Suddenly he wanted to hit something, but what? His father’s body? Himself? Whatever had sent him to this void?

“You killed me . . .”

Ben’s eyes shot open. It was Han’s voice, but his body remained still. “Dad?”

“You killed me . . .”

His father’s voice came not from the dead body, but from the endless darkness around the casket.

“You killed me . . .”

“D-Dad, I . . .”

“You killed me . . . KYLO REN!”

. . .

“Ben, Ben, wake up!”

Ben gasped, his eyes opening to find himself lying in the prison bunk, Rey hovering over him in that familiar red glow from the forcefield. “Ben!” she exclaimed, running her hand over his damp cheek. “Are you awake? Can you hear me?”

He blinked several times before he could answer, making sure she was there and he wasn’t still dreaming. “I can’t do it!” he sobbed. “I can’t be Kylo Ren again!”

“Kylo Ren is dead!” She said it again with that same forcefulness, as if she refused to consider the idea that he could return.

Ben sniffled. “I thought Ben Solo was dead for a long time. I wanted him dead for a long time.”

For a moment there was a flash of uncertainty in Rey’s eyes before she took his head into her hands and kissed his forehead. “Ben never died,” she whispered. “No matter how much Kylo tried to kill him, Ben was always there - your parents knew it.” She kissed him again. “And even when you pretend to be Kylo, you’ll still be Ben, the man I love.”

The man I love. Those words only pushed more tears out of his eyes. “You shouldn’t love me,” he choked out between sobs. “No one should.”

“Stop it,” said Rey, brushing her thumb over his eyes to wipe his tears.

Ben swallowed in a vain attempt to eliminate the lump in his throat. “What if Kylo Ren isn’t dead? What if he’s just sleeping and waiting for an opportunity like this?”

“He’s dead,” Rey insisted once again. “You’re too strong for him now.”

“I don’t feel strong.”

“You’re stronger than you think you are.” Rey ran her fingers through his hair, massaging his scalp. “And don’t forget, I’ll be there for you.”

Ben sniffled again, needing several short breaths before he could speak again. “I’d feel better about this if I had a mask.”

“A mask?”

“Just hear me out. When I had the mask, I could hide. It didn’t matter if my face was betraying any emotion or vulnerability since the mask covered it all. I could be intimidating even when I didn’t feel it.”

Rey ran her teeth over her bottom lip as if unsure how to process this revelation. “Then why did you remove it for me?”

Ben lowered his eyes, trying not to remember that time. “I don’t really know. Maybe part of me sensed a connection with you even then.” He gulped again. “Then . . . then I took it off for Dad when he said he wanted to see the face of his son . . . I think part of me wanted him to see me and wanted to come home with him, but . . .” He broke down in sobs once again, collapsing into Rey’s arms.

Rey held him for several moments without saying anything, running her hands up and down his head. “You can’t change what happened,” she finally said in a careful voice, “but you can change the future.” A sudden burst of inspiration came flowing from her, the sort of excitement that had come from her when it occurred to her to call on the Force in battle. “And if a mask would make this easier for you, then I have an idea.”

Chapter Text

Ben didn’t know whether or not he got back to sleep after Rey vanished, but he was awake when the prison lights came on all too soon. All too soon the guards arrived with breakfast and clean clothes and all too soon after that the Resistance generals arrived with their entourage of soldiers. Ben’s hands were put in binders and he was led out of the prison and into the back of an enclosed police speeder similar to the one he’d first ridden to prison, the generals riding with him once again in the windowless box, the hum of the vehicle vibrating under them.

Last time they had ridden together in silence and it looked like the generals didn’t want to break that tradition this time. It occurred to Ben that he could use this time to sleep, but despite the heaviness in his eyes, falling asleep with the generals staring at him wasn’t an appealing prospect.

“So who talks first?” Ben finally asked in a wry voice, partly to keep himself awake and partly to break the silence. “You talk first? I talk first?”

“Not funny,” General Dameron muttered.

“Well, if I’m going to be part of this mission, don’t you think I should know what the plans are?”

“That is need-to-know,” said General Finn. “You’ll do your part and we’ll do our part.”

Ben supposed that made sense. “I know it doesn’t matter much, but I am sorry about what I did to both of you.”

General Dameron actually flinched. “In a perfect world, I could forgive you, but this isn’t a perfect world.”

How could Ben respond to that? After all, he had said a similar thing to Luke’s spirit and he still wasn’t totally ready to forgive his uncle. “I’m not expecting either of you to forgive me. If you want to yell at me, go right ahead.”

The generals glanced at each other as if they were each silently asking the other if they should start yelling, but no actual yelling came.

“Where’s Rey?” Ben asked.

“Falcon,” said General Dameron.

That single word was like an icy shard cutting into his chest. Suddenly he was a child again, sitting in his father’s lap, playing with the golden dice, studying how Han used the controls, always asking if he was old enough to fly the ship yet.

“You killed me . . .”

His body slumped over, his breath shortening to the point where he got dizzy. For a fraction of a second he was coherent enough to realize that he was heading for the floor, but he couldn’t stop himself from falling; all he could do was grind his teeth in a futile attempt to brace himself for the painful impact . . .

But the impact didn’t come. Instead he felt two pairs of arms grabbing him on either side and easing him back into his seat - it took a moment to process that the generals had actually caught him.

“Are you all right?” General Dameron’s voice, suddenly full of . . . concern?

It still took a few seconds for Ben to find his breath. “Why . . . why do you ask?”

Dameron’s mouth crumpled as he and General Finn sat back down. “Look, just cause I don’t like you doesn’t mean I’m gonna let your skull smash open, okay? Now I’m gonna ask again: are you all right?”

“Physically, yes.”

“But not mentally,” General Finn said in a knowing voice, his brown eyes bulging.

Ben let out a sigh, feeling sweat build up on his forehead but unable to wipe it off due to the binders. “I didn’t know we would be going on my father’s ship, that’s all.”

General Dameron bit his lip, discomfort flowing from him as he shifted his eyes. “She’s the fastest ship we got,” was all he said, though Ben sensed that he wanted to say more. The general was compassionate - Ben remembered sensing that all the way back on Jakku and plotting to use that compassion against him.

Could that compassion extend even to his former enemy?

. . .

They reached a hangar filled with various Resistance ships and the generals led Ben to - oh shit, there it was - the Falcon itself, causing Ben’s heart to race. Chewie stood by the lowered ramp, along with an older human woman with short dark hair and a strong face, holding a syringe in one hand and a sterilizing pad in the other.

“Doctor Kalonia,” General Finn said, “is it ready?”

The woman nodded while Ben stared at her, hardly noticing that General Dameron was removing his binders. “Doctor Kalonia? My mom’s old doctor?”

“Yes,” said Doctor Kalonia in a less-than-friendly tone. “Now do you have a preference as to which arm receives the tracker?”

Ben shrugged, trying not to think of the story his parents often told about how Kalonia had suggested that Leia eat jogan fruits while pregnant and Han had ordered an entire shipment of them. “I guess not. Whichever one works best for you.”

“Fine, let’s do the left arm. Roll up your sleeve to the shoulder.”

Ben did so, trying not to look as she sterilized his arm. “I guess it’s pointless to say I’m sorry?”

She didn’t answer, instead sticking the needle in his arm, sending a sharp, burning pain and making him flinch. In another second, she had bandaged the small wound in the swift motion of someone who had administered a thousand injections. “There,” she said. “Remember, if you attempt to remove or deactivate it, the generals will know and everyone will have license to kill you on sight.”

“I understand,” said Ben as the generals put his hands back in the binders.

“Thank you, Doctor,” said General Dameron.

The doctor nodded at the generals again. “Now go save those kids.”

. . .

Ben found that he had to look at his feet as the generals led him into the Falcon for fear that he’d have another episode, but just the smell was triggering memories of helping Han fix the ship, Han teaching him to pilot, playing hide-and-seek in the smuggling compartments, the whole family using the ship to go on family vacations, meals around the game table - that dirty, musty, lived-in smell clouded his mind, threatening to choke him . . .

Suddenly they were in front of one of the cabins, though Ben couldn’t quite remember how they got there.

“You’ll be confined to quarters for the duration of the flight,” General Dameron said. “Rey will be guarding you.”

Ben nodded, after which the generals removed his binders, shoved him into the room, and closed the door behind him, trapping him in this room for the three days it would take to get to Geonosis.

“Ben!”

Before he could process what was happening, Rey threw her arms around him, squeezing him in a tight embrace and aggravating the still-hurting spot where the tracker had been injected. “Ow!” he exclaimed. “Ow, careful, arm’s sore.”

“Sorry, sorry,” said Rey, pulling out of the embrace. “How does it feel?”

“Like I got a shot,” said Ben. “Otherwise I can’t feel it inside me.”

“Good,” said Rey, leaning over and kissing his arm before clearing her throat. “Anyway, look, we’ve got your outfit for when we reach Geonosis all ready.”

She gestured over to the bed, where his old black shirt and pants were spread out - apparently the prison hadn’t thrown them away after all.

And next to them sat a helmet that looked strangely like his old mask.

Chapter Text

Ben stared down at the helmet for several moments before he gained the courage to approach the bed. “How . . .?”

“One of our smiths reshaped a pilot’s helmet and repainted it,” said Rey. “Do you think it will do?”

Ben swallowed as he picked up the helmet. It felt lighter than his old mask - lighter and more delicate, as if it would break if he handled it too much. He slowly eased it onto his head, finding that the blast shield tinted the world a few shades darker but not as dark as his old mask did.

“How is it?” Rey asked.

“It doesn’t feel as secure as my old one did,” Ben admitted, finding that his regular voice was speaking. “And, okay, no voice synthesizer, but I guess I can live with that.” He let out a sigh as he removed the helmet, not wanting to tell Rey that he still felt exposed under that helmet. “It will have to do.”

Just then there was a knock on the door. “Come in,” said Rey, as if she forgot that she was technically supposed to be guarding a prisoner.

The door slid open and in stepped General Finn, eyeing Ben warily before speaking. “Just letting you guys know that we’re about to take off - you might wanna strap yourselves in.” He cleared his throat. “Also, someone wants to see you.”

No sooner had he spoken than D-O came rolling in at top speed. “Friend!”

Despite the circumstances, Ben had to smile at the little droid. “Hey, D-O!” he exclaimed.

Awkwardness flowed from Finn as he licked his lips. “Well, Rey, you let me know if you need anything. Are you sure you wanna stay in here for three days?”

“I’m sure,” said Rey. “You said yourself that you’d feel better if someone guarded him.”

Finn exhaled through pursed lips. “We could use your piloting skills,” he said in a feeble voice - Ben didn’t need the Force to sense that they’d already had this conversation.

“Poe and Chewie can get us there,” said Rey.

“Well . . . all right,” said Finn. “I’ll be back later with lunch. Let me know if you need anything else.”

“We will,” said Rey.

With that, the general stepped out, the door sliding shut behind him with a hiss, once more trapping them in the room. After putting the helmet back on the bed, Ben found himself glancing around at the double bed, the table, the seats around the table with built-in safety restraints, the drawers and shelves, the adjacent closet and refresher. Though the room was larger than his prison cell, he wondered how being stuck in here for three days would affect both of them. “You chose this?” he whispered.

Rey gave him a small smile. “Yes. Finn and Poe said they would feel better with someone guarding you and I volunteered for the job.” She gently took his hand. “Come on, we don’t want to go flying around the room when the Falcon takes off, do we?”

. . .

Once they were in hyperspace, Ben undid his safety restraint and leapt to his feet, dashing into the closet.

“Ben?” Rey asked, undoing her own safety restraint. “What are you doing?”

“I want to see if there’s anything of ours in here,” Ben called from the closet. “Yeah, I know the Falcon got stolen for a while, but maybe they didn’t take all our stuff.”

Rey found herself holding her breath as she looked down at D-O, who merely craned his head as if he didn’t know what to say either. Though the Falcon had been hers for a year, Rey hadn’t gone looking in all the closets. It felt . . . wrong to do so, as if she were invading the family’s privacy. Besides, Leia had the first right to search the Falcon . . .

. . . but did she?

Why couldn’t she remember Leia ever getting on the Falcon?

Maybe it was too painful for the general to visit her dead husband’s ship.

“Found something!”

Rey gulped as Ben emerged from the closet carrying a small box, holding it as if it contained priceless treasure. “What’s in it?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” said Ben, slowly making his way to the bed, never taking his eyes off the box even as he sat down. “Let’s open it together.”

Rey sat next to him, D-O rolling up to their feet. “O-Open!” the droid exclaimed.

Ben inhaled once, twice, three times before he gained the courage to remove the lid. Sitting on the top was a pair of well-worn, well-wrinkled light blue pajamas, which made Ben suck in a sudden gasp.

“What?” Rey asked.

Ben’s eyes were welling up as he picked up the pajama top. “These were my dad’s,” he whispered. “I-I . . . I gave them to him as a birthday gift, back before . . .”

He covered his face with the pajama top, burying a sob. Rey gently rubbed his shoulder, trying to send him soothing thoughts through the Force. “You know, these look like they would fit you now. Maybe Finn or Poe or Chewie could wash them and you could wear them tonight.”

Ben sniffled as he looked up. “M-Maybe . . . let’s see what else is in here.” He put the pajamas on his lap and pulled out a set of silver hair clips. “Mom’s,” he choked out, wiping his eyes. “D-Dad would help her put them on before important senate dinners and parties . . .” He trailed off, looking at Rey. “I think she’d like you to have them - if you want them.”

Rey cocked her head, her heart unexpectedly thumping. “I don’t usually wear stuff this fancy, but if you think she’d like me to have them . . .”

“I do,” said Ben, placing them in her hands, “and I want you to have them.”

Now Rey felt her own eyes welling up as she stared down at the beautiful hair clips, feeling like she was holding a piece of Leia - her master, her friend, the closest thing to a mother she had since her parents left. She would find a time to wear them, she promised herself.

Meanwhile Ben was staring down into the box, tears streaming down his face. “It can’t be . . .” he whispered, seemingly to himself.

“Wh-What?” D-O asked, rolling back and forth.

Ben reached in the box and pulled out a well-loved toy Wookiee with tufts of fur missing and a couple of visible stitches. “D-Dad gave him to me for my first birthday . . . I called him Chewie Junior . . .”

With that, he broke down crying, clutching the toy to his chest as if he were still a child. Rey wrapped her arms around him, wishing she knew how to soothe his pain, wishing she knew the perfect thing to say, but maybe there wasn’t any perfect thing to say.

. . .

That night, Rey and Ben lay in the double bed together, Ben wearing his father’s pajamas and clutching Chewie Junior, not caring who would ridicule him for sleeping with his old toy. In fact, he remembered his counselor telling him that holding something soft could be good for mental health - maybe this would even help him not have nightmares.

Rey was rubbing his sleeve, a mischievous smile on her face. “They’re so soft,” she gushed before looking in his eyes. “By the way, I never told you when you were in the hospital, but you look cute in blue.”

“I remember Mom saying that to Dad,” Ben said through a sigh. Then, eager to change the subject for fear that talking about his parents would make him cry again, he asked, “By the way, have you noticed something?”

“What?”

“We don’t have those memory lapses when we’re together.”

Rey licked her lips. “You’re right, we don’t. Maybe it has something to do with the dyad being complete when we’re together?”

“Maybe.”

Rey ran her fingers through his hair. “I just realized something too.”

“What?”

“This will be our first night truly together, not linked through the Force. We don’t have to worry about disappearing.”

It was strange to think about since they’d spent so many nights linked, but he realized she was right. “We don’t have to worry about disappearing,” he murmured. “I like that.”

Rey kissed his lips, letting him savor her taste. “I like that too.”

Chapter Text

“Let me see them . . . my parents . . . please.”

Ben stared into the frosty reflective wall, his words echoing infinitely behind him, the icy water dripping from his hair and clothes.

“My parents . . . my parents . . . parents . . . parents . . .” The echoes of his endless reflections blared in his ears as if they were hundreds of individual voices instead of all his own, yet he wasn’t afraid. There were answers here. The ghostlike memories of a woman singing him to sleep and a man carrying him on his shoulders weren’t illusions . . . were they?

He slowly reached up, his fingers pressing the gelid wall as if pressing hard enough would make his parents appear. “It’s your biggest weakness . . . you look for them everywhere . . .” Ren’s words rang in his head. No, no, it wasn’t a weakness, Ren didn’t understand, she grew up with parents who loved her and yet she’d . . .

“I didn’t hate him.”

Ren had said those words with such firmness that Ben could almost believe her, but then how the hell could she have . . .?

He drew in his breath, all thoughts of Ren suddenly banished. Through the fog, there came two shadows - vague but undoubtedly humanoid. Suddenly Ben wondered if he would vomit or faint or turn around and run away, but instead he froze in place, his heart racing, his limbs tensing up.

My parents . . .

The shadows approached . . .

. . . merged into a single figure . . .

. . . into Ben’s reflection.

Ben stared into his own glistening eyes, the image blurring with tears.

He was alone.

. . .

“I thought I’d find answers here. I was wrong.”

The scavenger looked more vulnerable than she had ever seen him before. Even when she’d interrogated him, he’d fought back. Even the night Han Solo died, he’d been filled with rage. But now he just sat there, his hair damp, his eyes lowered, telling her about what happened in the cave as if they were friends, as if he hadn’t been yelling at her every time the Force connected them and tried to kill her the last time they were in the same space.

“I’d never felt so alone,” he whispered, looking an inch away from tears. For a moment she imagined gathering him into her arms, letting him cry on her shoulder, taking his pain away . . . but she shook off that foolish image. That was Rey Solo trying to escape again, wasn’t it?

“You’re not alone,” she murmured, hardly aware that she was saying it, but once the words were out, she realized that she didn’t want Ben to be alone.

Ben looked up at her with those soft eyes as if seeing her for the first time. For once there was no anger, no rage, no hate flowing from him. “Neither are you.”

The cheek where Han Solo had touched her before he died suddenly felt warm, as if Han Solo’s ghost were trying to tell her the same thing. No, no, Han Solo was gone, vanished into eternal oblivion, right?

Right?

“It isn’t too late,” Ben whispered. Slowly, slowly, his hand raised, his fingers uncurled, beckoning her to take it.

Too late. She’d told Han Solo it was too late. Her mind’s eye saw Han Solo’s pathetic, desperate face as he begged for his daughter to come home.

“You had a father who loved you - who gave a damn about you!”

But did Han Solo love her, or did he just love a memory of a little girl?

Ben’s hand was opening to her.

Ben, who had never known Rey Solo, who wasn’t grieving a child, offering his hand.

She started peeling off her black glove.

When was the last time she’d let anyone touch her ungloved hand, yet alone a scavenger she’d only met recently?

Her hand moved closer and closer to his, undisturbed by however many parsecs separated them. She stared into his eyes - those soft, warm, inviting eyes.

She could get lost in those eyes if she wasn’t careful . . .

They touched.

An explosion of visions raced through her mind, all of them involving herself and Ben. They came and went so fast that she could only grasp fleeting images. Their lightsabers crossed in battle. Him running her through with a lightsaber. The two of them fighting side by side against some unknown enemy.

Then came another vision, this one of a child Ben, a man and woman handing him over to someone, ignoring his cries as they flew away.

Ben’s parents . . . they sold him?

What kind of monsters would sell their own son?

But then one image jumped out at her so strongly that she sucked in a tiny gasp.

Both of them, seated on a throne, ruling the galaxy together.

Together . . .

She stared into his eyes, sensing that he too was seeing their future.

Their future together.

“STOP!”

She looked up and for the briefest of seconds she caught sight of a soaked, enraged Skywalker before the connection broke and both he and Ben vanished.

Well, Skywalker didn’t matter anymore.

She felt her lips curling upwards for what might have been the first time in years, the vision sending her heart into a frenzy so intense that it felt like one constant beat. Together. They were destined to rule together.

She wouldn’t be alone anymore.

. . .

Ben awoke to darkness, feeling Chewie Junior still in his arms and Rey’s hand running through his hair. He inhaled through his nose, slowly processing that the memory in his dream was Rey’s, not his, though his mind still saw the shadowy figures merging into his reflection and felt the emptiness from the realization that there were no answers.

“You worried that Han only loved the memory of child you,” Rey whispered. “That he couldn’t love you as you are now.”

Ben closed his eyes, fiercely trying to keep the tears in. “I should’ve gone with him that night,” he choked out. “Part of me wanted to . . . why didn’t I?”

“I don’t know,” Rey admitted before running her finger over his closed eyes. “But your father does love you, all of you.”

Her use of the present tense caused his stomach to jump and his eyes to open. “Rey, have you seen him since . . .?”

He heard her swallow. “No, but Leia used to tell me that all our loved ones live on in the Force, not just the Force-sensitives. Even if the non-Force-sensitives can’t talk to us, that doesn’t mean they don’t watch over us.”

Suddenly Ben realized that there was one thing he’d never told her about and as far as he knew, she had never dreamed of that memory either. “Rey,” he said, wrapping his arm around her, sandwiching Chewie Junior between them, “I need to tell you something.”

“What?”

“Something that happened after you healed me and flew off in the TIE . . .”

. . .

It was as if part of Rey’s heart had been lifted out of a vice that had held it for the last year. Her eyes were welling up, but she welcomed it. Han did live on, he’d connected with his son, he’d been the last push Ben needed to come back to the light. A smile dug into her face that she couldn’t have eliminated if she’d wanted to.

Han . . .

“Thank you,” she whispered through a happy sob, squeezing Ben close to her and kissing his forehead. After letting out a long, content sigh, she added, “I think I know why the Force showed us those memories tonight.”

“Why?”

“To remind us that we’re not alone.” She kissed his forehead again, then his cheek, then moved to his lips. “And we won’t be alone for this mission either.”

Chapter Text

“General Dameron, are you all right?”

Poe looked up from his glass of warm blue milk to find 3PO standing next to the game table. “I’m fine,” the general mumbled. “I just couldn’t sleep, that’s all.”

“Oh dear, is there anything I can do to help?”

“Yeah,” Poe said in a clipped voice. “You can leave.”

But of course 3PO didn’t listen. Maybe it was for the best - maybe the droid’s chattering would help drown out the silent drumming of Kylo Ren is here Kylo Ren is here Kylo Ren is here in Poe’s mind.

“General, I realize it must be difficult for you having Little Master Ben here . . .”

“Little Master Ben?” Poe interrupted, cocking his head and raising an eyebrow.

“Yes,” said 3PO. “He loved visiting us before Master Luke started his Jedi training temple.”

“I know,” said Poe, taking a sip of milk. “I know how he was this innocent kid who was hearing voices in his head for his whole life. That’s something no one should go through and I want to forgive him, I really do, but he went and pried open my head and took out whatever he wanted and . . .”

“Pried open your head, sir?” said 3PO, staring at Poe as if expecting him to provide further explanation.

Suddenly Poe froze, the memory of when they’d dug into 3PO’s head in order to override his programming so he could translate the dagger unexpectedly entering his head. No, no, that was different, they didn’t have a choice then and 3PO had agreed to it and things like that were different for droids, right? Droids got mind-wiped all the time. Besides, 3PO didn’t even remember the process.

But what if he did?

Could droids suffer trauma too?

D-O certainly seemed to suffer trauma from being abused.

And wasn’t BB-8 his buddy? Didn’t he care when his buddy got hurt?

“I’m sorry,” Poe found himself mumbling.

“Sorry for what, sir?”

Poe sighed, gazing down at his drink. “Sorry for something you don’t remember. Maybe BB-8 can explain it to you, but we did something like what Kylo did to me. I didn’t think we had a choice at the time, but maybe we did . . .”

“Poe?”

That was Finn’s voice, followed by BB-8’s familiar concerned beeps. Poe looked up and there they both were, gazing at him from the doorway, Finn’s mussed hair and wrinkled pajamas making him look pretty damn cute.

“Did I wake you?” Poe asked.

“No,” said Finn. “Well, sort of, I guess. It was a feeling that woke me.”

“A feeling,” Poe repeated. “It must suck to feel it every time Rey and me have sleepless nights. Speaking of, have you thought about asking Rey to train you?”

Finn’s lips crumpled. “Sometimes, but she’s got so much weighing on her right now - she doesn’t need to worry about training me on top of it. Besides, I don’t think I can do the stuff she can do.”

“Well, you don’t know until you try,” Poe said before gulping down the last of his milk.

“Maybe,” said Finn, heading over to the game table with BB-8 rolling at his feet, “but for right now, let’s just worry about the mission.” He placed a soothing hand on Poe’s shoulder, rubbing it with gentle pressure. “Think you can sleep now?”

Poe took a deep breath. “Maybe.” He allowed Finn to help him to his feet, trying to ignore how the former stormtrooper’s touch made his skin tingle. “Sorry I woke you.”

“It’s all right,” said Finn - oh gods, there was that smile, that beautiful smile that made Poe want to kiss those lips . . . no, he shouldn’t think like that right now.

As the two men headed out of the lounge, their arms around each other’s shoulders, Poe looked back at 3PO, vowing that he’d somehow make things up to the droid even if he didn’t remember what happened. “Night, 3PO.”

“Good night, sir.”

. . .

The next three days were slow but not irritating. Rey, Ben, and D-O spent some of their time in conversation and some of it in comfortable silence as they watched the holovid or played games on Rey’s datapad. Without having to worry about disappearing at any moment, they were better able to relax. Finn and Chewie brought their meals and gave them updates on how close they were to their destination, but Rey hadn’t seen Poe since they took off. Of course, she couldn’t blame Poe for not wanting to go near Ben after what Kylo had done to him, but she wondered if it would do both Poe and Ben some good for them to talk.

Further searching in the closet revealed more of Han and Leia’s things - mostly clothes. One of Han’s old vests, one of Leia’s old dresses, several pairs of shoes belonging to both of them, even a pair of Han’s white briefs, but no matter how mundane an item was, it always brought tears to Ben’s eyes when he saw it.

While they hadn’t swapped memories since that first night, there were still nightmares. Rey often woke to Ben screaming next to her and when she woke him, the few words he could get out through his sobs had to do with killing his father.

What could she say to comfort him? She certainly couldn’t tell him everything was all right and even telling him that it was Kylo Ren, not Ben Solo, who murdered Han felt like a weak attempt to excuse the action - and she definitely couldn’t excuse the action. In the end she’d just hug him and let him cry himself back to sleep in her arms.

On the third morning, the door slid open to reveal Poe and BB-8, taking both Rey and Ben by surprise, though Poe seemed to be making an effort to not look Ben in the eye. “Hey,” he said, awkwardly running his hand through his hair, “we’re about to come out of hyperspace.”

“All right,” said Rey.

Poe took several deep breaths, discomfort flowing from him. “Also, since this stormtrooper training facility or whatever it is is most likely underground, we’re gonna need your extra senses to tell us the best place to land.” Another deep breath, during which BB-8 gave anxious beeps about how things were going to be fine. “And . . . since Ben knows the First Order best and can probably sense familiar stuff, Finn thinks his senses will come in handy too. So yeah, we need both of you.”

Chapter Text

“Little Master Ben.”

Ben froze in his tracks at the sight of the protocol droid, nearly causing Rey and General Dameron to collide with him. “3PO?”

“Oh yes, sir,” said 3PO, as if it hadn’t been years since the two had seen each other. “It is good to see you.”

“H-he’s my friend,” said D-O.

“Is R2 here too?” Ben asked.

“Oh no, sir. He is with our backup troops.”

“All right,” said Dameron, “we can have reunions later - right now we’ve got a job to do.”

Of course, the protocol droid still followed the group into the cockpit, where General Finn was in the pilot’s seat and Chewie was in the copilot’s seat. Beyond the viewport, the tan planet of Geonosis could be seen in the distance, but Ben hardly registered it with how hard his heart was thumping. Behind every blink he saw himself sitting in his father’s lap as the Falcon jumped to hyperspace, both of them screaming in exhilaration. He might have collapsed again were it not for Rey squeezing his hand.

The general was right - they had a job to do.

He sank into the seat behind Chewie while Rey sat in the remaining seat. “Just letting you know,” he said, “I don’t know what we’ll see or if we’ll see anything.”

“Just do it,” said Dameron.

After a swallow, trying to ignore the hostility and uncertainty flowing from the generals, Ben closed his eyes, releasing himself into the Force. One breath. Two breaths. Three breaths.

Then a sudden burst of familiarity, rushing into his head so fast that it almost jolted his eyes open and he had to fight to keep them closed. Thousands of people beneath the planet’s surface - Force-signatures he knew of officers, stormtroopers . . .

“The children!” Rey exclaimed. “They’re here!”

Ben sucked in a gasp, his fingers twitching in his lap as his eyes slowly opened. “I know where we should land.”

. . .

The Falcon flew into a cave that was a good distance away from where Rey and Ben had sensed the children in hopes that whatever security the facility had wouldn’t pick them up. According to maps of the planet’s underground, tunnels connected to the cave would lead to the spot where Rey and Ben said the facility was, but it would take several hours of walking to get there. After packing up the supplies they needed and putting Ben’s wrists and ankles in binders, the humans, Wookiee, and droids set out into the dark, chilly tunnels.

Rey and General Dameron led the way, scanning the area with their handlights, followed by General Finn and Chewie on either side of Ben with the droids bringing up the rear. They only spoke when the generals asked Rey to sense which way they should go and only stopped when someone had to relieve themselves.

Soon Ben’s feet were sore, his wrists and ankles were numbing, and his back was crawling with itches he couldn’t scratch, but he didn’t dare complain, not even when every step felt like it was tearing into his feet. He had to be a good prisoner or else they might not be able to rescue the children. In an attempt to distract himself, he reached out into the Force, feeling them getting closer and closer to his former subordinates, and wondered how they would react when their Supreme Leader walked in.

Just when Ben thought he was about to collapse, General Dameron suddenly announced, “All right, we can make camp here.”

Camp? Had they been walking all day without lunch? As if it had suddenly become aware of the fact, Ben’s stomach growled loudly, causing him to grimace as Chewie removed the binders from his wrists.

[Don’t worry, we’ll be eating soon,] said the Wookiee, running his paw through Ben’s hair. [Why don’t you sit down?]

Ben didn’t need to be told to sit down - as soon as Chewie released him, he sank to the hard ground, rubbing one wrist after the other in an attempt to bring circulation back to his hands and trying to ignore how his feet still felt like blades were slicing into them.

“Ben, are you all right?”

He looked up and there was Rey, hovering over him while General Finn set up a lantern and General Dameron unpacked the sleeping bags. “I’m fine.”

Rey cocked her head as General Finn turned on the lantern, bathing the cave in eerie orange light. “You’re not fine,” she said matter-of-factly. “I can feel it.” Without waiting for an answer, she crouched down in front of him and removed the ankle binders.

“You’ll get in trouble for that,” Ben groaned.

“Not when you’re hurt,” said Rey, pulling off his boots and then his socks, revealing two broken blisters on his right foot and one broken blister on his left foot that was oozing pus.

“Ben!” she exclaimed. “Why didn’t you tell anyone about this?”

Ben shrugged. “I’m a prisoner, remember?”

“That doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to medical care when you’re hurt,” said Rey, reaching into her bag and pulling out a vial of bacta cream.

“The generals won’t like it if you waste that stuff on my feet.”

“Oh, stop it,” said Rey, “and hold still.” She squirted the strong-smelling cream onto her fingers and started rubbing it onto his feet. Despite the unpleasant odor, the cool, smooth cream felt good on his blisters.

“What’s going on?” General Finn asked, suddenly towering over them with an uncertain look on his face, his hand hovering over his blaster as if pondering whether or not to use it.

“We should have stopped earlier,” said Rey. “The walk tore into Ben’s feet.”

“What?” Finn exclaimed. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“Look, I’m fine!” hissed Ben. “You don’t need me slowing you down just because of a few blisters.”

“Yeah, well our pretend Supreme Leader still needs to walk, doesn’t he?” Finn asked as he crouched down next to Rey. “Now look, I know that in the First Order you were expected to not show any weakness, but we do things differently in the Resistance. In the Resistance, if you’re hurt, you tell someone so they can help you. You got that?”

“Yes, General.”

. . .

Supper consisted of nutrient bars and water, but after hours of walking it felt like a luxurious feast. Ben savored each bite of his nutrient bar even though it didn’t have much of a taste and observed the others who were engaged in lively conversation about how they should have added flavoring to the nutrient bars and how it was always a relief during the war when supply runs brought real food instead of those damn bars, though of course Rey would chime in saying the bars were delicious compared to the dehydrated bread she’d eaten back on Jakku.

“Ben?” Rey suddenly asked.

“Hmm?” Ben responded, noting how cute his girlfriend - girlfriend, it still made his heart thump to think of that word, but that was what she was, right? - looked with her face bathed in the lantern’s orange light.

“Do your feet feel better?”

Ben glanced at his still-bare feet and wiggled his toes lightly. “A bit.”

General Dameron swallowed as he looked in Ben’s direction, as if he didn’t like being reminded of the former Supreme Leader’s presence. “Well, that’s good. Remember to tell someone if that happens again.” He cleared his throat. “All right everyone, get some sleep. I’ll take first watch and Finn, Rey, and Chewie will each take two-hour shifts after me. We leave at first light - or approximately when first light would be since we’re in a cave and all - tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Back and forth, back and forth, around in circles. Even with the lantern still on, Poe still waved his handlight around as he circled the camp, as if the tiny light would catch anything the lantern missed. It had only taken a few minutes for everyone else to fall asleep after their long day, and the droids stood against the cavern wall, shut down for the night. There were times when Poe envied a droid’s ability to simply turn itself off whenever it wanted to instead of lying awake for hours waiting for sleep to come and worrying about Kylo Ren being around.

There he was, curled up in one of the gray sleeping bags, his face illuminated in the orange light, sound asleep - or at least he seemed to be asleep. Maybe he was pretending and hoping to catch everyone off guard. Poe gulped, remembering how Kylo had stuck out his hand and rendered him unable to move. If he wasn’t asleep . . . he could do the same thing right now.

Poe sucked in his breath as he inched closer to the former Supreme Leader. Rey was sleeping next to him, their sleeping bags just inches apart. Like a couple.

Could they plan to betray the Resistance together?

No, that was ridiculous, Rey wouldn’t betray the Resistance.

But she might let her love for Ben cloud her judgment.

Another step closer. Another. Oh shit, if he woke up or he already was awake he could paralyze Poe and pry into his mind again oh SHIT!

Ben twitched.

Without even thinking, Poe had his blaster drawn, though it shook in his hand. Oh shit he was going to do it again oh shit he couldn’t hide anything OH SHIT!

“Nothing personal, but I don’t like people drawing weapons over me when I’m sleeping.”

Poe froze. For a horrible moment he thought that Ben had immobilized him again, but then he realized it was just his own nerves. The former Supreme Leader was yawning, blinking up at Poe, but there was no hostility in his bleary eyes - just annoyance. “What do you want, General?” he mumbled.

What did Poe want? Why had he woken Ben? “Can’t you just look into my mind and see what I want?”

Ben let out a sigh, running his hand over his eyes. “If you want to yell at me about that, go ahead. It’s no more than what I deserve.”

“What you deserve,” Poe snorted. “You sure as hell don’t deserve for Rey to be in love with you, but you’ve somehow got that anyway.”

Ben’s eyebrow went up. “Are you in love with her too?”

“No,” said Poe. “Not with her, anyway.”

“But are you in love with someone?”

Finn’s beautiful face entered Poe’s head and oh crap, why were his cheeks heating up now? “That’s none of your business.”

Ben sighed again. “You’re right on both counts. It’s none of my business if you’re in love with someone and I sure as hell don’t deserve Rey, but I don’t think you woke me up just to discuss our love lives.”

Poe found himself slowly lowering his blaster in spite of his better judgment. “Look, I want to believe that Rey’s right about you. When Maz told us how Leia died, what she died for, I just . . .” His eyes welled up. “. . . it was like losing my mother all over again.”

“You lost your mother?”

Great, why did he mention that of all things? “My mom died when I was a kid. Speeder accident.”

“I’m sorry.”

Poe snorted again. “Why does everyone say that when they hear about death as if it’s their fault that someone died? Anyway, it was a long time ago - but well, my dad told me that your mom and dad knew my parents when they fought in the Rebellion. They lost touch after the war, though.” He swallowed, rambling more to himself than Ben. “As far as most of the galaxy knew, Ben Solo died with the rest of the Jedi, but your mom told me what really happened. She wanted her family back so damn much, but . . .”

“I know,” said Ben, his eyes glistening in the orange light. “She should have taken you as a surrogate son instead of giving her life for me.”

“Don’t say that,” Poe exclaimed without thinking. “I mean, she loved you. I think she was suffering much more than she let anyone know.” He suddenly realized that he had holstered his blaster while talking, though his hand was still posed to grab it if something happened. “Maybe if our parents hadn’t lost touch, we’d have been friends as kids and I’d have been just like Rey and your parents, always believing there was still good in you.”

“Maybe it’s better that we weren’t friends,” Ben mumbled. “Then you’d have the emotional turmoil of your friend torturing you.”

Poe flinched. “Would you have still done that if we were friends?”

“I killed my father, didn’t I? You would’ve been another element of my old life that I would have felt I needed to eliminate in order to be strong. Maybe I would have even killed you too.”

“Or maybe not,” said Poe. “I mean, your mom told me that she sensed you refusing to fire at her.”

Ben exhaled through his nose, his eyes closing as if trying to keep tears in, and for a moment Poe couldn’t help but pity him despite the fact that his hand was still hovering over his blaster. For a moment he imagined the two of them as childhood friends in another universe that never existed, pretending to be pilots together, playing hologames together.

His heart breaking when his friend turned to the dark side.

What would that have been like?

“I think I would have liked having you as a friend,” Ben suddenly said, opening his eyes again. “You seem like a good person.”

“Good?” Poe felt his stomach jump. “I don’t think I’m good. I mean, I say everyone deserves a second chance, but here I am expecting you to betray us at any moment - that makes me a hypocrite, doesn’t it?”

“I’d say that just makes you human,” said Ben. “I wouldn’t trust me if I were in your place either.” He yawned again. “Anyway, if you’re not going to shoot me or yell at me, is there anything else you want to tell me or can I go back to sleep?”

Poe shrugged. “I guess you can go back to sleep. I’m sorry I woke you.”

“I’m not,” Ben said as his eyes closed again. “By the way, if you are in love with someone, you might want to think about telling them.”

Poe said nothing - he only glanced over at Finn’s sleeping form.

Chapter Text

Breakfast also consisted of nutrient bars and water, but Ben wasn’t about to complain, especially since for once he didn’t remember any nightmares or swapped memory dreams. Maybe the short conversation with General Dameron had been good for his mental health.

Once again the others were engaged in lively conversation about shared experiences in battles and missions. Ben wanted to participate in the conversation in some way, but how was he supposed to do that when he was the one they were fighting against for most of the war? Though Rey sometimes squeezed his hand, he could sense that she didn’t want to show him too much overt affection in front of General Finn. He understood that, but at the same time he found himself longing for her touch.

“Sad?”

Ben looked over at D-O, who was rolling back and forth on his other side. “No, not sad,” he said. “Just thinking.”

“What are you thinking about?” Rey asked.

Ben took a deep breath as he looked back at her. “Wishing I hadn’t wasted so much time. Wishing I’d come to the Resistance sooner.” He avoided mentioning the exact time he wished he had joined the Resistance for fear that he’d cry once again. “You all seem to have this tight fellowship that I can’t be a part of.”

Despite General Finn’s presence, Rey kissed Ben’s cheek, making his heart flutter.

“Okay, everyone!” General Dameron suddenly announced, getting to his feet. “Pack up and let’s head out!” To Ben’s surprise, the general headed in his direction - Ben’s first thought was that the general had decided to yell at him after all.

“Here,” said Dameron, dropping a pair of thin gray socks into Ben’s lap.

“What’s this?” Ben asked.

“Extra pair of socks,” said Dameron. “Wearing two pairs of socks helps you to not get blisters. Put the thin pair on first and then your thicker ones over them.”

He walked away without mentioning their discussion from last night, but Ben thought he sensed slightly less hostility flowing from the general than usual.

. . .

The group didn’t find the facility so much as the facility found them. The tunnels widened and deepened, becoming constructed instead of natural, leading to a hangar full of TIE Fighters, and a sudden burst into Ben’s senses caused him to gasp. “We shouldn’t go any further!” he exclaimed. “They’ll find us!”

“I feel it too,” said Rey. “The rest of you should leave and contact our backup.” She looked back at Ben, a pensive expression on her face. “It’s time.”

The next several minutes felt like a dream as the group turned around and headed a good distance away, looking for a spot where they hopefully wouldn’t be detected. It’s time. His mind’s eyes saw himself strapping prisoners up and prying into their minds, drawing that flaming red lightsaber and slicing through innocent people. It’s time. His mind’s ear heard Snoke’s hissing, sinister voice telling him he was weak, that he’d always be weak unless he could eliminate everything associated with his past. It’s time. His subordinates gaping at him in terror, his prisoners crying out in pain, the dying gasps of those he murdered . . .

It’s time.

“Ben?”

He blinked, realizing Rey was in front of him, removing the binders from his wrists. “Come on,” she continued, “we need to get ready.”

“Ready . . .” Ben mumbled, wishing he knew how to stop his stomach from feeling like it was about to reject those nutrient bars.

The next thing he knew, Chewie was squeezing him in a Wookiee hug while D-O was saying, “B-be careful.”

“I will,” said Ben, afraid to say anything else for fear of another breakdown.

[Your parents would be so proud of you,] Chewie said as he pulled out of the embrace and ruffled his hair.

“Yes indeed they would,” said 3PO.

Now Ben couldn’t speak. His teeth rammed down into his tongue as tiny whimpers escaped. No, no, don’t break down, don’t break down, not now! In a desperate attempt to focus on something else - anything else - he looked over Rey’s shoulder at the generals, who were both giving him awkward looks as if they weren’t sure what to say.

“Well . . .” General Finn said after clearing his throat, “. . . good luck.”

“Yeah,” said General Dameron, “good luck,” and though Ben still sensed that the general was afraid of him, he also sensed that he was sincere in wishing him luck.

“You too,” said Ben.

. . .

In a small crevice in the cave wall, Ben changed into his old black outfit, though he was slow in doing so due to his hands trembling.

When he emerged, there was Rey, the fake mask under her right arm and the binders that had been on his wrists just moments before dangling from her other hand. Before she could say anything, he grabbed her face and planted a passionate kiss on her lips, letting them both savor the long moment.

“I love you,” Ben murmured as they pulled out of the kiss. “Whatever happens, remember that. I love you.”

“I love you too,” Rey said with a small smile as she handed him the mask. “But we need to make this look good.”

“Make this look good,” Ben repeated as he took the mask and put it on, still feeling exposed despite how it slightly darkened his world.

Rey held up the binders. “Put these on me.”

With a swallow, Ben did as she said, but he didn’t lock them.

“Ben,” Rey pressed, “they need to be locked.”

“No!” Ben automatically exclaimed. “If something happens . . . if anything goes wrong . . . you need to be able to escape.”

“Ben, we need to be as convincing as possible. All it takes is one person examining the prisoner for them to see that the binders are unlocked.”

“But Rey . . .”

“Trust me, Ben. It’s going to be all right.”

Ben stared down at the binders, imagining the officers dragging her away from him, himself powerless to save her from whatever torture they’d inflict on her. “I can’t. I can’t lose . . .”

“You can,” Rey interrupted. “This is bigger than just you and me, you know that.”

He did know that, though his heart still rammed against his ribs and his fingers still twitched. The memory of finding her corpse invaded his mind: gathering her still form into his arms, gazing into her lifeless eyes.

“Think of those kids,” said Rey.

The kids. That frightened child begging for help.

“This is bigger than you and me.”

“All right,” he whispered. With a deep breath, he locked the binders, squeezing her hands as he did so. “But be careful.”

“I will,” Rey said as he looked back up, gazing into her beautiful eyes. “Now let’s make this look good.”

Chapter Text

“Supreme Leader!”

A collective gasp echoed around the giant room. Every officer, stormtrooper, and droid froze at their consoles, mid-walk, mid-conversation, mid-work, mid-whatever-they-were-doing, and stared in Ben’s direction, already making him feel like he was standing naked in front of the whole galaxy as he dragged Rey in by the arm.

“Let go of me, you monster!” Rey was shouting.

“You called me a monster.”

“You ARE a monster!”

“Yes I am.”

For the briefest of moments, Ben wanted to let her go. Forget this façade, forget the mission, this was stupid idea in the first place, they needed to get out of here, he couldn’t do this!

No, no, they couldn’t back out now . . . he needed to do this . . . they had to make this look good . . .

He had to be the monster.

Be the monster . . .

“Shut up if you value your life!” he shouted at Rey, yanking her towards him with the same force he once used with his prisoners, feeling the old reflexes reactivate faster than he would have expected. She cried out and he wondered if she was faking it or if he’d actually hurt her.

“Supreme Leader.”

Only one figure dared to approach him. Ben remembered the tight face, the cropped black hair, the light brown eyes, but the last time he’d seen Captain Sellos, he’d been in a dark gray captain’s uniform. Now he wore the black uniform of a general.

“We thought you were dead,” said Captain - General - Sellos, “or captured by the Resistance.”

“I was captured by the Resistance,” said Ben, “but I escaped and tracked this place down. I also brought a valuable prisoner.” He shoved Rey to the floor, where she landed flat on her face and cried out again. “I give you the last Jedi.”

“Whatever you want from me, you won’t get it!” Rey screamed from the floor.

“I said shut UP!” Ben kicked her side almost without thinking about it, but he restrained himself from sinking to the floor and gathering her into his arms and asking if she was all right. She was all right, the cry she was giving was fake, wasn’t it?

Wasn’t it?

With a signal from General Sellos, two stormtroopers immediately rushed over and yanked Rey to her feet, causing Ben’s stomach to flip, but he ground his teeth, once again forcing himself not to react. “Take her to the detention area,” he growled. “I will interrogate her myself.”

“You won’t get away with this!” Rey screamed as the stormtroopers dragged her away from Ben and through a doorway off in the corner of the room. Ben stared after her for maybe a second too long, mentally noting where the door was and which direction they were going. She’ll be fine, he reminded himself. She’ll be fine. Even if things went bad, she was skilled at escaping.

She’d be all right . . .

She’d be all right . . .

Don’t think about finding her corpse on Exegol . . .

“Supreme Leader?”

He blinked, realizing that General Sellos was addressing him. “Yes, General?”

“Would you like me to show you around our new base?”

“Yes,” said Ben, concentrating on keeping his voice steady and emotionless. Rey would be fine, Rey would be fine, Rey would be fine . . .

“Wait a minute,” said a deep female voice.

Ben looked up and there was a red-haired woman in a commander’s uniform striding up to them. He didn’t recognize the face or the Force-signature, but she was glaring as if he had done something to wrong her specifically.

“How do we know this is in fact Supreme Leader Kylo Ren?” the commander asked.

Ben’s stomach suddenly turned a somersault so violent that he had to swallow down the food that was threatening to creep back up. No, no, he wasn’t going to take the mask off - he didn’t have to take the mask off, he was the Supreme Leader after all, no one was going to question his authority . . . at least they wouldn’t have questioned it before. Now, however, when the First Order had been forced into hiding and their Supreme Leader had gone missing for over two months only to randomly show up now, he could sense suspicion growing among them.

And he couldn’t afford any suspicion.

With suddenly-numb hands, he reached up and pulled off the mask, feeling like he was removing his air supply on an oxygen-less planet, hoping that the hard glare he molded his face into looked genuine. “Well,” he snarled, lowering his glare at the commander, “are you convinced?”

The commander said nothing, only wrinkling her lips at him. Maybe she thought he could be a Clawdite who had shapeshifted into Kylo Ren’s form in order to infiltrate the First Order.

“I said are you CONVINCED?” Ben yelled, shooting his free hand out and grabbing the commander with the Force, lifting her in the air and suspending her three feet off the floor.

The commander gasped, barely able to whisper a “yes,” after which Ben dropped her, causing her to land in a heap, but she didn’t seem to be hurt, seeing as how she immediately scrambled to her feet. “My apologies, Supreme Leader,” she said.

Ben fought the urge to apologize back - instead he ignored her as Kylo Ren would and turned to General Sellos, putting his mask back on in the process. “Now, I wish to be shown around.”

. . .

Ben took mental note of everything as General Sellos led him on the tour of the base. Apparently, what remained of the First Order had repurposed a facility that used to be a battle droid factory during the Clone Wars - some of the machinery was still standing, though it was currently dormant. Since most of the leaders had been killed in the Battle of Exegol, they’d had to go far down the line of succession for leadership, which explained how people like Sellos had been quickly promoted to general.

“And here,” Sellos said with outstretched arms as he led Ben to a catwalk overlooking what appeared to be a training room, “here we are training the next generation of First Order soldiers.”

There they were. What seemed like hundreds of children of various ages scattered in the arena-like room, all their heads shaved, all wearing identical gray shirts and pants. Some were practicing firing blasters on a wall of targets; others were being trained in hand-to-hand combat by an older stormtrooper; others were being drilled in exercises by an officer, but all their Force-signatures were hammering into Ben’s soul. These were the children he’d met in the hypnotic trance.

Suddenly he wanted to jump down from the catwalk and rescue all the kids then and there, but he knew he couldn’t do that. Not yet.

“The Resistance thinks they’ve won,” Sellos was saying, “just like how the Rebellion thought it won all those years ago, but once again we can bide our time. They will grow into much stronger fighters than we had before.”

Ben kept gazing down at the kids, thankful that his mask would disguise any disgust and horror that escaped into his face. “Really?” he asked. “And how will we keep these soldiers from defecting like FN-2187 did?”

Sellos looked over the rail, bursts of pride flowing from him as if the children were all his own. “We won’t have to worry about that ever again. We’ve come up with a very simple solution.”

“And what would that be?”

Sellos looked at Ben, the ghost of a smile on his face.

“Chips.”

. . .

Chips.

After the tour, as soon as he was out of anyone’s sight, Ben bolted to the nearest refresher. Chips. Even though he was supposed to pretend to interrogate Rey and then relay his information to the Resistance, he already felt that thick, disgusting liquid pushing up his throat. Chips. Of course he’d heard about how the Republic’s clone army had chips implanted in their brains unbeknownst to the Republic or the clones themselves, how those chips had overtaken their free will and forced them to murder the Jedi . . .

Chips . . .

Once he reached the refresher, he yanked off his mask and leaned over the sink, hurling for what felt like several minutes even though it was probably just a few seconds, struggling to ignore the putrid smell and acidic taste.

When he was sure nothing else would come up, he turned on the faucet to wash the evidence out of the sink and stared at his pale reflection in the mirror, realizing that the plan had suddenly become much more complicated. Even if the entire Resistance stormed the base, how would they rescue children who were brainwashed into not wanting to be rescued?

Chips.

Chapter Text

“Are you all right?” Rey and Ben exclaimed at the same time once he’d entered her cell and safely shut the door behind him, yanking off the mask in the process. She was seated on a bare bunk, but at least she didn’t appear injured.

“I’m fine,” she said, rising to her feet and gathering his face into her hands.

“I kicked you!”

“For the facade,” said Rey. “I told you to make it look good and you did. Now are you all right?"

Ben shrugged. “I’m not going to lie - this is difficult, but I’m supposed to be interrogating you, so we probably shouldn’t be talking too loudly. I don’t know how soundproof these walls are”

With that, Rey started screaming. “STOP IT! NO! I WON’T TELL YOU ANYTHING!”

“You won’t be able to resist for long!” Ben shouted back. “Even a Jedi has a breaking point and I WILL get to yours!”

“I’ll die first!” Rey screamed before pulling Ben into a quick surprise kiss and grinning at him afterwards.

Ben managed a grin back before screaming, “You WILL tell me what I need to know or I’ll pry through your mind until you don’t even know who you are anymore!”

They continued in this manner for several minutes until Ben’s throat started getting scratchy. “All right, I think that’s enough,” he whispered. “I’ll tell them you passed out and wouldn’t give any information, but I’ll try again later.”

“Did you find the kids?” Rey whispered back, returning to the bunk in preparation for pretending to be unconscious.

“Yes, and it’s not good, but I’ll have to tell you about it later,” whispered Ben. “We can’t let anyone suspect anything.”

With that, Rey nodded and slumped down on the bunk, closing her eyes and letting her mouth hang slightly open. Ben found himself wondering if she’d ever had to fake unconsciousness back on Jakku. “I love you,” he whispered before heading to the door.

She mouthed “I know” back at him.

. . .

Ben contacted the generals on a scrambled frequency and told them everything he could about the facility’s layout, the current status of the First Order, and the children. Once the transmission ended, Finn stumbled backward a few steps as if he’d been punched in the stomach.

“Finn?” Poe asked.

“This is my fault,” Finn choked out, gripping the cave wall for support.

“C’mon, don’t say that . . .”

“No, it is my fault!” Finn shouted, staring at Poe with bloodshot eyes. “I defected. I spat in the face of the First Order and because of me, they implanted chips in those kids’ heads so they can’t repeat what I did.”

“But you weren’t the only one to defect,” said Poe. “What about Jannah and her tribe?”

“They didn’t defect like I did. I disobeyed Kylo Ren’s orders.” Finn’s breath was shortening. “Now those kids are paying for what I did with their free will!” A raspy sob burst out. “This is my fault, it’s my fault . . .” He broke down crying, burying his face in his hands.

“Oh dear,” said 3PO, after which BB-8 gave a sad beep and D-O craned his neck upwards in a concerned manner.

[It’s not your fault,] Chewie roared, reaching out to ruffle Finn’s hair only for Finn to duck away.

Poe’s throat went dry. “Look . . . if it is your fault - which it isn’t - then it’s my fault too. You defected when rescuing me, after all.”

Finn only sobbed in response.

After a deep breath, Poe gathered Finn into his arms - a tad awkwardly since Finn was usually the one comforting him instead of the other way around. For a moment he expected Finn to resist as he had with Chewie, but no, the former stormtroopers sank into his embrace as if he wasn’t even thinking.

Poe squeezed him as tightly as he could, momentarily wishing he were Force-sensitive and able to send Finn soothing thoughts.

“If you are in love with someone, you might want to think about telling them.”

Why was Ben’s advice from the night before entering his head now of all times? Even if Poe did have the guts to tell Finn he loved him, this sure as hell wasn’t the time. “It’s gonna be okay,” he said. “We’ll find some way to rescue the kids. Maybe Ben can deactivate the chips or something.”

“You want to trust Ben now?” Finn choked out between sobs.

“If it means we can save the kids, then yes.”

And to Poe’s own surprise, he realized that he meant it.

. . .

Ben was given a bedchamber, but he couldn’t help wondering if someone had been kicked out of their room in order to give it to the Supreme Leader. He knew he couldn’t ask, though, since Kylo Ren would take the room without any questions about whose it was before. The room was small and sparse, with just a bed and an adjacent closet and refresher, which furthered his suspicions that it had previously belonged to someone ranking much lower than Supreme Leader.

He had just started getting ready for bed, stripping down to his undershirt and boxers, when there was a knock at the door - a small knock, rapping on the door in a rapid, desperate manner. It certainly sounded nothing like an officer’s knock and the Force-signature on the other side of the door was beating with familiarity. Almost without thinking, Ben pushed the button to open the door.

In rushed one of the stormtrooper trainee children: a boy who looked no older than three or four, his head dusted with brown fuzz left over from when it had been shaved. Before Ben could react, the boy threw his arms around the former Supreme Leader’s legs as if he were his father.

“Uh, hello,” said Ben, hastily shutting the door so no one would see this. “Are . . . are you . . .?”

He didn’t know what he was going to ask, but he wouldn’t have been able to ask it anyway since the familiarity burst through his senses to the point of making him dizzy. “You . . .” he gasped out after several moments, “. . . you’ve met me before, haven’t you? You reached for me when I was hypnotized, you’re the kid who hugged my legs just like this . . .”

The boy didn’t answer - he just hugged Ben’s legs tighter.

“What’s your name?” Ben asked. “Your real name, do you remember it?”

Still the boy didn’t answer - he kept gripping Ben’s legs like a lifeline.

Ben gulped, wondering if anyone had noticed the child’s absence. “Come on,” he said, gently prying the boy’s arms off his legs and taking his hand. The boy didn’t resist as Ben led him to the bed and sat down, propping the child on his lap.

“Now,” said Ben, “can you tell me your name? Or if you don’t remember it, tell me your number?”

Still the boy didn’t speak - instead he reached up and touched Ben’s cheek. Immediately, a disoriented image filled his mind as fiercely as if he were watching it happen. First Order officers, a man and woman trying to fight them, a blaster firing, the man and woman falling . . .

Ben gasped, his eyes unexpectedly welling up. “They killed your parents . . .” he whispered.

The boy still didn’t answer, but he nodded, his mouth scrunching up.

Ben wrapped his arms around the child, pressing his head against his chest. “My parents are dead too,” he whispered, blinking the tears away.

The boy gave a tiny sob.

“Listen,” said Ben, running his fingers over the boy’s fuzzy scalp, “you have the Force. That’s how you were able to call for us, how you just shared your memory with me. Maybe the Force even makes you able to resist the chip in your head.” He swallowed down the bile threatening to rise just from mentioning the chips. “I’m here to help you and the other kids. That prisoner I brought isn’t a real prisoner - he’s Ben, the last Jedi . . . uh, I mean . . . she . . . she’s Rey, the last Jedi.”

The boy looked up at him, cocking his head in confusion.

“Sorry,” Ben said. “It happens sometimes, these little memory lapses, but the important thing is that we’re going to get you and the other kids out of here. Soon the Resistance is going to come and rescue you.” He gave a gentle smile. “And I’m sure we’ll find someone nice who will adopt you.”

The boy sniffled. “C-can . . . can I sleep here?”

Ben’s stomach jumped at the boy’s sudden verbalization. “So you do speak. Well, I guess you can, but we’ll have to lock the door and if anyone else knocks on the door, you’ll have to hide in the refresher. Right now I have to pretend I’m still with the First Order, do you understand?”

The boy nodded.

“All right,” said Ben, “then I guess we’re having a sleepover.”

Chapter Text

As Ben and the child settled in for the night, the boy grabbed Ben’s arm, pulling it over his small body. The boy hadn’t spoken since asking to spend the night with Ben, but he seemed skilled in nonverbal communication, especially for his young age. While Ben had searched his room for any hidden cameras or microphones and found nothing, he still remained wary, frequently reaching out with the Force and seeing if anyone was nearby.

“You know, if you won’t tell me your name or your number, I’ll have to figure out something to call you,” Ben said.

Still the boy didn’t speak - he just squeezed Ben’s hand.

“All right,” said Ben. “Take your time.”

“G’night,” the boy whispered.

Despite everything, Ben found himself smiling. He couldn’t say he had much experience with kids, but he found himself wishing he could keep this one wrapped up in his arms and keep him safe from all the hardship outside the little room. Was this how Han felt when Ben was little? “Good night,” he whispered back, squeezing the boy’s hand, marveling at how tiny it was.

But no sooner had he closed his eyes than there was that twitch in his senses again.

He opened his eyes and there was Rey, curled up on her side, no pillow or blankets in sight. “I see the First Order still keeps its prisoners comfortable,” he muttered.

Rey shrugged. “I’ve slept in worse conditions.”

“Well here, let me share some warmth with you like you did when I was in prison.” Before she could respond, he spread half of his covers over her body in the same manner that she would share covers with him.

“Who’s this?” Rey asked.

“What?”

“That boy.” Rey’s eyes suddenly bulged. “Wait . . . I remember him, he’s the boy we met while hypnotized, isn’t he?”

“You can see him??” Ben exclaimed.

“Yeah,” said Rey. “Maybe because you’re holding him.” She turned her attention to the boy, giving him a warm smile. “Hello, I’m Rey. What’s your name?”

The boy said nothing - he merely reached out and touched Rey’s cheek.

“He doesn’t say much,” said Ben. “Maybe it’s because the First Order killed his parents when they took him or maybe it’s . . . something else.”

“What do you mean?”

Ben told her about the chips in the kids’ heads, along with his own theory that the boy being Force-sensitive meant he could somewhat rebel against his own chip. Rey sucked in her breath, gazing at the child like a protective mother. “It’s going to be okay,” she whispered, running her hand over the boy’s shaved head. “We’ll get you out of here - all of you - and get those chips out of your brains.”

The boy sniffled.

“Careful,” Ben said as Rey cupped her hand around the child’s head. “If you take him into your arms, he might end up in your cell.”

“I’m being careful,” said Rey before turning her attention back to the boy. “Don’t worry, you won’t end up in my cell.” She gave him a kiss on the forehead. “There are nice people coming who will help us get you out of here.”

“I told the generals everything I could,” said Ben, “but it will probably take a few days for our backup to get here.”

“Then we’d better use that time well,” said Rey.

Ben swallowed. “By the way, I had another memory lapse.”

Rey gave an unsurprised nod. “I did too.”

“So . . . what do we do if it happens when I’m supposed to be Kylo Ren?”

Rey scrunched her mouth in thought. “Well, you don’t have to refer to me by name to your subordinates. I’m the prisoner, so just call me that. And, well, there shouldn’t be much reason for me to refer to you by name when we’re not together.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Ben said, letting out a sigh as he once more gazed at the boy, who appeared to be drifting off to sleep as Rey ran her fingers down his face. “I guess you like kids?”

Rey appeared taken aback by his question. “I haven’t spent a lot of time with kids, to be honest, but back on Jakku I sometimes saw orphans begging at Niima Outpost.” Her eyes lowered in thought. “If Unkar Plutt had been gracious enough to offer me more than a quarter-portion of food for what I’d salvaged, I’d sometimes give a bit of my food to an orphan.” She cleared her throat, eager to change the subject. “Do you like kids?”

Ben felt something inside him tighten, as if this wasn’t a conversation they should be having. “I haven’t spent much time with them either, for obvious reasons. But . . . when I was a kid, I wanted a little brother or sister. I thought it would be so much fun to take care of a little brother or sister. I’d ask Mom and Dad for one over and over, and well, they tried, but Mom never got pregnant again.” He swallowed. “Looking back, I wonder if Snoke or Palpatine had something to do with that.”

“I’m sorry.” Rey looked back at the child, who was now fast asleep and giving soft little snores. “Remember how D-O said we should adopt this boy?”

Unexpectedly, Ben felt his cheeks heating up. For a moment he found himself back in his childhood, snuggled up between his parents after a nightmare, relishing in their presence. “That’s a bad idea,” he forced himself to say. “I have a trial coming up, remember? He needs a family where one of the parents isn’t in prison and didn’t commit countless horrors. Besides, we’re not even married.” Why was that last sentence an afterthought, as if he’d actually thought they were married for a bit?

He expected Rey to argue the point, but instead she just kept gazing at the boy. “I wish . . . I wish things were different,” she whispered.

“I do too, but they aren’t.” Ben reached over and brushed his finger down her cheek. “Even if this works and we get all the kids out of here and stop what’s left of the First Order, they won’t just let me walk out a free man after all I’ve done, and nor should they. The best thing I can hope for is that I might be let out of prison after a few decades.” He gulped, his fingers savoring her soft skin. “This relationship can’t be a normal one.”

“I know that,” said Rey, reaching over and running her own fingers through Ben’s hair, “but our relationship never has been normal, not even when we were enemies. Would I like a world where we could date and spend time together on our own terms like other couples? Of course I would, but I still choose you in this world.” She kissed his lips. “I love you, Ben.”

I love you, Ben. Would he ever be able to hear those words without inwardly feeling that he shouldn’t hear them, that no one should love him? Would he ever have the courage to say the “I know” that meant so much in his family?

“I love you, Rey,” he whispered back before she disappeared, leaving him alone with the boy.

Chapter Text

“No . . . no . . . NO!”

Ben awoke to find the boy staring at him while gripping his shoulder. The dream came back to him only in flashes: Han calling his name, his devastated face, that lightsaber, that damn flaming lightsaber!

“You sad?” the boy asked, uncomfortably reminding Ben of D-O.

Ben let out an exhale, wiping his eyes - of course there were tears there, did he ever not cry in his sleep these days? “Yeah,” he said, “I’m sad.”

Was he supposed to explain everything to this kid now? How the hell could he ever explain this to a kid who couldn’t be any older than four, Force-sensitive or not? “Listen,” he said, pushing himself to a sitting position, “the others have probably noticed that you’re missing by now. I have to pretend I’m one of the bad people for now, so I’ll have to take you back to the other kids, but when the other nice people get here, we’ll get all of you out. Do you understand?”

The boy just fell into his arms, sniffling once again.

“I know, I know, you’re scared,” said Ben, patting the boy’s back. “I know all about being scared. But look, think of it like . . . a game. I mean, kids like games, right? Let’s play a game where I’m the bad guy and you’re the brave hero who gets captured by the bad guy, but you’ll get rescued by the brave Jedi Rey and her army who will stop the bad guys.”

It sounded insane just coming out of his mouth, but the boy looked up with interest.

“And,” Ben continued, “let’s pretend that there will be a surprise ending where the bad guy - that’s me - turns out to be working for the good guys and after we rescue all the kids, he and the brave Jedi Rey get married.” After all, kids liked fairytales and fairytales usually ended with the heroes getting married. When Ben was a child, Han and Leia always ended the stories of their daring adventures with the happy ending of the princess and the scoundrel getting married.

No, don’t start fantasizing about Rey in a wedding dress . . .

The boy seemed to be at least a bit into it - there was even a half-smile pulling at his lips, which made Ben wonder if even smiling went against the chips’ programming.

What would Dad do? Han always seemed so natural at making up games on the spot, despite the fact that he must not have had much time for games when he was Proxima’s scumrat. Maybe that was why he was so good at games - he was making up for lost time.

“Okay,” Ben continued, hoping he didn’t sound awkward, “now remember, since you’re the brave hero, you can’t tell the bad guys anything. You know I’m not really a bad guy, but you’ve got to pretend I am. Can you do that?”

The boy nodded eagerly.

“And since I’m pretending to be the bad guy . . .” He swept out of bed and picked up the mask. “. . . I have to wear a scary mask!” He carefully lowered the mask over his head. “Rwar! I’m the scary bad guy!” He held up his hands, shaping his fingers like claws. “Rwar! The scary bad guy’s gonna get you!”

Now there was a definite half-smile pulling at the kid’s lips. Within a moment, he jumped out of bed and started running around the room in a playful manner - not laughing like most kids would laugh, but Ben sensed that he wanted to laugh, desperately wanted to laugh like a normal child.

Smiling and laughing, programmed away.

Programmed.

. . .

“General Sellos!” Ben boomed, dragging the child behind him - hopefully hard enough to look convincing but not so hard that he would hurt him.

“Yes, Supreme Leader.” General Sellos snapped to attention as did everyone else in the training room - except the children, who just continued with whatever training exercise they were currently engaged in.

Ben jerked the child into the general’s view. “I found this one wandering around. What was that you were saying about the chips keeping them under control?”

The general’s eyes widened in fear. “My apologies, Supreme Leader. This one’s been giving us trouble with his programming.”

“Programming.” Ben made sure to put as much disgust into the word as possible. “Seems to me that this programming is more trouble than it’s worth. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just manufacture a bunch of pitiful meat-droids who repeat ‘Roger-roger’ all the time?” He gestured around him with his free hand. “You even have the equipment to do so!”

There was a slight furrow in Sellos’s brow, reminding Ben of how Hux would glare at him. “Battle droids won’t take down the Resistance, especially now,” he said, putting emphasis on every word as if explaining it to a child. “I assure you, Supreme Leader, this is the only trainee who has given us trouble - all the others are perfectly obedient. If you wish, we will have this one terminated.”

Ben looked down at the child, silently sending him comforting waves through the Force. “I think not,” he said. “I see potential in this one. Not as a stormtrooper, but as an apprentice.”

. . .

“Be with me . . . be with me.”

Ben hadn’t reappeared to Rey either physically or Force-assisted since last night and the only other person she’d seen was an officer who’d said nothing as he served her breakfast, which left her with little to do except meditate. She’d started out by reaching out with the Force, trying to pinpoint exactly how many people were running this facility, but she’d lost count after a few hundred. Nowhere near as many as there would have been before the war ended, but it would still be a challenge to take them out.

And now she was calling to the Jedi of old again, even though she knew they probably wouldn’t answer. Luke, Leia, somebody, couldn’t somebody answer, even if she wasn’t sure exactly why she was calling them now?

No, she did know why she was calling them, though she didn’t want to admit it to herself and she certainly didn’t want to admit it to Ben. No matter how many times she assured herself that no, it wouldn’t happen, it couldn’t happen, the Force wouldn’t let it happen, the nagging itch in the back of her mind remained and refused to be calmed.

So here she was, asking for the dead Jedi’s help even though doing so was admitting the possibility that it might happen, even though her conscious mind could only handle toying with the idea for a few seconds at a time, even though it felt like just entertaining the possibility was betraying the man she loved.

What if Kylo Ren did come back?

Chapter Text

There were some advantages to being Supreme Leader, one of which being that no one else knew your passcodes.

It had been easy - perhaps too easy - to yank Snoke’s passcodes out of his mind in the moment before killing him, but Kylo Ren had made sure to change said passcodes as soon as he was able and never tell them to anyone. At least Ben Solo still remembered them and now he was making use of them at a private terminal, scrolling through lists of bases that were still active, who was now in charge of which base, the weapon capacities of each base - and relaying the information on scrambled frequencies back to the Resistance.

However, there was one bit of information that he wasn’t finding.

Removing the chips surgically was obviously out of the question before they got the kids out of here, but not removing the chips meant the kids would resist being rescued, which meant their best strategy was to try to remotely deactivate the chips. However, even though Ben looked and looked, he wasn’t finding any information about the chips in the databases.

Then look in people’s minds.

Ben ground his teeth, wishing he knew how to dismiss how logical that idea sounded, wishing the phrases it’s okay if you’re doing it for a good cause and you’d be doing it for the kids didn’t keep popping into his head. No, no, he wasn’t going to do that, he wasn’t going to tempt Kylo Ren to return . . .

Even if it’s the only way to help the children?

He let out a long sigh, burying his face in his hands and reaching out to the boy through the Force once again. He’d returned him to the other kids for now, instructing General Sellos not to harm him because he would be picking him up later to start his training as his apprentice. Ever since then he’d been periodically reaching to the boy with the Force to make sure he was all right.

He was, or at least he seemed to be. Right now he was being drilled in target practice, which made Ben’s heart ache to sense a child who couldn’t be older than four learning to use a real blaster.

“Hey.”

Ben looked up and there was Rey standing next to him - next to him but not actually next to him, he had to remind himself. “Hey,” he replied.

“Are you having any luck? Where’s the boy?”

Ben sighed through his nose. “The boy’s with the other kids for now, but I’ve told the general I want to train him as an apprentice and ordered him not to be harmed - I thought that was the best way to protect him. As for luck, I’ve relayed plenty of information to the Resistance, but I haven’t found anything about the chips. I have a feeling that info is hidden in a secret database, possibly because Kylo Ren used to express disdain for the stormtrooper program.”

Rey scrunched her mouth. “Well, keep looking.” She inched behind his chair, and wrapped her arms around him, kissing the top of his head. “And even if you don’t find anything, we’ll figure out some way to get the kids out of here.”

Ben took her hand, brushing it against his cheek and kissing it, the memory of how her beautiful fingers once emitted lightning unwillingly entering his mind.

Lightning . . .

“You know,” he found himself saying, “you have a secret weapon against the First Order.”

Her hands suddenly froze. “What do you mean?”

“You were born with an ability most people don’t know. Even though you got it from your grandfather, you could use it against the First Order . . .”

She abruptly pulled her hands away. “No! How could you even suggest that??”

Ben rotated in his seat to face her, noticing how her face had gone pale and she was squeezing one hand with the other. “But what if it helps the children?”

“I won’t use lightning - don’t ask me to.” She squeezed her hand so hard that her fingers were starting to turn white.

Ben lowered his eyes, gently peeling her fingers away from her other hand and kissing them one at a time. “You’re right, I’m sorry.” He brushed her fingers against his cheek. “You won’t use lightning, I won’t use mind-reading, we both have dark abilities we’re ashamed of.”

It was several moments before she spoke. “Leia would say our abilities don’t define who we are. She’d say it’s not abilities themselves that are light or dark, but only how we choose to use them.” She swallowed, looking down at her free hand. “But I won’t use lightning - ever.”

. . .

“. . . so you’ve got no idea how to deactivate the chips?”

Ben didn’t need the Force to sense the frustration coming from Poe’s hologram. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think they trust me when it comes to the stormtrooper program.”

Poe let out a long sigh as his hologram flickered. “Then I guess our best bet is to overtake the adults. Our backup should be caught up with us tomorrow.”

Ben nodded. “I’ll let you know if I find any info about the chips. Are you guys doing all right?”

Poe shrugged. “We’re getting by. I mean, we’re living in a cave and we’re expected to trust our old enemy, so it’s not great, but it could be worse.”

How was Ben supposed to respond to that? “Well, stay safe and don’t get caught.”

“We won’t.” Poe’s mouth twisted as if he were pondering what to say next. “So . . . are you doing okay, I mean pretending to be Kylo Ren and all? Rey seemed pretty worried about that.”

Now what was Ben supposed to say? “I guess I’m doing all right. I haven’t heard any voices in my head, so that’s probably a good sign.”

. . .

Though Ben had told the boy that he had to sleep with the other kids tonight, he still knocked on Ben’s door and asked to sleep with him - and even though Ben knew he should say no, he found himself unable to refuse those small, frightened eyes.

“I’m not your father - you know that, right?” Ben asked as the child snuggled up next to him. “I know the First Order killed your parents, but after we rescue you and the other kids, we’ll find new parents for you. You understand that, right?”

The boy just gripped onto Ben as if Ben could protect him from all the dangers in the galaxy.

“Look, I can’t be your father,” Ben persisted. “After this, I’m going back to prison. Prison, you know what that is, right? It’s where they lock up people who do bad things and it’s probably where I’ll be for the rest of my life - if they don’t kill me.” He stared into the boy’s eyes. “I’ve done bad things - very bad things, worse than the people who killed your parents. People like me should not be parents.”

The boy still wouldn’t let go.

Ben let out a sigh. “Look, maybe Ben will want to take care of you, but I shouldn’t. I . . . ugh, not again! I’m Rey . . . no, I’m NOT Rey!” He closed his eyes, gritting his teeth and breathing in pants. “I’m not Rey, I’m . . . I’m . . .”

“Ben?”

Ben opened his eyes and there was Rey, making him feel like he had finally gotten a breath of air after nearly drowning. “Rey . . . I . . .”

“Had a memory lapse? Yes, I did too. Maybe that’s why the Force linked us now.”

Ben swallowed. “Hypnosis didn’t work, therapy didn’t work, maybe we’ll just have these lapses for the rest of our lives.”

“Maybe,” Rey said in a hesitant voice before turning her attention to the child in Ben’s arms. “Hey there, it’s nice to see you again.”

The boy rolled over to face her and gave that little half-smile.

“I talked to the generals - they say our backup should be here tomorrow,” said Ben.

“Tomorrow,” Rey breathed. “So you won’t have to keep pretending for much longer.”

“Yeah, that’s the good news. The bad news is I haven’t found anything about the chips. If we can’t turn them off . . .”

“. . . we’ll figure something out,” said Rey, brushing her hand over Ben’s cheek. “We need to stay positive here.”

“Stay positive,” Ben repeated. “Forgive me, but I’ve never been great at staying positive.”

Rey let out a long exhale, gripping Ben’s wrist. “Neither have I.”

Chapter Text

“Ava, are you okay?”

Jannah still felt her cheeks heat up a little whenever her father called her by her birth name. After much deliberation, she had decided that her full name would be Ava Jannah Calrissian and people could decide whether to call her Ava or Jannah. Lando, of course, called her Ava, while Rose and most of the others continued to call her Jannah.

“I’m fine,” she said, waving her handlight around the cave more for the sake of doing something than to actually see what was out there. “It’s just . . . after Exegol, Finn and I vowed that the First Order would never take another child again - but now not only have they taken more children, but they’ve put chips in their heads.”

Rose gently squeezed Jannah’s free hand. “Jannah, it’s okay. We’ll find a way to turn off the chips.”

“How?”

Neither Lando nor Rose had an answer. The troops around them seemed to start picking up their pace as if they didn’t want to hear about the chips. Even R2 was giving uncertain beeps as he rolled alongside them.

. . .

“I’ve taken control of the security cameras. They’ll play a loop of recorded footage long enough for you to get in, but it’s probably only a matter of time before people notice, so you’d better hurry.”

“Copy that,” Poe said as Ben’s hologram flickered.

“I’ve also got the troops on tasks away from the hangar, so you shouldn’t face much resistance getting in,” said Ben. “Getting out is another story, though - they’ll probably catch on that I’m no longer with them before this is over.”

“We can handle it,” said Poe. “Now what about the chips?”

Ben’s hologram frowned. “I never found anything. The kids are going to resist being rescued, but maybe if we can take out General Sellos and the other officers in charge of training the kids, we might be able to get the kids out.”

Poe licked his lips. “All right, then. How about Rey?”

A slight smile pulled at Ben’s lips as a dreamy look passed over his eyes. “She’s about to be set free. I’ll pretend to interrogate her and we’ll stage an escape. She’ll be ready to fight when you arrive.”

Poe rumpled his mouth, trying to ignore how his stomach was churning. He still wasn’t sure if Ben had truly changed, still couldn’t forgive him for the interrogation, but from the look in Ben’s eyes, he could believe that his feelings for Rey were genuine.

“We’ll only get one chance for this,” Ben continued. “Make it count.”

“We will,” said Poe. “And . . . ah . . . may the Force be with you.”

Ben looked surprised for a moment, as surprised as Poe felt, before his face relaxed. “May the Force be with you, too.”

. . .

Ben could hardly breathe under the mask as he strode down the halls, hoping that his body language was conveying Kylo Ren’s authority and ruthlessness and hiding how his heart was racing. The Resistance fighters would be storming the base any moment now and he still had no idea how to deactivate the chips.

Just pry into General Sellos’ mind.

He ground his teeth behind the mask. No, he wasn’t going to use Kylo Ren’s tactics, he wasn’t.

Why are you so afraid? You’ve done it countless times before. This time it would be to help the children - isn’t that worth being Kylo Ren for a little while?

Being Kylo Ren, not just pretending to be him. His mind’s eye saw General Sellos strapped to the interrogation table - for once it was someone who actually deserved to be there - and saw himself, his hand hovering inches over Sellos’ head., yanking out the information he needed.

As Kylo Ren, Ben had seen the workings of many minds. A lot of prisoners’ thoughts instantly flashed to their loved ones: worry for friends and family members working for the Resistance, but of course that gave Kylo access to where those loved ones were hiding. Others would think of random thoughts in a vain attempt to elude Kylo’s probing. He’d seen glimpses of pets, holovid shows, chats at work.

Many tried to push him out of their minds.

Only one succeeded.

Finally he reached her cell with the two stormtroopers guarding the door. “I’m here to interrogate the prisoner,” he said in a clipped voice, after which one of the stormtroopers nodded and pushed the button to open the door without saying a word.

Once he was inside and the door safely closed behind him, Ben yanked off the helmet and stared Rey in the eye. “They’re here,” he whispered in the softest voice he could manage, “and you’re escaping.”

Rey nodded as she rose from the bunk and allowed Ben to put her hands back in binders - but this time they were unlocked. She planted a small kiss on Ben’s cheek before she started yelling, “You’ll NEVER get anything out of me, so you’d better just kill me instead!”

“You had a chance to cooperate,” Ben snarled as he put the mask back on, “but you’ve forced us to take drastic measures!” He grabbed Rey’s wrists, though his thumb tenderly stroked her skin as he did so.

“Let go of me! LET GO OF ME!” Rey yelled as Ben opened the door and dragged her out.

“Shut up, filthy scavenger!” Kylo roared. “If you behave, you just might be able to keep all your limbs, but that’s only if you behave!”

Rey gasped, her head lowering as if she were accepting her fate. “I still won’t tell you anything!” she said in a smaller voice. “No matter what sort of torture you inflict, so you might as well just kill me!”

“Really?” Ben replied as he led her down the hall. “Could it be that the last Jedi is afraid of torture?”

Rey gasped again as if that had silenced her. As Ben kept leading her down the halls, he concentrated on the Force-signatures around them, searching for an opportunity to fake Rey’s escape without anyone noticing.

Around the next two corners, near the weapons cache.

Ben raised his eyebrows and glanced at Rey to find a slight smirk in her lips as she kept her head down. He reached out with the Force and sure enough, no one was near the spot she had sent to his mind. Part of him wished that he could kiss her then and there, but he restrained himself and kept pulling her down the hall as if he were Kylo Ren.

Once they reached the spot, Ben removed the binders and Rey went running off, Ben running after her and yelling, “Look out, the prisoner’s escaping!”

It was only a few minutes before a slew of officers came running towards them. “The prisoner’s escaping!” Ben repeated as they ran with him. “Set your weapons for stun.”

“Yes, sir,” most of the officers replied.

But one officer - Ben suddenly recognized her as the one who had suspected him earlier, fired in Rey’s direction, her blaster not set at stun, sending the deadly red laser right towards the back of Rey’s head.

“NO!” Ben screamed without thinking, reaching out and stopping the blast with the Force, causing the laser to hang in the air, humming softly as Rey turned around, eyes bulged, mouth open and panting.

With that, in ran another slew of officers, led by General Sellos, surrounding the pair, all their blasters at the ready.

Aimed at both Rey and Ben.

Chapter Text

At least twenty blasters pointed at them. Ben had never stopped that many blasterbolts at once, but maybe it was possible, especially if Rey helped him. He took in a long, steady breath, closing his eyes, his mind reaching out to each blaster imagining himself shrinking into the inner mechanisms . . .

“If you’re thinking of using your powers to render us helpless, Supreme Leader, you might want to think again.”

General Sellos’ eerily confident voice made Ben’s blood run cold. His eyes slowly opened as he hoped he was mistaken about the Force-signature he thought he sensed.

But no, there was the boy in Sellos arms, struggling against his grip, his hands in small binders, his mouth gagged despite the fact that he rarely spoke.

And Sellos pressing his blaster into the boy’s head.

Almost automatically, Ben charged towards them, suddenly not caring about the other blasters, his mind only thinking no, not him, not him! as if he were back on Exegol caressing Rey’s corpse.

Rey’s cry of “Ben!” came too late.

A blaster firing.

A sharp pain in his leg.

And nothing.

. . .

Getting in was easy, as Ben had promised, but Poe still kept on his guard as the group made their way through the hangar, one hand holding his blaster in front of him and the other clutching the holomap of the base layout that Ben had sent them, glancing at it every few seconds not just to ensure that they were going the right way, but also to ensure that the marker for Ben’s tracker that he’d added to the map wasn’t going anywhere suspicious.

“All right,” Poe said when they reached the old droid factory remains, “this is where we split up. Blue Group, follow General Calrissian to the main terminal room. Your main target is this General Sellos, but try to capture as many high-ranking officers as you can - alive if possible, but if not possible then, well, you know. Black Group, follow me.”

“Something’s wrong,” Finn muttered after the groups split. “Rey should have been here by now.”

“She’ll be here,” Poe said, attempting to reassure both Finn and himself.

They made their way through the first corridor, no Rey. They made their way through the second corridor, no Rey.

“Something is wrong!” Finn insisted.

“Come on,” said Poe, “she’ll be here.” He quickly checked the holomap. “Ben’s heading for the kids’ training area - she’s probably with him. We’ll meet up there and get the kids out.”

Still Finn shook his head. “They’re in trouble - both of them.”

“How do you know? A feeling? Well maybe your feeling’s wrong - we’ve gotta stick to the plan, and even if they are in trouble, shouldn’t we be going to rescue them and the kids too?”

Finn gave a hesitant nod, but he quickened his pace, rushing ahead of Poe.

. . .

The first thing Ben was aware of when he came to was a sharp, stabbing pain bursting in his upper left leg.

The second thing was that something hard and cold was pinching his wrists.

The third thing was that he was being dragged by his wrists, his feet sliding behind him.

Only then did he open his eyes and remember what had happened, but he had barely a second to process that he was in the children’s training center and his hands were in binders before he was thrown to his knees, sending a further stabbing pain through his leg, though he gritted his teeth in an attempt to resist crying out - an instinct left over from his training with Snoke.

It took a few blinks to realize that Rey and the boy were kneeling on either side of him, all with their hands in binders, officers pressing down on their shoulders and forcing them all to kneel. Rey was struggling against the officer’s grip, but to no avail, while the boy just stared ahead, trembling.

“Future stormtroopers,” General Sellos’ voice boomed, “I have some sad news. Our base is under attack and we will have to leave.”

Future stormtroopers. Ben wanted to scream obscenities at the general, shout out every curse word he knew.

“Even worse,” said Sellos, “one of your own betrayed you!” He strode in front of the prisoners and extended his arm to the boy. “This one has been secretly visiting your enemies! He wants to take you away from your people!”

“Listen,” Rey suddenly shouted, “the First Order are the ones who took you from your homes! Do you remember your homes? You had homes and families, but the First Order took you from them and put chips in your heads to control you! They . . .” Her captor punching her in the jaw ceased her talking and drew a snarl out of Ben’s mouth.

“The traitor and his friends are the ones who called in the attack on our base!” Sellos continued, seemingly unphased by Rey’s interruption. “They want to put an end to your training and stop you from becoming stormtroopers!”

“Damn right we do!” Rey shouted again after spitting out a bit of blood. “Listen, it’s the chips that are controlling you to do this! They’re forcing you to want to be stormtroopers! The First Order doesn’t care about you - they just want to use you to take over the galaxy again!”

Ben sensed that her words had no effect on the brainwashed children - she probably sensed that too, but just like how she refused to give up on Exegol, she refused to give up here, even when her captor punched her a second time.

“You don’t have to follow the First Order!” By now her voice was lowered to a gasp. “We can help you find your families again.”

“The First Order is your family!” Sellos boomed over her. “This traitor and his friends are trying to take you from your family - and you know what we must do to traitors.”

Suddenly every single child raised the blasters they had been training with, pointing them at the prisoners. Ben didn’t know how many kids were in the room, but there were definitely too many for him to block or take with the Force - and even if he attempted to block their bolts, he might end up hurting the kids while doing so.

He swallowed, wishing he could at least shield Rey and the boy, wishing he could take the bolts for them, wishing he could shield them with his own body, wishing, wishing, wishing . . .

“Ben,” Rey suddenly whispered in a voice so quick he could barely make out the individual words, “remember what Palpatine said? The strength of our bond.”

What did that have to do with anything?

“The strength of our bond,” Rey repeated.

“What are you talking about?” Ben whispered back.

The general raised his hand.

“Future stormtroopers, kill them!”