Once the starbloom planted outside the window has grown taller, it will be able to filter the sunlight streaming into the bedroom. For now, though, it is a diminutive green sapling, and hot shards of gold pierce Ben Solo's eyelids, forcing him out of sleep. Squinting against the glare, he groggily extends his left arm in the direction of the white linen curtains; they close over the glass panes at the flick of his wrist as if stirred by some invisible breeze. Before he can shut his eyes again, however, he realizes that his other arm had gone numb during the night.
Ben turns his head towards the culprit. Rey is facing away from him, rolled over on her side and using his right arm as a pillow. Linen-muted sunlight dances along the elegant curve of her bare spine, adding copper tones to the freckles scattered across her tawny skin. They hadn't bothered putting on their sleep clothes after last night, when he'd practically started ravishing her on the front porch upon her return from Artorias— an absence of two days that had felt like weeks.
The sheets have slipped past Rey's waist, revealing a hint of backside. Ben winces as his exhausted body rallies valiantly to the cause. Stars, he's no better than a teenage boy— although, to be fair, he had gone without until his thirties. He'd waited for her, and he's never regretted it. Best decision of his life.
She whines in her sleep when he pries his arm out from under her. The sound tears at his heart. She's the morning person of the two of them but, on the rare days that he wakes up first, nothing can get him out of bed until she opens her eyes. He's still haunted by the room on the Upsilon- class shuttle, by the look on her face when she whimpered, "I woke up and you were gone."
Ben gathers Rey's hair to the side, pressing a kiss to her nape. His hand wanders to her front, lazily playing with her breasts while his lips trail down her neck. It has been six years since they left Coruscant together but everything about this moment still feels like a gift. The way she arches into his touch even while asleep, trust so intrinsically woven between their bodies. The faint smile that he glimpses at the corner of her mouth when he murmurs soothing words in her ear. The rustle of sheets when he curls around her and eases his hand between her legs.
She's ready for him, wet and pliant and willing, but she doesn't fully wake up until he slips inside her. "Good morning," she sighs, craning her neck to kiss his jawline.
"Very good morning," Ben quips with a wolfish leer, and Rey giggles, a drowsy, dulcet sound that he swears is the sexiest thing he's ever heard.
He rolls her over onto her stomach, muffling a groan into the crook of her neck when she wiggles her hips against his. It's slow and gentle loving, bathed in morning light, and she clutches at his wrist, whispering soft little words of encouragement against his palm, her lips brushing across the wedding ring on his finger. He'd been all set to marry her on the nearest inhabited planet the second they entered the Outer Rim Territories, but she'd put her foot down. "Your parents will never forgive us if we don't invite them," she'd scolded, "and I want my friends to be there." The ceremony had been held on Ossus a year after war's end, a simple, quiet affair attended only by his family, the Jedi, and Finn and Poe. Ben honestly doesn't remember much of it— everything had been a blur compared to Rey in a white dress and how her hazel eyes had caught the light of the setting sun when they were declared bonded for life.
He ducks his head to pepper kisses on the sensitive spot between her shoulder blades, relishing in the way she undulates beneath him to meet his languid thrusts. "You feel so good, sweetheart," he croons, spurred on by a flicker of mischief threading through the haze of sleepy, warm desire. "You're being so good for me."
"Ben," Rey moans in half-hearted admonishment, burying her face in the pillow to hide the blush that always creeps onto her cheeks whenever he gets a little filthy. Chuckling, he digs his teeth into the round of her freckled shoulder while he strums at the small bundle of nerves between her thighs. It doesn't take long for her to peak after that, and he exhales a reverent curse at the still unbelievable sensation of her tight inner walls rippling and contracting around his length. He finishes inside her, his mind whiting out in bliss.
When he falls back onto the mattress, she wastes no time in tucking herself into his arms, resting her head on his bare chest. He holds her in a loose embrace, mumbling sweet nothings into her hair. The sunlight peeking through the curtains seems less annoying now, and he luxuriates in the feeling of this, a lazy morning in bed with his wife, made even more precious by the fact that he had once thought such a future was beyond his reach.
"Do you think..." Rey trails off, tentatively cupping a hand over her flat stomach. It's not that they're actively trying, but they've finally arrived at that point in their lives wherein they're ready if it happens. She's twenty six now. As good an age as any to bear a child— a child that, Ben vows, will never want for affection and support, but also— and this is important— will be loved as much as he has come to realize Han and Leia love him.
"Perhaps," he says in response to Rey's unfinished question. "If not, we'll just have to try again." He grins faintly at the ceiling, already imagining trying again.
She snorts. "You're insatiable." It's a familiar, playfully grudging complaint of hers, but she steers the conversation back to the matter at hand. "If he turns out to be Force-sensitive, I don't think we should send him to Ossus just yet. We can train him in the basics first, see where his affinity lies."
Ben doesn't miss the dreamy note in her voice, and his heart gives a twinge. Any lingering doubts he might have are inconsequential in light of the fact that Rey absolutely wants a family. He can't deny her that. "Yes, it would be best to let her decide what path she wants to take."
Rey lifts her head to wrinkle her nose at him. His breath catches at how the sunlight brings out the green in her eyes. "Just so you know," he says before she can launch into their usual debate about whether their firstborn will be a daughter or a son, "I was serious about trying again. Don't you want to make sure?" He schools his features into a plaintive expression. "I heard early morning's the best time for it..."
"You're making that up," Rey accuses, but she glances at the chronometer on the bedside table before dropping a kiss on his chin. "In any case, it's not so early anymore, and we have to leave soon— Ben!" she shrieks, because, at the reminder that they have somewhere to be, he immediately lets go of her and tugs the blanket over his head, screwing his eyes shut. "Oh, no, you don't!" she manages to say in between bursts of laughter as she attempts to wrestle him out of bed. "We've been putting this off for months—"
He snores loudly in response. Undeterred, she worms her way beneath the blanket and whispers in his ear, "If you get out of bed now, I'll let you feel me up in the bath."
"Deal," he says immediately, his eyes flying wide open.
He carries her to the 'fresher in the same way he had carried her over the threshold of this house when they returned to it as newlyweds, years ago. She's still laughing, her legs dangling in the air. He almost thinks he'll never be happier than he is in this moment, but the truth is that he's long stopped measuring, quantifying, and comparing. It's no use. Every moment with her is the happiest he's ever been.
The MR-9 housekeeping droid that had been a gift from Ben's parents has just finished setting the table by the time Rey wanders onto the porch, a freshly-showered, afterglow-softened husband in her wake. He's always extra affectionate after sex— light touches to her hips, little kisses to her temple or to the shell of her ear. It's as if he's making up for what happened on Sarvchi, she thinks with a pang.
Rey and Ben sit down at the table, and the droid retreats into the house to get started on cleaning duties after pouring them cups of Manellan Jasper, a sweet, jewel-toned tea that smells like rose petals. Rey takes a sip, savoring the delicate flavor as she gazes out over the shimmering azure waters of Lake Sui, the green shores of which are but a stone's throw from their doorstep.
They had gotten the house at a remarkably modest price from a merchant friend of Lando Calrissian's who, as Lando put it with a snort of disgust, had "more summer homes than he knows what to do with." Rey suspects that Han and Lando used less-than-ethical methods to whittle down the cost, but she's not complaining. It's a small yet beautiful place made of white allacrete, with a silvery blue roof and a wraparound porch. The previous owner had taken all of his expensive paintings and tapestries, but Rey had contentedly adorned the space with potted plants, scattering them everywhere— on the shelves between Ben's books, on the chalcedony counter-tops, on the windowsills— until the sun-drenched interiors looked like an extension of the garden outside. The very same garden that Ben had insisted on helping her plant, which is currently bordered by the half-finished tool shed that he struggles with and yells at once a week.
She smiles at him over her tea. He may not have actually built her a house— and, in all honestly, the tool shed also seems to be a lost cause— but he has made her a home, and that's what matters.
He reaches for her hand on the table, rubbing his thumb over her knuckles. "We didn't get to talk last night," he muses, and she stops herself from quipping, Gee, I wonder why, because the look on his face is so earnest. She knows that he values this most of all— being able to talk to her, getting to hear the details of her life. "How was the coronation?"
"It went well. No one shot anyone, at least." Rey waits for the corner of Ben's mouth to curve slightly up before she adds, "Kaye— although I suppose it's 'Her Majesty' now— sends regards." He had also been invited, for formality's sake, but his presence would have diverted attention from such an important ceremony. "Kaye looked... powerful. So brave and strong. She will be a good ruler."
"All the best monarchs are forged in battle," Ben agrees. "They understand what is at stake. They do not take life so lightly." He waits for her to start eating before following suit, ever the gentleman. "Were you and Jysella able to catch up?"
Rey shakes her head. "She wasn't there. There was a conclave on Zonama Sekot happening at the same time. But the Jedi did send Cilghal to represent them. We'll be seeing everyone later, though."
Ben makes a face. "Don't remind me."
"Well, I spoke with your mother on Artorias and she made me promise to drag you to lunch— kicking and screaming if necessary." Rey nudges his foot with hers under the table. "Did you use up all your extrovert points on Venestria, or something?"
"Or something," Ben grunts. They'd spent the entirety of last week in the Clacis sector, helping with the postwar rehabilitation effort.
Rey takes another sip of tea, grateful for the warmth that seeps into her bones. Mornings here on Endor are always cool, what with the house's proximity to the tightly-knit pine and redwood forests clustered at the base of the snow-capped mountain range that the Ewoks call the Dragon's Spine. They're an hour's speederbike ride away from Bright Tree Village, where they trade for meat with the vegetables from Rey's garden. The Ewoks are cordial; they felt the First Order's sting, but their fondness for Leia Organa runs deep.
That's who Kaye reminds Rey of. Leia. A few days before the coronation, Rey watched on the HoloNet as Kaye stepped out onto the palace balcony to announce that Caled Galfridian had journeyed to the halls of his fathers. Her complexion had been wan and, yet, her blue eyes remained dry as she put on a show of strength for her people, flags all around the courtyard lowering to half-mast while the cry went up— The King is dead. Long live the Queen.
At the official ceremony itself, Rey had watched the Artorian crown being placed on Kaye's shining mass of gold hair, and she had remembered the princess in the marketplace who looked so much like her older brother, and the Resistance soldier who had sent Raynar Thul off to his last battle with a salute. To have lost so much, to bear it all with such grace— it is the same steel that is ever-present in Rey's mother-in-law.
"Credit for your thoughts?" Ben prods, and Rey tells him about the comparisons she has drawn between Kaye and Leia, and how she has realized that the darkness can never hope to triumph in the face of women like them.
"Women like them," Ben echoes, gazing at Rey tenderly in the morning stillness. "Women like you."
Hours later, deep within the Adega system, the Millennium Falcon approaches the gilded atmosphere of Ossus and is gently coaxed by Rey into a smooth dive, with Ben beside her in the co-pilot seat. Layers of gases and ozone fade away and they make planetfall into—
Autumn. The stately kingwood forests are draped in brilliant hues of red and gold, surrounding the Jedi Sanctuary like a sea of fire. The landing pad is unusually crowded but Rey manages to ease between Tionne's Lore Seeker and Katarn's Moldy Crow, leaving Ben to handle the shutdown procedures while she barrels down the Falcon's ramp, towards the slight figure waiting for her at the entrance of the temple.
Underneath a pale sky, amidst foundations of stone swirled through by scarlet leaves, two women bow to each other. One is dressed in somber brown robes, while the other wears a cloak of dove-gray fabric.
"Sword of the Jedi," greets Jysella.
"Master Horn," says Rey.
And then they burst into laughter, all traces of formality vanishing as they tumble into each other's arms.
Jysella leads Rey into the Sanctuary, briefing her on the Zonama Sekot conclave while Ben trails behind them, carrying his and Rey's overnight bags. "Master Luke's address was very interesting. He told us that he's no longer convinced we're meant to police the galaxy. The Jedi began as a meditative order that was little by little drawn away from the Force and into the mundane. He's not advocating total withdrawal but, instead, attuning ourselves to the longer view— reaching out to those who seek to serve the Force in whatever way they are capable of. I think he's been speaking with Tiu, to be honest. He says that the Force flows through all of us differently and that, if we are to survive as an order, we must learn how to work with other viewpoints, incorporating all of these differences into the common goal of balance."
"So what happens now?" Rey asks.
Jysella shrugs. "We're still working it out. But I think it's safe to say that, from here, we'll be moving further away from the old traditions."
She shows the couple to Rey's old habitation unit, where Ben drops their bags. And then they make their way to the dining room. Everyone is there, waiting with smiles and glad cries and hugs. If any tears are shed— well, it's only the happy kind.
"I couldn't possibly eat another bite," Leia declares, pushing away her empty plate.
"Don't see why you couldn't," Han scoffs. "All you had were those tiny sandwich things— wouldn't fill up a rvada."
Leia rolls her eyes. "I had some of the soup, too, and a little veal—"
"Bird food," Han mutters as if he hadn't heard her, glaring at the remaining sandwiches on the serving dish like they've personally offended him. Stars, but he has gotten cranky in his old age. Leia decides to ignore him, turning her thoughts to more pleasant matters.
Nearly everyone's finished eating by now. Across the table, Ben has one arm casually draped over the back of Rey's chair. He and Valin are talking in serious, quiet tones, the latter recounting how his most recent lead on the Ebon Hawk' s whereabouts had ended in a duel with Tahiri Veila in Hutt Space; they had been forced to work together in order to escape the kajidii whose spice den they inadvertently turned upside down.
Rey, meanwhile, is having an animated conversation with Finn and Poe, who have spent the past few years rebuilding infrastructure and communities in the Mid Rim. Leia doesn't miss the way Rey leans into Ben from time to time, and how Ben absentmindedly trails his fingers along the curve of her shoulder whenever she does so. There is a certain lightness to the set of his naturally pensive features that Leia has never seen before. Her son is at peace, and in love. That makes everything worth it— even the deal she had cut with the Galactic Alliance Defense Force to support their initiatives in the Senate. Leia is no fool; she understands that there might be repercussions for allowing a military power so much leeway, but she's not anyone's puppet, either. Besides, the new senators are young, bold, and idealistic— more than a match for Sien Sovv's old guard.
"How's the weather on Endor this time of year, Ben?" Han asks. "If it's not too cold, your mom might like to visit with Chirpa's tribe."
"Kneesaa is the chief now," says Ben. "Chirpa's daughter. But, yes, winter's a long way off. It's a good time to come over."
"Great, we'll plan it," Han says gruffly. "Won't be too crowded at your place?"
Ben shrugs. "We'll make room. Bright Tree isn't far— I'm sure the Ewoks will be glad to see you."
Leia catches Rey's eye and they exchange the patently exasperated grimaces of women used to dealing with stubborn Solo men.
"We'll have to bring Threepio," Chewbacca opines in Shyriiwook.
Luke nods. "They'll never forgive us if we don't bring him."
"The mighty Golden One!" Han and Leia intone, and start sniggering.
Ben leans down to explain the joke to a puzzled Rey. His voice is too low for Leia to hear but his body language speaks volumes. How he hunches over her protectively, how the line of his mouth is not quite smiling but very soft. Rey giggles, and he actually beams— or as close to beaming as Leia's ever seen her son look. As if he is stupidly proud of the fact that he is able to make his wife laugh.
We're okay, Leia thinks, patting Han's thigh in a rare gesture of affection. We're all going to be okay.
It has been a long time since Rey last spent the night at the Jedi Sanctuary. Everything is more or less how she remembers it— the smell of Ecclessis figs drifting in through the open window, the roar of the waterfalls. What's different is that Ben is in bed with her, warm and solid and real instead of just a distant dream. The lights are off and they are in their sleep clothes; he's lying on top of her with his head turned to the side, cheek pillowed between her breasts as she drowsily strokes his hair. Their conversation is soft, muted, punctuated by yawns, and, right when she thinks they'll fall asleep like this, there's a commotion from the adjacent room, followed by the sound of scurrying footsteps and a tentative knock at their door.
The Force tells them that there's no cause for alarm, but Ben looks annoyed in the faint starlight as he untangles himself from Rey's arms. She sits up in bed, squinting as he activates the glow-panels and opens the door to reveal three younglings huddled out in the hallway.
"Master Solo, there's a ghost in our room," whispers Lyric, the yellow-eyed Melodie from the purple mountains of Yavin 8.
"It's not a ghost," argues Chitter, scrawny and birdlike and blue-skinned, "it's the pulse of an electromagnetic field causing unusual activity patterns in the brain's temporal lobe."
"Well, why didn't you and your temporal lobe stay behind, then, if it's that simple?" snaps redheaded Vekki.
All three of them had been sent to the Jedi by their respective families and clans once they started showing signs of Force-sensitivity, and they are still adjusting to their new environment, so far from their homeworlds. It should then have come as no surprise to Rey that Ben would be remarkably patient with them, all signs of annoyance vanishing, but she can't help blinking at the sight of her dour, moody husband shepherding three kids who barely come up to his knees back to their room.
However, when she catches up to them, Ben mutters to her in an aside, "One. We're only having one."
Rey smirks. "We'll see."
After Ben proves to the initiates that the sound they'd heard had only been the creak of the building's ancient pipes, they're quick to settle down but, unfortunately, refuse to fall asleep right away, entranced by the novelty of these two people who they have to call Master but aren't Jedi Masters. Before long, Lyric has somehow conned Rey into telling her the story of the monster who had chased her and Ben through the jungles of Yavin 4, while Chitter and Vekki ply Ben with questions about battlefields he's fought on and enemies that he's faced. They're on opposite sides of the room but Rey hears Chitter express his astonishment that Ben had made it out in one piece, save for the scar on his face.
"Somebody loved me." At the sound of Ben's solemn voice, Rey glances over at him to find that he's already looking at her, his dark eyes so achingly gentle. "That is how I survived the war."
Because dawn is slow to break in the autumn months, it is still dark when Luke Skywalker wakes at his usual time, shadows clinging to his footsteps as he pads through the stone halls. These days, he likes to watch the twin suns emerge from a wrought iron settee on the balcony of the second level, the one overlooking the waterfalls. Artoo trundles creakily at his side, beeping once in a while. "Yes," Luke soothes in response to a particularly shrill burble as they round the corner, "I will counsel the initiates to stop using you for levitation practice. You're an old droid now, they should handle you with care..."
Approaching the settee from the eastern side of the long balcony, Luke stops in his tracks upon realizing that Ben and Rey have beaten him to his favorite spot. Faint skeins of pink streak the sky and, in the lightening shadows, he can just make out their figures dressed in gray. Rey is sitting on Ben's lap, murmuring in his ear while he has one arm sprawled over the backrest of the settee, the other one curved around her waist.
Despite Luke's chagrin at having stumbled upon them in such a private moment, he can't help smiling wistfully at the scene. He sees them as they were on Yavin 4, Ben missing a crucial step during sparring when Rey walked out onto the courtyard, Rey valiantly pleading with Ben to smile for the holocamera. "Come on, show me your sometimes-I'm-not-an-asshole face—" —"What'll you give me in return?"— "Ben!" Luke doesn't know whether to laugh or cringe at the memory, but he is certain now that he and the other Jedi had been wrong to warn against such a love. They had focused too much on the burgeoning darkness in Ben Solo, afraid that passion would exacerbate it. This regret had been on his mind when he'd addressed the convocation on Zonama Sekot. "The Force does not flow from us, but through us. And, thus, it flows in different ways. Sometimes the light comes in from another angle."
Rey scrambles out of Ben's lap and walks over to Luke upon noticing his presence. Luke projects a thought to his nephew that he doesn't have to get up— I know you've already used all your extrovert points for this month.
Who the hell started that joke? Ben grumps.
Your wife, Luke wryly replies.
He waits until Rey has reached him to tell her, "It really is very good to see you."
"And to confirm for yourself that Ben and I have not fallen to the Dark Side?" she teases gently but with a hint of steel beneath it.
Luke raises one hand in surrender. "You were always one of my smartest students."
Rey smiles. A smile that tells him all has been forgiven. "We're fine, I promise. And I do appreciate you checking in, even if I give you grief for it."
Luke turns grave for a moment. "I have heard rumors from the Lothalians that the Bendu manifested to you on Atollon."
She exhales. "Yes. Last year. Ben and I responded to a distress call that we picked up on the Falcon. We flushed out a Silan that had been terrorizing one of the villages. After we killed it, the Bendu showed himself to us."
"What did he say?"
Rey's brow creases as she plucks the words from her memories. "That he is... the one in the middle. That Ben and I have found a path few can walk, but he will help us walk it until the end. Honestly, I don't know if we should trust him."
"It is wise to be wary of such elementals," says Luke. "The Bendu is an ancient being that has not been seen since the days of the Empire. His involvement with the Rebellion is shrouded in mystery; we only have Kanan Jarrus' account of that. However, according to ancient lore that Tionne has dug up, the Bendu holds dominion over that place between the Light and the Dark. He is its guardian. And it sounds to me that he has given you his blessing. You and Ben have some talking to do, to figure out where to go from here. But that can wait, I think." He offers her a small bow before turning to walk away and find another spot to meditate in, motioning for Artoo to follow him. "The view from up here is beautiful," he tells Rey over his shoulder. "Go and enjoy it with your husband."
By the time Rey returns to Ben on the settee, the twin suns of Adega Besh and Adega Prime have risen in crescents over the horizon, tinting the cascading waterfalls with a diamond glow. She tucks herself into his side and he wraps his arm around her once more, the two of them watching as daylight gradually spins the lush forests spread out below them into a carpet of crimson and gold.
I dreamed this, Rey thinks, or something like this, at least. This is the future I was told I could still have. The future I fought for.
"Hey." She pokes Ben's arm and tips her face up to his in an unspoken command.
"Always so bossy," he grumbles, but he is smiling when he leans down and kisses her, soft and sweet, in that place of stone and water, beneath a burning sunrise.