His earliest memory is of soft linen against his face as he’s strapped to his mother’s chest in a wrap carrier. Things have no distinct shapes yet, nor do they have names. He’s being surrounded by an enormous space humming with the thoughts of others. There’s light. It’s not emitted by the sun. The objects and the people are all illuminated by the Force radiating from his mother, and Ben reflects it back.
So this is how it started, with this symbiotic photosynthesis. He was feeding off his mother’s Force, and Leia Organa was anything but nourishing. Something had happened in the womb to her - Luke devouring more than his share -
Forget it. It doesn’t matter.
His most important memory is this: he’s toddling off somewhere, fluffy hair caught in the wind. Dad is there with Chewie, and then he’s not, the crowd swallows him up. A momentary slip of Han’s attention and Ben is all alone with the thousand colors of the festival, eyes wet and lips trembling. He's certain his family is gone forever. There’re strangers everywhere, and no one pays him any mind. Did he turn invisible? He must’ve. He’s turned invisible and his father is never coming back.
A man takes shape, blue and dim and flickering. Ben believes he’s a holo, he has the same empty mind as all the projections. The man crouches down to him.
“Ben!” Dad is yelling. “Beeen! He was right here just a second ago-”
Ben turns around. Dad’s voice could come from under the earth for all that it’s worth. He can’t see him, which means he’s not here.
The projection touches his shoulder. His hand is weightless and heatless. He’s talking to him, but he can’t make out the words. As the projection talks, the Force dawns. Ben just needs to follow the lights, to find the familiar, dull glow of his father, his guiding star forever.
Dad keeps shouting, Chewie roaring along, but the sounds only confuse him. He closes his eyes, and it’s all so overwhelming; he’s connected to all beings, even the wise stones underneath his feet and the sky and the chatty leaves on the trees, he can feel every single one of them as if they were part of him. He’s drifting away, he can’t find dad, he just gets bigger and bigger, maybe as big as the whole world.
The projection touches his forehead. Now he can see properly. Shadows build and create contrast. Everything sharpens. This world reminds him of reality, but it’s more focused, and Ben is all alone in the middle of it with the projection, who seems alarmed as the shadows deepen and deepen and deepen.
Then it’s all pitch black.
Ben raises his finger, and points forward.
There. There’s dad. He’s every light left.
Dad lifts him up and squeezes him to his chest, ruffling up his hair.
The projection is still crouched on the pavement. He seems so mad at himself. Ben can’t understand this, and neither will Ren.
From then on, his despair always summoned the ghost of his grandfather. He kept him a secret, like he was an imaginary friend, and tried to forget about him the same way, to shoo him away. But grandfather always came back. He didn’t speak. But there was another voice Ben started hearing.
Ren likes to flatter himself with the idea that his first master was Darth Vader, that he was introduced to the Force by his grandfather, but truth is, after what happened at the festival, grandfather never shared his power with him again. They would just sit together in companionable silence. Ben only needed his presence in the long days of solitude which was his childhood.
Time was slower, back then.
Every time grandfather came, the other voice fell silent. So after a while, Ben wanted him to come often.
At least, his parents were easy to handle.
His mother: rules and stern love. Ben was disciplined and kind when he was with her, adorable and soft-spoken.
His father: loud and wild. He needed to be his partner in crime, to tell tall tales and weave dreams with him. Dad was counting the days till Ben would be old enough to be taught how to fly and how to shoot and how to survive, old enough to put the galaxy in his pockets.
Mum loved the version of Ben he showed his father better. Dad was proud of mum’s son. So when they were both there, things got complicated. They wanted six different Bens, all of them nonexistent, and Ben tried his best to make them all possible, tearing himself limb from limb with the effort.
The Ben grandfather got to know was like a droid, powered off. He would sit in his room, hugging his knees. Plotting. Wanting. He knew there was a Ben somewhere, forgotten, lost in the process of proving himself. He was patching him up, reconstructing a true self to take over the prototype his parents created. He’d be like a real human being; and he’d be enough.
He was still a child when he met Luke Skywalker. He was terrified of him. There was a raging calmness about the man, like a holo of a paused sea, the movement of waves captured and frozen. Luke was never-changing in the flux of the Force, his mind a fix point, his eyes unbearably blue and peaceful.
And Ben had to live with him.
His first night without his parents he couldn’t sleep. He left the pile of sleeping padawans behind, huddled around a fire, and tiptoed out of the cave, searching for Luke.
“I can’t sleep.”
Dad would tell him a bedtime story, would tell it with his hands, making funny voices and weird faces. Mum would bring him tea, and sing a lost lullaby from Alderaan. Grandfather would stand guard, scaring off the nightmares.
“You need to learn how to silence your mind.”
Next day he finished earlier than the others, and went to Luke, get hold of his flesh hand as they stood there, observing the padawans practicing. Luke smiled at him, gently, and pulled back. They were family, but Luke wouldn’t let him sit next to him at the meals or hug him during the scary thunderstorms.
Your uncle can’t make exceptions, mum wrote to him, but you must know that he loves you very, very, very much, and so does your father and I-
Ben was swallowing down anger.
Mum would say: please, behave, honey.
Dad would say: hey champ, take it easy.
Luke would say that anger leads to the Dark Side.
So he kept it hidden under his tongue, kept his screams behind his teeth and his sorrow in his throat.
Ren would only feel free when he was throwing a fit or weeping - finally, finally.
One night, grandfather was sitting with Luke under the stars. Ben wasn’t supposed to see them. It must’ve been the thousandth night he couldn’t sleep, and he got into the habit of walking around in the velvet darkness. Luke was just outside the cave, and the ghost of grandfather was with him.
“I’m not sure, I… maybe it’s possible. I hope. He’s bad news, though. I want him to get out of him, but you know, what will I do once he’s out there?”
Grandfather replied, and Ben still couldn’t understand what he said. So many years, and he still couldn’t make out the words. Maybe he should’ve listened to the rustle in the darkness. Maybe Luke did just that.
It’s a peaceful memory. Years later, its colors are drained by jealous confusion - a Sith Lord putting his hand on a Jedi's shoulder, the dead comforting the one who let him die.
It was raining when the Knights of Ren and him-
Grandfather was there. What was his face like? He couldn’t tell. He couldn’t make it out from the distance.
Ren was serving justice. Grandfather’s work was unfinished, and his tale untold for far too long.
“How often do you speak with your grandfather?” Snoke asked him, and Ren said:
“He’s always with me.”
Grandfather was following him around like a shadow since he’d given himself over to the Dark Side. Ren could no longer read his expressions; he didn’t have a human form anymore, but his presence surrounded Ren like an energy shield.
“I’m strong enough now,” he’d tell the helmet. “Talk to me. Please. I could hear you now. I used to be weak and deaf, and you talked to me then. Now is not the time to save your breath.”
Ren turns around, and taking in his surroundings, he lifts his hand and points at his destiny. There. He must be on the right track, if it’ the same road his grandfather walks.
Grandfather is in the snow. He has a face again. It's disappointed.
Because I’ve failed , Ren tells himself.
Grandfather is still with him.
Despite my failure.
Any alternative explanation would be unbearable.
The snow is too white, and his blood is a sharp red. It’s all about the contrast. The planet crumbles underneath him. He stays in place. Is this where the path led? But he was chosen. He discovered the truth with the help of Snoke, and darkness completed him, finally. He became one with it. And the darkness got bigger and bigger and bigger. Maybe as big as the whole world.
He’s in there.
He’s there with his grandfather. He’s there with the dead.
He closes his eyes, and all he can hear is Han Solo yelling.
“Ben! Beeen! He was right here just a second ago-”