Chapter 1: Part The First
“What the hell is happening here?” Ben Solo stood beside her, looking down at the wreck of himself in the street. He seemed surprised and annoyed by his imminent death; that was hardly shocking, most people were. You learned that fast, if you were a psychopomp; something Rey had discovered at the ripe old age of 14. It wasn’t usually as bad as it sounded, singing the joys of peace and knowledge and an afterlife in good company with those who’d gone before, to ease the passage of a soul to the next world; but the fact was that most people just didn’t want to go.
This was the first time, though, that it was Rey herself whose throat tightened with impending tears of frustration and denial. Not him. Anybody but him. She should answer. If she couldn’t speak, how could she sing him to his rest? But he spoke first. “Not the death; I’m dying, right? That makes sense. I knew I was in for it when that damn kid ran out into traffic.” He waved at a horrified-looking tween holding a skateboard. He shot the child an exasperated look. “You’re welcome,” he said, then turned to her.
His eyes were puzzled; those gorgeous dark-amber eyes she’d noticed on her first day in Religion 305. She’d signed up for the class more as a private joke with herself than anything else; “Alternative Theories of Mythological Monsters”, I mean, the delicious irony. But the theories floated in the class had turned out to be shockingly close to the truth; and their TA’s pet theory, that sirens were really guides and guardians of the dying, was as exhilarating and disturbing as he was, not to mention completely accurate.
He was still talking. “I mean, what are *you* doing here? I know who you are; you’re in Religion 305. I know your papers, they’re brilliant; and you, you always go to karaoke night on Fridays at the cantina--wait, that’s tonight, I was on my way there--but you never, ever sing, and you always wear your hair up in those buns, you know,” he gestured vaguely at his own long, dark hair, “and I wondered what it’d look like down, and oh hell, I’m babbling, is this a death thing?”
“But...” he looked down at his body again, “why are you here, right now, at the end? Is it because you’re what I left unfinished? Because I have to tell you, as a dying hallucination, it’s a little mean. I’ve done a lot of things I regret; but not talking to you and telling you how I feel is one of the biggest things I’m sorry about. This…”, he waved at the paramedics trying to put in a chest tube, “would be okay, really, if it weren’t for that.”
Tears began to run down Rey’s face, which should have choked up her voice entirely, but somehow freed her to speak. “You were right. About everything. But especially about sirens; they *are* the ones who help the dead cross over, and we,” she interrupted herself with a sob, “still exist.” His eyes widened. In her head she could hear ”“Stay with me/You're all I see.../Did I say that I need you?/Did I say that I want you?/Oh, if I didn't I'm a fool you see/No one knows this more than me…” Damn Pearl Jam. She never had. Rey felt the tugging, at her belly, at her throat, her mouth, her *soul*; she had a job to do and not much time to do it.
“That’s why I’m here. For you. I’m here for you, Ben Solo. I’d have been here for you in life, if I’d known, but I never found the courage to ask. And this...you’d’ve never believed me. But I’m here for you now, to sing your path; so you don’t have to be alone.” But she would be. Back to being alone, like she’d been all her life, without family to show her what she was, to tell her she wasn’t going insane when it had started; with a song echoing in her head that she couldn’t sing and it would be too late for anything.
The knowledge of the responsibilities of a psychopomp, along with the history of sirens, had dropped fully-formed into her mind when she’d seen her first dead body. ALL of it. Demeter’s rage at the abduction of her daughter had been frost and savaging wind and the cold death of green, growing things. Rey had seen the mission-curse the goddess had given her daughter’s attendants, to find Persephone and bring her back at any cost; and the discovery, when they’d found her, that she wanted to stay.
She hadn’t had to do this often; it seemed she was mostly needed when things were unfinished, or when the dying were having trouble understanding what had happened to them. There’d been a kid, once; THAT had been hard, but it had been clear that she would only spare him unending hurt. She’d swallowed her own pain and done her job.
The job had been given to other women, other sirens, a VERY long time ago. Persephone had fallen in love with Death; she’d said yes to him, all on her own, during her mother’s frantic search; and she’d called her attendants back to her side, that they and their children and their children’s children for all time should serve, their songs softening and gentling the stark reality of life’s ending. Their job, *Rey’s* job as their descendant, was to show the dying that death was peaceful, and kind; the end of pain. And just now, Rey felt, it was a load of horseshit.
Death meant the end of *him*; of the way his eyes lit up when they really got into a discussion in class, of the way his hands cupped the mug of coffee that he always brought with him before he inevitably set it down on a stack of papers on his desk and forgot it entirely. It meant the end of the way snow glittered in his dark hair and settled on the long scarf he liked to wear before melting in the cantina’s heat as he sat down to watch the goings-on. And that was NOT okay, it was not peaceful, it was not natural, and Rey was NOT HAVING IT. The consequences of failure to perform her duties were clear. That knowledge had been given to her too, seven years ago; a siren who would not sing the way clear would face death herself.
So be it. He was right; she never sang at karaoke night, because her songs meant death and she was afraid to see what would happen if she sang in her regular life, with her friends, for fun, for joy. She’d come to the college to study cello and composition; as close as she could get to the sound of the human voice without singing, and she loved it. But singing was what she was born to do, she knew; doomed, even. And this time she would sing her own song. She spared a thought for her body, back at her apartment; they’d put it down to the seizure disorder listed on her medical bracelet; absence seizures were really the only way she’d been able to explain what happened when she was called to a death, and it wasn’t entirely inaccurate, really.
Rey drew in a deep breath, the energy flowing from the soles of her feet, gathering force as she gave it strength in her core, her lungs expanding, her heart filling; and she sang LIFE. She sang a future here on earth, she sang Ben and all the things that made him himself; those eyes, that smile, the way he settled his glasses on his nose when he was really enthusiastic about a point he was about to make; that tall, strong body she hadn’t been able to help noticing, especially when she’d spotted him in the campus gym. She sang her loss that they’d never get the chance to see where this could lead. Rey sang her sorrow, her defiance, and her joy that he would remain.
Dying was weird. Ben still wasn’t entirely sure whether he was hallucinating; that car had really done a number on him, though, the paramedics looked worried. And the kid was crying, damn; it wasn’t really his fault, he was just young and dumb; Ben had been too, once. And Rey...but this was definitely Rey. Wasn’t it?
How could he know? He could have hallucinated her with this kind of vivid detail easily enough, she was in his mind’s eye down to the last freckle and the color of her hair in winter sunlight. She was wearing a necklace of daisies. Awfully egotistical of him, though, to confirm his own favorite folklore theory in a dying vision. And equally masochistic, to spend his last thoughts torturing himself with what could have been. He was apparently just really a piece of work.
But then she opened her mouth and started to sing. NO. This was real. He had no idea what her singing voice sounded like. Rey NEVER sang; not along with the radio, or Professor Holdo's old record player when it was on before class and she showed up early while he was grading papers, not at karaoke night, not when her friends talked about which artists they liked, boogieing and singing their favorite parts. So how could he have imagined *this*? The sound that poured from her throat was pure, perfect and clear. Ben could easily imagine sailors dashing themselves on rocks just to get the slightest bit closer to this.
Homer had been wrong. Well, not wrong, exactly; the Sirens *had* been singing, and their song *was* as tempting as the poet said; but not for the reason most people thought. Ben had always thought they were singing the deaths of the men about to be lost, between Scylla and Charybdis; maybe all the others Odysseus would lose along the way. And the reason it had been so tempting is that Odysseus wanted to KNOW.
Knowledge of the future was tempting and dangerous; so was knowledge of what came after death. And if the sirens were truly psychopomps, escorts of the dead, as Ben had always thought they were? Imagine how tempting the promise of peace must be. Small wonder Odysseus had tried so desperately to slip his bonds and throw himself into the sea; that was a man who wanted to know everything, and craved the peace of home.
And...there was another factor Ben had discarded when he’d begun researching his theory. The idea that sirens were some sort of beautiful, seductive mermaid was the popular depiction, he knew; but he’d come to believe that it was wrong. He was regretting that hubris now. His theory had been completely correct; but that wasn’t the whole story. Rey had started to shine as she sang; as though sunlight was spilling from her skin as that sound , that beautiful, incandescent melody, cascaded from her lips. Pop culture was more right than he’d thought; Ben would cheerfully have cast himself into a stormy ocean to get one step closer to this radiant woman. To know her and to drown, right now, sounded like paradise.
He hadn’t even managed to get a sense of the words she was singing; were there words? There were, and there weren’t. He thought the song was just notes-- “just”, as though those alone weren’t enough to make his heart soar. But he could *see* what she was singing. He saw himself, arguing a point in class, getting embarrassingly overwrought about it like he so frequently did; gesticulating, cheeks and ears flushed. He saw himself, sitting at karaoke night, not truly a part of the group, but soaking up the sound and feeling of friendship; why hadn’t he *said* something? To anyone, anything, “Hello”, for cripes sake, he was an educated person, surely he could have managed “Hello”.
He saw himself, practicing calligraphy as a child, painstakingly copying out James Russell Lowell’s The Sirens. He’d been a weird kid. “And all sweet sounds of earth and air/Melt into one low voice alone,/That murmurs over the weary sea,/And seems to sing from everywhere,— Here mayst thou harbor peacefully…” And he thought, maybe, she was seeing it too, singing those images, somehow singing him. That’s what she’d said. That she would sing his path, sing him to his death.
The images he saw began to change, they mingled with something else. He saw a little girl with eyes like winter woods, singing the fading of blossoms in frost. He saw her alone, huddled on a narrow bed, cheeks pinched with hunger. He saw her, older now, mourning summer’s butterflies, gone too soon, with tears and melody; saw her study, still alone, at a library table, clothes ragged, face determined. He saw her hold the hand of a child as they both looked down at relatives gathered around a hospital bed.
The song was still changing; it was sad, now, still sad, but no longer peaceful. It was ANGRY. And he saw the two of them, talking and sharing their thoughts under the auspices of classroom debate; both flushed and bright-eyed and, he could see now, just lost in each other. How had they missed it? How had they missed each other?
Her song went further, though, to things that had never been; he supposed now they never would be, he was on his way to whatever was next. The two of them, standing in a snowfall, warm and oblivious, seeing only each other’s eyes. Ben saw stolen kisses, standing outside the lecture hall in the rain; he saw himself scoop her up and run across campus, his feet scuffling in fallen leaves as she laughed in a delighted pretense of outrage. There was more; so much more, a lifetime of what might have become, and Rey sang it all, tears streaming down her face, fists clenched with what he now knew was fury.
But why…? This wasn’t making it any easier. Wasn’t her song meant to bring peace, to help him adjust to the idea of what came after? A tear slid down his own cheek. This was making everything so much harder , why…? The answer became clear as Rey started to fade . The warm glow surrounding her began to lessen. Her shoulders slumped under the strain as she kept up the constant outpouring of song; her face was increasingly etched with weariness. Her voice never faltered, not once; but she staggered, as though carrying a heavy burden.
Rey brought her song to its natural, triumphant conclusion. The last note was high, and fierce, almost a scream. She stood, panting; and the summery aura around her, dimmer and dimmer as the song reached its conclusion, winked out as though it had never been. She was pale as porcelain, her freckles highlighted against her colorless skin, and she swayed where she stood.
Ben tried to go to her, before he was gone, to say...something that would tell her how he felt, in the little time they had. There was a strangely satisfied smile playing about her mouth, though she was still crying. As he started to move...she crumpled, her eyes still fastened on his as they closed, and she was translucent, transparent; and then she was gone.
She was gone; and he..wasn’t. In his head he could still hear music, was there a radio playing somewhere? “You Are My Sunshine”, that slow, sad version somebody had done, the Civil Wars, what did that matter, love missing and sunshine vanished, where had she gone? There was a pull somewhere in his gut, as though someone had set a hook and was reeling him in on a line; Ben started to stumble backward, back out into the street, toward his body, no, WAIT, but what about Rey, where had she gone? No, this wasn’t right; he was supposed to die, she was supposed to stay.
Falling, he was back in his body, inside himself, there on the pavement; he could hear the paramedics talking, something about “hemothorax” and “I’m in, it’s working” and “...stop the compressions, I’ve got a pulse, he’s back!”. And everything hurt , he hadn’t felt it before, but holy hell, he could now; and the lights were too bright, they hurt his eyes as they opened, just a little, blue and red and the white lights like spears, but no gold, shouldn’t there be something warm and gold, and he coughed, and he could taste pennies, and his eyes closed again before he could say her name and the lights were gone.
Rey wasn’t answering the door, or any of his texts. It was karaoke night; she never missed it, even though she said she was too shy and wouldn’t sing. Finn was worried; they all were, really, Poe and Kaydel stood watching, hands in each other’s back pockets. They didn’t look happy either. But he’d actually seen her have one of her seizures, when they were teenagers and lived in the same foster home. He’d sent one of the other kids for help, and held her head on his lap, and called her name. They hadn’t been together for long; he’d lit out of that place as soon as he could and ended up...well, he didn’t like to think about that. She didn’t have seizures often, but he remembered that one being pretty scary.
So Finn knocked, and paced, and knocked again, and called her. Kaydel had been on the phone with her not half an hour ago when they made plans to pick her up at her apartment (Rey couldn’t drive, she wasn’t allowed). “Guys, I don’t know, should we call somebody? Security? This apartment has security people, right? Why doesn’t she live on campus, where she’d have other people around? Or at least have a roommate? What should we…” There was a click. Finn stopped talking to look behind him at the door, which Rose was opening. He looked a question at her, she stopped with her hand on the keycard mechanism.
“What? I was worried too.” She shrugged. “And you were upset and I didn’t like it. C’mon.” Finn shook his head. Rose was amazing. She could take anything apart and put it back together. She was double majoring in mechanical engineering and electronics technology, so brilliant; she was beautiful too, just took his breath away, and he still had no idea what she saw in him. That thought fell by the wayside when they spotted Rey lying on the living room floor. Finn and Rose both yelled her name and started toward her, but Kaydel put a hand on each of their shoulders.
“Guys. Let me, remember?” Right. Kaydel was pre-med and already a certified EMT. She knelt down beside Rey. She laid two fingers on her neck and shook her head, lips compressed, then pulled Rey’s shirt open and started CPR. Oh shit. CPR. That meant she wasn’t breathing, right? Not breathing was bad. People needed to breathe. Rose slid her arms around him as they stood helpless watching Kaydel work. Finn wasn’t having the easiest time breathing himself. Rose was crying. He should do something; he was going to be a counselor, a social worker, shouldn’t he know what to say? But it was REY and she was alabaster white and she wasn’t moving and there were little flecks of foam around her mouth and he had no words. And where was Poe?
“Yes. 21 year old female, found unresponsive in her apartment; history of seizure disorder,” he looked at Finn for confirmation and continued as Finn nodded, “certified EMT already on scene performing compressions, possible head injury as well, we need an ambulance at…” and Poe was rattling off the address with perfect calm, and he was right, there was blood on the floor near her head, Finn hadn’t noticed that, but he was glad somebody had remembered to call 911, and Poe and Kaydel made a good team, just like they would on their medevac flights someday.
Rose was sobbing now; okay, he could help. Finn led her over to the couch, sat her down, and held her hands in his own. “Hey, it’s gonna be okay, look, Kaydel’s taking good care of her, the ambulance is on its way. And you were amazing to get us inside like that, I didn’t know what to do, but you did. And we’ll go to the hospital and we’ll wait, okay, all of us together, there with her. Rey’s tough, I know.” He cupped her cheek, then put his arms around her. “Do you want some water, baby?” She shook her head. “Okay. Come with me; we’ll go outside and show the paramedics where to go, okay?”
Poe had taken over from Kaydel on the CPR while she did...Finn didn’t know what; wait, was Poe humming the Imperial March in time with his hands? Why on earth...and they weren’t going to be any help with that part, so they went outside into the grey winter day and shivered, not entirely from the cold; but it was a little less cold if they held onto each other. And when the sirens and the lights came he told them Rey’s name, and her age, and as much of her history as he could remember, including the one seizure he’d seen, way back when, but maybe yesterday, it felt like yesterday right now.
Finn told them when she’d last talked to them on the phone, and they loaded Rey onto a stretcher and into the back of the ambulance; there was her necklace, on the floor where she’d been. He picked it up and put it in his pocket. Kaydel was crying, too, now that there was nothing more for them to do, and Poe was shaking like a leaf, and Finn thanked them and told them what a great job they’d done. He hugged them, each of them, one-armed, and told them that they were both heroes and amazing friends for Rey, and all the while he never let go of Rose’s hand. Finn knew Poe and Kaydel were both really good under pressure, they had to be; but it was different when they were YOURS, and Rey was theirs, all of theirs, even if she didn’t think she was anyone’s, and it was still karaoke night, but none of them would be going, he knew, and it was snowing.
She hated the hospital tonight. That was stupid. This was her own hospital, one of them, anyway, the one where most of her patients went in the ambulance; it was the hospital where she hoped to start when she was finally a doctor; but tonight, Kaydel hated it. She’d never been here for someone she cared about, and that made all the difference.
It was worse, in a way, because she knew the staff here. And yeah, that meant that she might be able to go places and do things that someone else might not; but it also meant that she knew their expressions. It meant she knew which doctors were working on Rey, and as they came and went, it meant she knew something was wrong. Most people wouldn’t have known. She didn’t know enough to give Finn, Rose, or Poe any concrete or useful information; but she could tell it wasn’t good.
They were all in the waiting room; they’d been there for ages, but none of them were leaving until they got some news. The admissions folks had already been out to ask whether any of them knew Rey’s insurance information or a relative to call. Finn had explained, and patiently repeated, that she didn’t have any insurance as far as he knew, and that she had no one. Well, that wasn’t how he’d put it.
He’d said she didn’t have any blood family, but she had them. He’d said someone should know what was happening, should be able to take care of her; and she had them. Then he’d said they could put him down as family, he’d been her foster brother, did that count; it was a legal relationship, wasn’t it? He’d been articulate, and calm, and persuasive. It wasn’t until they’d said no to that, in the kindest possible way, that he’d broken down; after they left again.
Rose had held him, and comforted him, and then she’d told them she was going to get them a few things, like toothbrushes and more comfortable clothes, so they could change in the bathrooms if they needed to do that, and she’d sat Finn over by Kaydel and Poe. Poe, bless him, had volunteered to go so Rose could stay with Finn, but Rose said it was her car, and she’d be back soon; and Kaydel had seen something steely in her eyes that told her there was more to this than Rose was saying, so she’d nodded and taken Finn to go get some crappy hospital coffee.
And there had been nothing to it but to wait. Finn was doing his best to keep it together, and he kept asking whether Kaydel needed anything; she didn’t, she knew how to wait and she knew nothing she did would make any difference at the moment. But it made him feel better to help, so she sent him for more awful coffee and vending machine snacks, and she asked him to quiz her for the bio test (it wasn’t for days, but she always had her backpack with her, even on karaoke night, and it gave him something to do).
Poe seemed okay; he’d put in his earbuds and turned on some music, his usual method of steadying himself. Probably no one other than Kaydel would have noticed the tightness of his shoulders and the occasional twitching of his fingers where they held his phone; and he was humming, out loud, here and there, before he’d catch himself and stop. Kaydel knew if he didn’t realize he was doing that, it meant he was badly rattled. She took his free hand, lacing her fingers through his, while Finn concentrated on the flashcards like they were the most important thing in the world.
Everything changed when Rose came back. She had a couple of backpacks slung over her shoulder; but more importantly, she had a laptop under her arm. And it wasn’t hers. Kaydel had spent enough time sitting next to both of them in Religion 305, watching Rey watch their super cute TA, to know that the laptop with the feather and music note and daisy stickers on it belonged to Rey. She sent a sidelong look Rose’s way, and got a shit-eating grin in return. “Finn,” Rose said, “come with me. I’ve got something for you.” She led him over to a table and opened the laptop, which she seemed to have no trouble whatsoever in accessing despite the password.
“She did WHAT?! ” Kaydel and Poe both winced at the volume of Finn’s voice, which drew a “Shhhhh!” from a couple of nurses and other people waiting; then they just gaped at him as he put his hands on the back of Rose’s neck, in her hair, and laid a kiss on her that had those same people clapping. Rose came back to give a backpack to each of them, with toiletries and extra clothes, as good as her word and grinning from ear to ear.
They were about to ask her what in the world that was about when they heard Finn from the central desk, clear as day: “I’ve got power of attorney for Rey Johnson: does that work?” The nurse at the desk, who’d been casting sympathetic looks at him all night while he tried to explain, responded with “Oh, honey, it most certainly does. Let me help you with that.” She handed Finn a stack of forms and started entering information at her computer.
Both Kaydel and Poe stared at Rose, flabbergasted. She shrugged. “Campus legal resources, they asked her this stuff when we were freshmen, because of the seizures; but Rey didn’t have anybody to list, she said. She told me, after Finn and I started dating, that he was really the closest thing to family she’d ever had. So I went digging, to see if she meant that; turns out she did.” Rose was smiling, but her eyes were wet.
Finn was off to talk with the doctors in no time; and the three of them went back to waiting. Kaydel gave Poe her phone to use, his had run out of battery a while back. She was half-asleep, and Rose was out like a light, when Poe sat bolt upright and took out his earbuds. “Kaydel, honey, look, you got an email from Professor Holdo. She said there’s been an accident.” She was confused. No one had gone to tell the college what had happened yet, how could Professor Holdo know about Rey? She took the phone, squinting at the bright white screen.
It wasn’t about Rey. The email was short and to the point. It informed the students in Religion 305 that their teaching assistant, Benjamin Solo, had been injured in a traffic accident. There was some information about how classes would work and how papers would get graded, and there was no class Monday ( thank goodness , Kaydel thought, no, wait, not for the accident, but I don’t think any of us were going to make it to class Monday regardless ). But what caught her eye was the information at the bottom on where they could send flowers or a card, should they wish to do so.
Their TA was right here, in the same hospital they were sitting in right now. But nobody seemed to be here waiting for him; no friends or family, nobody had said his name. Kaydel just looked at Poe. She didn’t have to say a word. He nodded. “Yeah, I know, you’re done waiting.” She was; just all of a sudden, it felt like she’d just explode if she couldn’t do something, find out something, anything at all. He smiled at her; it made the most beautiful lines at the corners of his eyes and lit up his whole face. The day somebody made them sing a duet at karaoke, she didn’t even remember who, had been the luckiest day of her life. “Finn’s got Rey, I’ll stay here with Rose, you go find out what’s going on with Mr. Solo. Ben. Whatever.”
Kaydel took a look in the backpack Rose had brought; oh, hell yes, there it was; Rose, thoughtful, resourceful Rose, had brought her a pair of the scrubs she tended to wear when she was sitting around their dorm, AND one of her EMT uniforms. She could have kissed Rose for thinking of that. Kaydel grinned to herself; Finn seemed to have done that thoroughly enough. A quick change in the bathroom later, face scrubbed and teeth brushed, she’d managed to lurk inconspicuously enough to figure out where they were keeping Mr. Solo.
Holy crap, he looked like death. Kaydel had literally seen dead people who looked better. She’d had a peek at his chart (shhhhhh); given what had happened to him, it was astounding he wasn’t more badly hurt. Broken ribs, blood in his chest, they’d fixed the hemothorax at the scene, though. He had a broken arm, bruises and road-rash EVERYWHERE, of course; and a nasty facial laceration. The doctor had done a fine job stitching up his face, really, given that he’d opened it up from brow to chin and down onto his chest; he’d been lucky to keep his eye.
How he’d managed to avoid a major brain bleed, she had no idea. He probably wouldn’t feel lucky, when he woke up, but he was; he really was...and he was looking at her . Oh, boy. There was a gravelly noise, then he cleared his throat. “Hu...What... Ow . Wait. You. I know you. You’re in class. WHERE IS SHE?!?!” He grabbed her hand with surprising strength for somebody who’d been unconscious thirty seconds ago. “WHERE IS REY?!”
Ben couldn’t remember her name. He knew her name, she was in his class, she went to karaoke nights, she had a fantastic voice and she sang with that guy, the pilot, her boyfriend; but everything was a muddle right now and everything HURT and his face felt very strange, pinched and burning and sore, and none of that mattered. None of it. He could remember everything that had happened after the car hit him with perfect fucking clarity, and none of this mattered at all, he had to know what had happened to REY. Where was she? Was she...NO. She’d better not be, or he was going to personally hunt down every goddamn mythological figure he could get his hands on, somehow, and make them understand EXACTLY what he thought about THAT.
And she, this girl in front of him, what was her name, she looked scared, and there was a tear in the corner of her eye, like he was hurting her, shit, he probably was, so he let go of her wrist, stupid, he shouldn’t hurt people, and he asked it again, the only question that mattered. “Where is Rey?” And the machines were starting to make noises and he tried to sit up and go find her and OW, holy shit, that hurt, but it didn’t matter.
She stopped rubbing her wrist to put a hand on his arm, the one that didn’t have a cast on it, oh, there was a cast. “Mr. Solo, stop, you need to stay still, you need to give yourself a minute, you’ll hurt yourself, and...hey. You’ll bring all the nurses running, and I’m not supposed to be here, really, I just wanted to check on you. Hey, look at me. Breathe.” And she was checking his pulse in a very professional way, oh, right, she was some kind of medical tech, she’d come to class in uniform a couple of times, and she was right, if they came to check on him he wouldn’t get any answers, did she have answers? And he was breathing, mostly, just kind of fast, and OW, breathing hurt too, okay, slow it down, keep it together. She’d come to check on him ? Why?
The machine noises slowed as his breathing did. She nodded at him. “Good, that’s better. Do you know what happened to you?” He nodded back at her. “Okay. I’m Kaydel, you’re right, I’m in your class. You’re in better shape than I’d’ve expected, frankly, but seriously, you need to take a minute. Rey is...she’s here. How did you know that? Did you know that? She had a seizure, she has those; you’ve probably seen the bracelet, she wears one, for...anyway, we went to pick her up for karaoke night, is that where you were going?” He nodded again, he didn’t trust himself to speak. “And she...she was…”
Kaydel, that was her name, she was crying, did that mean...was Rey...she wiped an arm across her eyes and looked at him; she must have caught sight of his face, because her eyes got big and she waved her hands, “No, no, she’s, we haven’t heard anything yet, but she was alive when they brought her here, I did the, I did CPR, Poe and I, and if she were gone they’d’ve come out to tell us, Finn would’ve come back, but I still don’t understand how you…” And she looked at his face again, “Okay, okay; let me go see what I can find out for you. I will. I promise. Don’t move. Okay?” He nodded at her one more time, feeling helpless and hating it.
Kaydel came back looking shocked and white. Poe gathered her into his arms without a word; questions could wait until she looked a little better. But she turned to Rose, now awake again, a few seconds later. “Any news?” Rose put a finger to her lips. Finn had fallen asleep in turn, finally, after he’d come back from talking to the doctors; actually, more like yelling at the doctors. He’d been calm, still, sort of, reasonable and polite, anyway; but he’d been passionate, and LOUD. They’d been able to hear him from here; he’d talked about how badly the system had already failed Rey, foster care, everything, no, she didn’t have any insurance, this was an ER, so figure it OUT, get her what she needed, and he’d figure out how to pay for it later.
They’d overheard a few details about his own history that Poe hadn’t known; Finn hadn’t held back while he advocated for Rey, and he knew the applicable laws and policies backwards and forwards for those uninsured, injured or ill, apparently from personal experience. But unless Finn decided to talk out loud, to them, about the things he’d been through, it was none of Poe’s business. Finn had wanted to stay awake, but Rose had told him to go ahead and sleep so he’d be at least a little bit rested if they came to talk to him again; he was drained, and there was nothing else they could do for now.
“Shhhh, don’t wake him. She’s on life support, Kaydel. I don’t think it’s good. They said..she’s got some brain activity, it’s not that, she’s not brain-dead, but her head, the swelling, it’s...it’s just not good. Finn’s been talking to them about what to do, but they said all they can really do is wait. He’s gonna stay, he says, he’s not going anywhere; and that means neither am I.” Her face was fierce, and tender, as she stroked Finn’s head where it lay in her lap. “But what did you find out? About Mr. Solo; Ben, right?”
Kaydel shook her head. “It’s...weird. He’s here, all right, and from what I can tell it was a pretty bad accident, he was a pedestrian; but he’s better off than he should be, and he’s awake.” That was surprising. Poe would’ve expected a near-fatal head injury, if it was car versus pedestrian, and it was bad, like Kaydel said it was. But they’d both seen a lot of strange things. That thought was echoed by Kaydel, like she was inside his head, a minute later.
“Poe and I, we’ve seen some stuff we can’t explain; when he was in the service, on my calls, but... Guys, he knew something had happened to Rey, it was the first thing out of his mouth, I think he’d’ve gotten out of bed to go look himself if I hadn’t told him I’d find out as much as I could.” She was rubbing at her wrist, it looked red. Poe took her hand in both of this and took over, massaging it for her while she talked.
“I...think he might, still; and I’m going to help him.” She looked surprised, like she hadn’t known she was going to say that; but she went on, “There’s something going on here, something strange, but...c’mon guys, you’ve seen the way those two look at each other. How many times did we tell her to ask him out? And he knew ; that’s what he said, when he grabbed my hand, ‘ Where is Rey? ’ And she’s here, and he’s,” she waved at a room, “right there, Room 12, and she’s down the hall, and it feels like we need to help.” She looked confused, but resolute; he loved that stubborn chin of hers. You knew when she meant business.
So that’s what had happened to her wrist; he’d grabbed it too hard. He understood; people made mistakes, when they were upset. Kaydel was right, Poe thought; sometimes you couldn’t explain things, and you just knew what was the right thing to do. He’d known, when he’d gotten out of bed in the barracks in the middle of the night, that somebody was in trouble; getting them out of it had cost him his military career. They hadn’t wanted the publicity, of someone abusing their authority to hurt others, so justice had been quietly and severely served; and he’d been given an honorable discharge for his pains.
All of which just meant he knew; that you had to trust your instincts, even if it was something no one was ever going to believe. Kaydel had good instincts; it was one of so many things he loved about her, all of them, really. That voice, that strength and determination and courage, so much love and skill and hope all packed into that gorgeous little person. Whatever she thought was best, he’d help; of course he would. Anything she needed, he was there.
Rose was nodding. “Okay. I don’t understand, but if you think there’s anything you can do that might help make this,” she waved a hand at the waiting room, the ER, all of it, and ended by touching Finn’s cheek, “any of this, better, do it. And ‘If by my life or death, I can protect you, I will’. Or, you know, shady electronics skills.” They all had to grin at that one. All of them were rabid Tolkien fans, and this was starting to feel like the formation of a Fellowship. Kaydel looked back at him, questioning. He could feel the grin getting wider. “Um…’And my axe’?” Making her laugh was the best he’d felt all night.
Rose had a thought. Shady electronics and computer skills might be exactly what was needed here. She opened Rey’s laptop, it was closer, and got to work. Whatever they were going to do, it would involve taking Mr. Solo, Ben, away from where he was supposed to be; and to get time to do it, it’d be important for everyone to think he was still in bed. She could do that. A hotspot and a VPN were in place in seconds, along with some extra measures to keep anyone from noticing what she was doing.
A little grab of the information from the previous few hours, a little loop in the data, and anyone looking at the monitors would think Ben Solo was still in bed, unconscious, like he’d been for the last several hours. She’d’ve normally never messed with medical equipment that was attached to someone, Rose knew better than that; but wherever he was going, he was going with Kaydel and Poe, and Rose had just had a very practical demonstration of their skills in a crisis. And he WAS in a hospital, after all; if he keeled over, it’d be pretty hard to miss and somebody would know what to do.
Next was to distract the nearest staff, so they didn’t notice the very, um, noticeable escapee. For that, she was going to need Finn. She really did hate to wake him. It couldn’t be helped. She patted his shoulder, just a little. “Hey, handsome, you’ve got to wake up now. Come on, Finn.” He blinked at her, then remembered where he was. She put a finger to his lips, completely kissable, geez, Rose, not the time, “No, there’s no change as far as I know, nobody’s come to talk to you. But listen. This is gonna sound weird.”
Finn listened while she explained what Poe and Kaydel were going to do; the whole thing, that their TA was here, that he knew something had happened to her, that they just...had a feeling that it might be important to get those two in the same room. He looked skeptical; well, so was she. Rose watched him think about it for a minute. “Okay. What do you need me to do?” She must’ve looked as surprised as she felt; he went on to explain. “Rey trusts me; more than I realized, I guess. And I trust you, and Poe, and Kaydel; we’re family, all of us, I think, found family, chosen family. So if you guys think this is what she needs, what’ll help her, I’m all in.”
It was true; but hearing him say it, Rose knew it was right in a way she hadn’t before. None of them really had anyone else; well, Rose had Paige, but family had been sparse for them all, and they were family for Rey, in all the ways that mattered. So she gave him his kiss back with interest, because now *was* the time, and told him exactly what she needed him to do. Five minutes later, he’d gone to the nurses’ desk to ask them to explain all the medical terms in Rey’s records again, so he could write them down and educate himself on exactly what she might need; and he was so earnest, and apologetic for bothering them, and sincerely concerned that he needed to understand everything clearly, that the nurses looked like they’d like nothing better than to help him. Rose knew the feeling.
Enough waiting. Ben couldn’t take it any longer. The nurse had come in to, what, check his vitals, that’s what they called it, right?--after Kaydel had left, and he’d pretended he was still asleep, because if he was awake they’d want to know the answer to all kinds of questions, like what he remembered and how he felt and where his family was (good luck with that one!) and Ben really didn’t want to answer any of that because he had something more important to do.
Eventually she finished taking his blood pressure and writing things down and whatever else it was she was doing, and he waited for her to leave. When he’d waited as long after that as he could stand, he sat up in bed. Oh, that, that had not been the greatest idea, that had been too fast, and things went a little sideways and wavy. Ben waited impatiently for the room to be rightside-up again. He was pulling all the stuff off of himself when Kaydel and her boyfriend came back into the room.
“No, I told you, what are you doing? You’re going to bring the nurses running,” she said, waving her hands at him to stop, but nothing was beeping or ringing and the machines looked the same. “What the…?” She walked over and looked at the monitors, then at the stuff that had been attached to him a minute ago, lying on the bed, and she turned and grinned at her boyfriend, what was his name? Poe, that was it, and at the same time they both said “Rose.” What about her?
It was Poe who took pity on him. “She did something to the monitors so it looks like you’re still here, that all the leads are still attached and recording, that’s clever as hell, I hope she never uses her skills for evil, yeesh.” You could do that? Okay. Ben swung his legs over to the side of the bed, and that apparently did things to his ribs that they did not like at all, and he had to hunch over the hurt and breathe for a minute, except his ribs didn’t much like that either.
Poe grabbed him by the arm before he fell off the bed. “Okay, hey, let us help you, man, that’s why we’re here.” They were? And Rose had, what, hacked the damn heart monitor, or something? But...why? They hadn’t seen what he had, but they were still here. Ben didn’t understand, but he also didn’t have the luxury of refusing help; he was weak as a kitten. The confusion must have been plain on his face.
This time it was Kaydel. “You need to get to Rey. We don’t know why, that’s okay. We believe you. You knew she was here, you knew she was in trouble, so if finally getting the two of you in touching distance has a snowball’s chance in hell of helping her, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’ve got you.” When he’d finished blushing at the idea of “touching distance”, curse that damn blush, he actually registered the last thing she’d said. Oh. Wow. It’d been a long time since he’d heard someone say anything like that. He surrendered and let them help him out of bed.
It still felt like had a throat full of glass and gravel, but he should say something. “Um, thanks, guys. I...thanks. Oh.” He looked down at himself. “Can one of you find my clothes?” Where were his glasses? Everything was blurry. That was probably because of the glasses. Wait. He remembered, he’d seen them, twisted and broken, next to his body in the street. They weren’t going to do him any good, even if they were here. He wondered where his scarf had gone. Rey had said she liked it once, she complimented people all the time, it hadn’t meant anything, he thought, but he’d still worn the scarf over his coat, every day; he couldn’t think .
Kaydel shook her head. “I’ve seen your chart. They’d’ve cut those off of you at the scene, or here. So it looks like this gown is all you’ll be wearing for the foreseeable future. But we’d better get going, Mr. Solo, it won’t be all that long before somebody comes to check on you again.” She had one of his elbows, and Poe had the other. Good thing, too, because his lungs felt like he’d drunk half a swimming pool and coughed it up again, and no, don’t think about coughing, coughing would be VERY BAD, and the cast on his arm was doing weird things to his balance, or maybe he just didn’t know which way was up any more.
But if he was talking, he didn’t have to think about that as much. “It’s Ben. If you’re going to walk me down a hallway with half my ass hanging out the back of this thing, I think it’s probably fine if you both call me Ben.” There was a choked snicker from Poe, but it took Kaydel a little longer to stop giggling. Poe opened the door and looked up and down the hallway, then walked ahead of them, leaving Kaydel to help Ben; well, hold him upright, if he was being honest. She was stronger than she looked.
Kaydel tilted her head up to inspect his face. She patted his arm. “It’s just here, she’s just down the hall, you can do it.” He hadn’t really questioned whether he could, until she spoke, but yeah, he was kind of wondering and his legs weren’t very steady and the inside of his head was rolling in waves, like the sea, but he could do it. He had to, for Rey. They were moving down the hallway, it had to be the longest hallway in the world, cold and bright and getting longer while he looked at it.
And there was a voice, a sound, coming around the corner, and he was so close , so close to finding her and...his brain short-circuited, he didn’t know what he was going to do, and then Poe stepped around the corner and started talking, and Ben could see him but he couldn’t see who Poe was talking to, which meant whoever it was couldn’t see Kaydel or himself. When he spoke, Poe’s voice was soft, with...music in it, somehow; and his posture had changed.
“Oh, hey there, I’m sorry, I seem to be a little lost.” He ran his hands through his curly hair. “It’s just been such a long night, I feel like I’m sleepwalking, you know? And I thought I’d go find some coffee, and I got lost; thank goodness I ran into you. I have no idea where I’m going; and look at you, you’ve been here since I got here, and it doesn’t show at all. You’re so bright-eyed and sunny, how do you do that? Can you help me? Find some coffee, I mean?”
Ben was fascinated, even in the middle of all this; that was some serious flirting. Poe’s eyes suddenly looked sleepy, and they were fixed on whoever was in front of him, and he rubbed at the stubble on his chin, and a corner of Ben’s mind was taking notes, because he had never learned how to flirt, he was made of awkward and over-enthusiastic and clumsy, but most of him was just happy it was working , because he heard a woman’s voice, it must be a nurse, say, “Sure, um, I can do that, I’ve got a minute, come with me.” She sounded flustered.
He looked down at Kaydel, who just rolled her eyes and shrugged. “That’s my flyboy.” She was smiling as she started them both moving again. “Come on, it’s right here,” and the door said 18 and Kaydel let go of his arm and Ben leaned against the wall while she opened it and he was inside. And there she was, in the bed, she looked so small, but beautiful, and she was the same color as the sheets. There was some kind of bandage on her head, and she should be warm and golden and her eyes should be looking back at him; but they were closed.
Ben had been moving as though he were ancient but now he was across the room in a single heartbeat. And he thought he was still standing until his knees hit the cold floor and he was next to the bed and holding her hand and his face was buried in her side; and she was wet. No, that was his face, it was warm and prickling and there was something stuck to it and something running down his cheek; he could taste copper and salt.
Ben dimly registered the sound of the door closing with Kaydel on the other side, she’d said something about watching the hallway. He raised his head to drink her in again, Rey , here, with her hand in his but somewhere else, far away from him; and he called to her, in his head, come back to me , and it seemed to echo with distance. So he found his voice and spoke out loud. “Rey. I’m here. I’m here with you. Just, just wake up and look at me, please? Please, I’ll do anything, but I don’t know how to help, I only know that I need you, I should’ve known sooner, I’m sorry.” The sheet where his face had been was wet with mingled tears and drops of red.
…”Well, this is interesting.” Ben looked at Rey, a jolt of adrenaline and hope lancing through his veins; no, she was the same, motionless and sort of frail and it wasn’t her voice. Oh, SHIT, there was someone else in the room, why hadn’t Kaydel TOLD him? Ben turned his head to the rest of the room; he hadn’t seen anything but Rey. There was a nurse in here, a sort of short, rounded, middle-aged person with greying brown hair and kind, faded blue eyes; just now, though, they were sort of disapproving, and a clipboard in her hands.
It was going to be over, they were going to take him away from her, and he hadn’t done what he came here to do, he didn’t even know what that was, and he was NOT LEAVING, but he wasn’t sure he could fend off a toddler right now, and he didn’t want to hurt anyone, even if he could, but he could speak. He could ask. “Please...I know I’m not supposed to be here, but please don’t make me leave her, she’s, I think I love her, she needs me, I need her, don’t...can I stay, until she’s awake? Then I’ll do whatever you want, anything…”
The next words out of her mouth froze him in place. “Did you mean anything , Mr. Solo?” How did she...what? The small, roundish woman in the cheerful scrubs began to change . The first hint was her hair, where a light gold color started to shine through, like the tassels on corn, and she seemed to grow taller , regal, with skin like polished ivory, fair and gentle like the first breath of spring. But she was stern, somehow, too; broad-shouldered and capable, lips like dark rubies, blue eyes like winter skies promising snow.
Her scrubs had vanished, replaced by a peplos with a border of wildflowers and a dark, hooded cloak. Ben ought to know what a peplos looked like, he’d been studying mythology half his life; and a breeze ran through the room, smelling of spring blossoms and pomegranate. Oh, god. No, Goddess. He knew who that was. She was glorious and majestic and larger than life, and if she was here, he might be in a great deal of trouble; but she might also be his only hope. He even knew the proper form of address, and he was already on his knees. “Dread Queen,” he said, and bowed his head.
For someone who’d helped people get there, who’d told them that it would be okay, Rey hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about how the afterlife would look . Even if she had, an empty lecture hall wouldn’t have been high on the list. It wasn’t really exciting, or restful, or anything, really; it was just empty. Except that there was a desk, to one side near the podium, that looked really familiar. The desk itself didn’t, not really, it was pretty generic.
But there were notes, on the desk, in a beautiful handwriting that she knew very well; and there was a mug, that same stupid mug of cold coffee he left off to one side every day, the one with the quote from Joseph Campbell: “If a being from another world were to ask you, ‘How can I learn what it's like to be human?’ a good answer would be, ‘Study mythology.’” She ought to know what it said, she’d spent enough time looking in his direction while trying not to stare at him, and the mug was always right there.
On the back of the chair hung a scarf; oh yes, she knew that too; that bright red scarf that brought out the paleness of his skin against the dark backdrop of his hair, that made the amber lights in his eyes shine brighter, like sunlight through smoke or water. It was the one personal thing she’d ever managed to say to him, that she liked the scarf, and he’d worn it every day, and she’d wondered if it was just habit or if he’d done it because of what she’d said.
And the thought was the deed, and she’d walked across the room and plucked the scarf off the back of the chair and wrapped it around herself and held it to her face. It smelled like him, that one day that they’d both gotten up from their chairs at the cantina and headed for the bar at the same time and she’d bumped into him. They’d bumped into each other, which really meant that she’d walked into a wall of human being; she’d ended up with her nose planted squarely in his chest and bounced off of him like a pinball, and said something terribly clever like “Oof.”
He’d smiled, which he didn’t very often, and apologized, and put a hand on her shoulder to help her keep her balance, and it was so burned into her brain, that day, that she remembered how he *smelled*, and what kind of sick afterlife was this? Was this a punishment, for her defiance, to spend the rest of eternity in an empty classroom full of the ghost of Ben Solo and the way she felt about him and never had the courage to say? The afterlife really didn’t mess around when it came to dereliction of duty, then, because this was breaking her heart.
She turned back to the rest of the room, might as well get used to the place, she guessed; and nearly jumped right out of her shoes. She was still wearing the dress she’d put on to go out with her friends, and her only necklace, with the daisies, and heels; it wasn’t the most comfortable clothing in which to spend all of time, but oh well. Never mind that; there was a man standing in front of her. No. Not a man.
He was dressed simply, in a black button-down shirt and black jeans, all in black, down to the belt and boots. He was tall, as tall as Ben, and slender, with narrower shoulders and an even paler complexion. A line of Shakespeare popped randomly into her head: “His eyes were green as leeks.” What gave him away, though, was the darkness; shadows seemed to cling to him as he moved. Rey hadn’t realized until now that stone could have a scent, but there it was, grey and cold, as though someone had opened a door on a mountain in winter.
The beard surprised her, she didn’t know why, it was there on all the statues; that, and who knew Hades would be a redhead? The sneer was less surprising; and it, too, was cold. He stood, thumbs hooked in his belt, watching her. What did he expect her to say? She’d made her choice, and there was no defending it; it had simply been more important to her than the rules, or really anything else. Did he expect her to protest her fate? She knew it; she’d chosen.
She turned back to the desk, trailing her fingers over the mug before she spoke. It wasn't cold after all. It was warm, as though he’d just set it down; that was cruel. “So is this it, then? Is this my punishment? It’s a good one, I’ll give you that. I deserve it, I guess.” She turned back to the God of the Dead. Probably she should have kept her mouth shut; maybe he had worse up his perfectly tailored sleeve. But he looked...puzzled.
He turned in a circle, as though examining the room for the first time. “This? No, this isn’t a punishment. This is a...construct; a place for us to speak. You made it, not I; it’s what was on your mind as you died, nothing more. You’re not quite gone, not yet;” he spread his hands in a gesture of resignation, “modern medicine can sometimes complicate these things.” He walked over to the desk behind her, picking up the antiquated fountain pen Ben kept on his desk along with more modern writing implements, and the jar of ink that went with it, which he held to the light before putting it down again. It made something burn, inside her, to see him handling those things. They weren’t his. They belonged to Ben Solo.
As if in echo of her thoughts, he went on: “Ben Solo. Would it surprise you to know that even now, he offers to trade his life for yours if only you can be spared? That he pleads to be allowed to take your place?” He eyed her sidelong, still turning the pen over and over in his hands. No. That wasn’t right. She’d chosen. She had the right to choose, she’d known the penalty. She couldn’t be compelled to sing. She found herself standing in front of the Lord of the Underworld, fists clenched and teeth bared, Ben’s scarf stretched between her hands like a weapon.
Her next words were higher and louder, somewhere between singing and screaming. “You can’t !! He can’t! I already did that, I traded myself for him, I CHOSE, and I’m here, in this place, so he isn’t, so he goes on living. You can’t let him do that, it’s not right, it’s not fair, and he already, he traded himself, for a CHILD. You can’t do that!” She was very close to him now, close enough to shiver in the cold dark he brought with him, it seemed, everywhere he went. His expression wasn’t cold, though; it was as fiery as his hair, brows drawn down, as though he were channeling his brother, the Thunderer.
He loomed over her, heat in his voice while cold still rolled off his skin. "You asked me if this was a punishment. You might want to think before you speak. Should I devise something special for you, that you should envy Sisyphus and Tantalus their torment? Do you think you can *choose*, girl? Are you now the master of Death? Perhaps you'd like to come and rule My kingdom, since you know best who should live and who should die?" All the shadows in this place were gathered around him now; but as he asked the last question, there was something faintly pleading in his tone, under the anger and outrage.
All the rage dissipated, with that thought. He hadn’t been responsible for Ben’s death, after all; Ben had decided to be a stupid hero all on his own. It wasn’t his fault that they’d never told each other how they felt; that was them, both of them, not trusting, not believing enough. None of this, really, was his fault. He only had charge of people after they died. And what must that be like? There were lines of exhaustion, she thought, under his eyes, around his mouth; millennia of this could do that, she guessed, even to a god. And he was waiting for an answer.
She raised her hands, scarf and all, as if to fend off the idea. "Oh, no, sir, that is not a job that I want, I can't imagine...you've been doing this for so long, you must be so tired.” He blinked at her; he looked startled. “I only saw them, dying, a few moments at a time, but you, you have their care forever, so many, and to help them find each other, the ones who meet again. And...to see that the truly evil ones get what they deserve. I *know* what you do is necessary, and right, and I know you must see them and know them all. But I just...I love him.” She held the scarf to her face again, to wipe away the tears that blurred her vision.
She went on, the words spilling from her mouth like song. “I knew, but I didn't know, until I saw him there, broken, and saw him looking at me, and heard him say; I didn't know he loved me too. Didn't you, did you ever do anything foolish, against the rules, for love? I couldn't stand the thought that he would never see the sun again, so I did, I chose, that he should keep walking around up there and I should stay below, and thinking about him up there in the sunshine and the flowers would still make me smile, even though I couldn't go with him. And I’m sorry, but I’d do it again.”
He’d stood silent, all the while she spoke. He was frowning; but he didn’t look angry. More puzzled, again; or considering, and a little wistful. And then he winked out of existence, as though someone had turned him off like a TV; and she was left alone, AGAIN, in an empty room, crying into Ben Solo’s red scarf.
The goddess moved gracefully across the tile floor to stand in front of him, and he was looking at her sandals. Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, put a finger under his chin and lifted his head until he was looking her in the eye. “You haven’t answered the question, Benjamin Solo. Did you mean it, when you said ‘anything’?” Her hand was warm; but her cloak was cold as death; like when Dad used to come in from outside and the cold would seep from his coat, through Ben’s pajamas, and make him shiver. “You hardly know this woman; you’ve never held her hand, or shared a kiss.” How did she know that?
She answered his expression. “New growth, awakenings, shoots and buds and the flowering of new love, those are My bailiwick; so yes, I know. You’ve barely spoken to her. And yet you say you’ll do or give anything. Does that include yourself? Would you sacrifice yourself for her, knowing that she would then be without you?” There were flowers blooming in her eyes; blossom after blossom tumbled across his vision as he looked at her.
And then he was angry. “Of COURSE I would! But what kind of question is that? It still leaves us alone. And we don’t HAVE to be alone, either of us, like we have been. I saw that, I SAW her; always alone, except for the dead, and what kind of job was that to give a CHILD?! And me, never mind me, anything in my life I brought on myself, but what did Rey ever do to deserve this except see something in me, who knows what, see me as better than I am, and give herself, for me? And I saw the, what could be, and we don’t *have* to be alone!” He dashed tears from his face; there was something, like plastic, stitches? His hand came away red; Persephone only watched, face impassive.
He shook his head at her; his face was getting flushed, and his ears, like they did, and he was waving his hands in the air as he knelt there on the floor; well, one of them, anyway, the other was holding on to Rey like she was the only solid thing in the world. “That’s not a choice; if it’s my only one, I’ll make it, in a breath, without a second thought; take me, I’m the one who was supposed to die anyway.”
He poked himself in the chest; it hurt; huh, there was still a bandage on the back of his hand. “*I* ran out in the street, I didn’t think about what came next, I didn’t think about her , because I didn’t think it mattered. I didn’t think *I* mattered, to her; I didn’t know, because I never asked. She always, she always mattered to me.” He looked at Rey, so beautiful; there was equipment, tubes and things, some kind of breathing stuff, but he didn’t see any of that, just her.
He waved his free hand at her; that set his ribs off again, he didn’t care. “Why doesn’t she matter to you? Her life, or her happiness? Did the others matter, the first ones, to you, that you sent them out into the world to constantly look on death? You make exceptions, all of you, you gods, you always did. Castor and Pollux wouldn’t be separated, so they shared their mortality and their immortality; Heracles became a god, and you! You and your mother, you didn’t want to be separated, and her grief iced over the world , you know better than anyone what it is to be torn apart like that. Why would you wish anyone else that pain?”
She was still just looking at him, expression neutral. “Nothing, really? Fine. Take me, then. If that’s the best you’ve got. Somebody has to come for her, right? If she’s one of you, a myth, something magical. Is that why you’re here?” She still hadn’t said a word, just looking at him. But now she turned to look at Rey, and no sir, she couldn’t HAVE Rey, not while he still had breath in his body; which, he supposed, really, was what he was offering. Ben surged to his feet, faster that he’d have thought he could. It was too fast, again; static encroached on the room, on his vision. But he was standing in front of her, between the Queen of Death and Rey, as much as he could; and the room was the wrong shape, and he fell into the flowers in her eyes, but he kept hold of Rey’s hand.
Persephone hadn’t been expecting him to try to get up from the floor; she wouldn’t have thought he could. As it happened, she was partially right. She’d kept her face as neutral as she could, while he spoke; she was afraid otherwise she might cry, and her tears were powerful. He didn’t know, they never did, that her mother would have killed those girls, if she hadn’t given them a task, for failing to bring her back. They were both beautiful, these two; their story, their chance at love, was beautiful. But he stood, quickly and gamely enough; he still seemed to think that she was going to...what? Throw the girl over her shoulder and walk off with her like some sort of barbarian? He’d got the wrong end of the story again, if he thought that.
Then his skin had blanched, under the bruises and stitches; and she’d caught him herself as his knees buckled and his legs gave out beneath him, eyes closing. Her first thought was to put him in the chair, across the room; but she couldn’t seem to make him let go of the siren girl’s hand; Rey’s hand. A thought brought the chair to her instead; there were some perks to being a goddess, after all, and she lowered him down into it. It was time to have a talk with her husband. A thought and a wave of her hand stopped the room; like a seed in the ground, waiting for spring. It would be just the same when she returned with answers; no one would be able to interfere.
Hades was there, as she was, with the thought; he had never once failed to come to her when she needed him. Nothing was more certain, more dependable than Death. He was waiting in the garden, under the pomegranate tree; standing on the gravel path, surrounded by the scent of blossoms and stone. And she loved him, still, in a way that made her heart lurch in her chest. She strode to his side and laid a hand on his cheek, feeling the silky scratch of his beard beneath her fingers, then she kissed him; he tasted of pomegranates, he always did. He gave her a quizzical eyebrow. “What was that for, flower?” As though she needed an excuse.
She smiled, just to see the answering smile on his face. “I was just remembering how I fell in love with you. No one thought we’d make a pair; me, so fearful of the places below, and you, with your…” It was her turn to raise an eyebrow…”impulse control issues. And none of them thought that you would ever let me go.” She trailed a finger down his cheek, his neck, to his collarbone where it peeked out of the top of his shirt. “But you did; you let me go to see my mother and the flowers again, even though there was nothing to enforce my months with you but your decree, and all of Olympus arrayed against us. That was what let me come back.”
She hadn’t known, before she met him, that Death could be kind. She’d known that death could be cruel, and frightening, grasping and final; and he could be all those things. He’d taken her away from her mother, the sun, the flowers, from everything she’d known; and he’d brought her to this dark, cold place. But that wasn’t the whole story, as much as everyone liked to pretend that it was. It wasn’t the end of the tale. He could be compassionate, merciful; he could be loving, and vulnerable, and yes, kind. Like death itself, the end wasn’t what everyone believed.
“You know what I’ve come to ask, don’t you?” The question brought a defensive tightness to his face. She ran her fingers through his hair, to undo the careful, regular lines and set it free to tumble over his brow. That made him smile; but he clouded over again, back to his customary caution. He was so used to being thought of as less that he guarded himself, even with her; he expected to be wounded, to be disregarded. It made her heart hurt. But she was still going to ask; he’d understand, if she reminded him of why she loved him so much.
He frowned at her. “They chose, Seph, my darling. The boy chose; the Solo boy, to give his life for another. That is his right, as it happens, to choose a path when there are many. And she chose, your Rey, knowing what the penalty would be. They have good hearts, both of them, yes; she...but they cannot be permitted to subvert Me. I would be made to appear weak.” His eyes, the green of the first shoots of wheat, asked her to understand. And she did; but that, too, wasn’t the whole story.
She reached a hand above her head to pluck a ripe fruit from the tree. “They did, my love. They chose. I chose, once. I knew the penalty, you told me. Eat or drink anything, and I would be condemned to stay.” She broke open the fruit, and plucked six seeds to lie red and juicy in her hand, then offered them to him. He took them, one by one, from her palm, with a serious look, but made no other move. His face had grown quiet, and somehow dark, at the word “condemned”. He never believed, really, no matter how many times she told him and showed him, that he was loved.
“I understood the choice, and the penalty; but I didn’t know that there would be love. That there could be. Neither did they. The two of them, they chose, but they didn’t know that there was love. That there could be love. When I came back, you knew. You understood how frightened I’d been; and you let me choose again. You offered me the choice again, and you showed me who you really are.” He gave her questioning eyes.
He still didn’t understand what made him strong, whatever that bunch of blowhards on Olympus might say. “You showed me that you were kind, and loving, your true strength, never a weakness; and I chose you. You broke the rules, for love, and I chose you. And I’d do it again, a thousand times over. I love you, husband, and I will always choose you.” He grinned, a sudden, boyish grin that made her toes curl, and ate the seeds she’d given him. She grabbed his belt, to pull him close, and kissed the taste of those seeds back from his mouth again.
He sighed, as the kiss broke, and leaned his forehead against hers. “You always know what to say. It was one of the first things I loved about you. I heard you, talking to the flowers; you knew just how to tell them to grow, into their best selves. And you knew, when you set the sirens to their tasks, that those above needed to know what death could be; a rest, and a peace, and the promise of together, someday. But I wouldn’t have been satisfied with someday, not with you. Every month apart from you was eternity, those first times, when love was new; it still is. Sometimes I still marvel that you return, when you go to seek the sunshine.”
He tightened his arms around her, stealing her breath, suddenly greedy for her touch, almost painful. That was part of him too; she hugged him harder in return, letting him know she was there. He spoke into the side of her neck. “Very well. I will let them choose each other. The girl; she must be dismissed from her calling. We can’t have a disobedient siren left free to defy Me again. If the Solo boy is foolish for a second time, he’s on his own; and so, too, will she be.” She nodded against his hair, smiling at how grateful Rey was likely to be for this “loss”.
He pulled away to arms’ length with a wry smile. “I’ll allow it, for you. It’s always for you. You’re the only weakness that makes me stronger. Will you come back to me, here in the garden, when you’ve told them, and remind me again?” The shadow of all the loneliness, before her, was in his eyes.
He was irresistible. One more kiss, that had them both panting and flushed, before she went, and a hand round the back of his neck, willing him to see the heat in her eyes, to believe, finally, that she loved him. “I will ALWAYS come back to you, Hades my love. Always.”
She was reading his notes. You couldn’t read, in dreams; but this wasn’t a dream. Hades had said it was a construct, something her mind had created. That couldn’t be entirely right either, though, because she’d never read his notes, for his thesis, for the book he meant to publish. She’d heard him talking to Professor Holdo about it, heard her encouraging him to keep going, to write, to publish. Their professor was warm, and sort of serene; she made you feel that you were a part of the myths and the stories, that heroes were just people like the rest of us. Rey really was a part of the myths, sort of, she guessed; but she’d never felt like a hero. Until she starting reading Ben’s notes.
“The majority of authors, both ancient and modern, are inclined to represent Sirens as cruel; lethal and predatory, causing death for no other reason than their own amusement. Even those who acknowledge their potential role as psychopomps tend to portray them as sinister, something to be dreaded as one fears death. This is a dangerous misconception.
We recognize, without much difficulty, that those who help us in the worst moments of our lives have a certain strength and compassion beyond that of the average person. Doctors, nurses, firefighters and police, emergency medical technicians; we call them heroes, and we celebrate them in film, in our culture, and hopefully in person.
How much more compassion, then, must a person have whose purpose is always to lose the patient? Whose sole calling is to encounter us, frail mortals, at our moment of greatest fear? The course, by the time a psychopomp is on the scene, is set; there is no treatment, no miracle on the horizon. A life is over; and human beings naturally mourn that life, and hesitate to contemplate what lies beyond it. The easing of that passage must require an outstanding capacity for empathy, and the ability to do this again and again despite any heartbreak they themselves might feel.
It’s worthwhile to consider that, rather than being mindlessly drawn by song, the sailors of old might simply have thought it worth the price to be nearer to someone so extraordinary. Perhaps they believed that kind of selfless love deserved the same in return.“
Rey pulled the papers closer to her, holding his words to her heart. She hadn’t known. She didn’t merit this kind of praise; but he thought she did, even if he hadn’t realized he was writing about her. That made the whole room, this odd, empty room, warmer; but it made the prospect of what might lie ahead for her, here on her own, darker and so much colder.
Her eyes were closed; she couldn’t have seen, anyway, through the curtain of tears. So it was the scent that caught her attention; spring flowers, and fruit, blending with the smell of coffee in the still-warm mug. It was out of place in this empty lecture hall. Rey dried her tears with Ben’s scarf, and raised her head. There was a goddess regarding her from the seat behind the podium. She looked...queenly, and terrifying, and also somehow cool and delicate, like a spring garden come to life. She was tall and imposing, otherworldly and graceful.
“Oh! I didn’t know you were here.” She stood up from his chair, setting the papers carefully back down on the desk. “Is it time, then, to go wherever I’m going? Unless this really is it? I thought he, Hades, I thought he’d be back, wait, you’re not here to take me back up there, are you? I won’t go, not if it means he has to die. I’m serious; I won’t. I’ll…” The goddess had risen from the stool, her temporary throne, and was walking toward her. Rey looked desperately around the room, then took the scarf in her hands again. “...I’ll use this. I’ll chain myself to the desk like a suffragette, so help me.” She brandished the scarf.
Persephone stopped, mid-stride, a peculiar expression on her face; Rey was afraid she was about to be entirely destroyed, soul and all. She had talked back to two divine beings in one day, after all; but astonishingly, the goddess was laughing . Sudden, hearty, very human laughter filled the room, and Rey couldn’t help but join her, as much desperation as she’d been feeling the moment before. The scent of spring flowers and fruit, oh, pomegranate, it must be, was stronger, and a breeze stirred the papers and riffled through Rey’s hair.
When the laughter had died down to a few last chuckles, the goddess began moving again, her face still bright with humor. “Oh, child, you are a credit to your foremothers, my friends and companions and their descendants; and there were suffragettes among them, believe me, who would be standing right here beside you in solidarity and brandishing an umbrella at anyone who tried to interfere. No, I’m not here to exchange one of you for the other; you’ve done that, and to undo it would be to dishonor the rich spirit of that choice.”
She came to the desk and picked up the same papers that Rey had been reading, silent as she read the words. Her change in mood was swift and mercurial; tears gathered in her eyes as she read, falling to the desk. Where they fell, tiny flowers grew from the polished wood, still tight in bud, blue and white and sharp like miniature stars. “He really is something, this man, your Ben. Almost no one truly understands. Even he doesn’t, not all of it; but enough, this much, for us to know that he is singular, unique.” She looked up at Rey.
There were flowers in her blue eyes, too, and one small blossom trembled on her cheek where a tear should have been. “I did offer, to let him trade himself for you; I was interested to know what he might have to say. Does it please you to know that he accepted, without question, even angry as he was at the idea that you would still be separated?” It did. Rey was enormously pleased, and filled with so much sadness and lost opportunity that her chest and throat ached.
Persephone smiled, then, with the warmth of the first truly sunny day of spring after a long cold winter. The flowers growing from the desk burst open as though they couldn’t stand to wait another second. The goddess took Rey’s hands in hers. “It’s going to be all right. You’re being given another chance, another choice.” She must have heard it wrong. It was wishful thinking, she supposed; all that she’d have to keep her occupied until the end of the world.
“Rey?” The words wouldn’t land; her ears heard them, but Rey couldn’t understand. The goddess patiently repeated the unbelievable news. “It’s going to be all right. The two of you are going to be permitted the chance to see where this might lead, though I think you both know. Hades isn’t...he knows love, when he sees it, and how it might lead to a certain disregard for the rules.” One of the flowers in Persephone’s eyes was twinkling, now, and there was a quirk at the corner of her mouth.
“So he’s agreed that you may both remain; though your power, your calling, will be at an end.” Rey’s head shot up, her mouth an “o” of wonder; she was free? “Yes, I thought you’d like that. Your songs will no longer bring death; only music, now.” She smiled at Rey’s astonishment, but her tone was stern as she continued.
“It won’t be easy. It will seem easy, with so much new love firing your veins; but remember, always, that you’ll need to remind each other how it started. When you’re weary, or angry, or frustrated; remember what you were willing to give just for the chance to know. And remind yourselves, each other, as often and as...vigorously,” she broke her now-serious expression with an eloquently arched eyebrow, “as you need.” Rey blushed, which made the goddess laugh again. “Would you like to go and see him; to return to your body, back to earth?”
Rey was too overwhelmed to speak; but she nodded, hoping her agreement was plain as she looked back into the riot of blooms in Persephone’s eyes. They were deeper, by the minute, those eyes; she could see each flower picked out in detail, each petal, the veins in each individual leaf, and her own eyes were inexorably closing, and there was a tugging in her middle, somewhere distant where her head hurt and there was a hand on hers.
Persephone was left holding the red scarf, as the siren’s soul returned to its proper place and Rey’s hands left her own. She smiled. Yes, that would be just the thing. A thought put her back in the hospital room, still suspended and waiting for her command to resume. She looped the scarf around their joined hands. Perfect. One should always leave them wondering; and this would serve as a reminder to cherish the gift they’d been given. A gesture turned the room’s potential back to unfurling growth. Now back to the garden, where her husband would be waiting; it was time to show him exactly how vigorous a reminder she wanted to give him, and to let him remind her in turn.
There was something in her mouth, her throat...what was on her face ? Rey scrabbled at the tube and mask and some kind of band holding it on her head, how was she supposed to breathe , and she pulled, and coughed, and thrashed around, and managed to get the stupid thing off of her, and it was harder because she could only use one hand, why only one hand, because on the other end of her other hand was BEN, he was here beside her.
Why were his eyes closed, was there something wrong? Something was beeping, and clanging, there was noise, and why wasn’t he moving, to come closer to her? She needed him closer than this. And her voice wasn’t working yet, of all the times to not be able to use her voice , and she squeezed the hand in hers, as tight as she could, which wasn’t very, but it was the best she could do. And his eyes opened, those eyes, like smoked amber and cinnamon and the coffee he always forgot to drink.
He looked at her, then down at the red scarf wrapped around both their hands and back up at her; confused at first, then wide and joyful and full of light, and he was up out of the chair and in her arms, and she was in his, and there he WAS, finally, hers. And she tightened her arms around him to make sure he was really real, and there was a pained-sounding grunt. She jerked her arms back like she’d been burned because she’d hurt him, and he was having none of that, because he only wrapped his whole self tighter around her in response. She couldn’t talk yet, but he could, he was talking, “No, don’t let go, it’s okay, I’m okay, Rey, I don’t want you to let go of me, please, don’t let go.”
Rey locked her arms around him again, but she needed to see as much as she needed to touch, so she pulled herself back just a little, her hands on his shoulders, his chest, then his face. His face was bleeding, he was beautiful, and she ran both of her hands through his hair, like she’d wanted to do since the first moment she’d walked into the lecture hall. Her throat was on fire, but he was right there and since she couldn’t say, yet, all the things she wanted to say, she kissed him instead, around the stitches and the bruises, she kissed his eyes and his cheek and his jaw and chin and then, finally, finally she closed her eyes and kissed his mouth.
His hands moved from her back to the back of her head and crushed her lips against his, and it hurt, just a little, him too, she thought, but that wasn’t as important right now as what they were doing, and her hands were playing across his shoulders, so strong, and up and down his back. As her hands moved they met his bare skin, oh my, and her eyes popped open in surprise at the same moment his did and they were laughing into each other’s mouths. They had to breathe, some time, so they both drew back to look at each other; and at the same time they both noticed it again. Lying across their laps now, where it had fallen, was Ben’s red scarf.
Kaydel heard the alarms, and for just a minute she was afraid, that this had all been just a bad idea, the illusion of hope, and they were losing her, and she wasn’t sure what that would do to him, to Ben, but she knew it would be very bad. She opened the door to see Rey pull out her breathing tube, wide awake and hand in hand with Ben Solo; there was something red around their hands, weird. He looked like he’d passed out in a chair, which worried Kaydel; until his eyes flew open and he was on the bed in a hot second, cradling Rey against his chest, her arms around him. Everyone and their resident would be here in a minute, but it looked to her like they were going to be just fine.
She closed the door, very gently, and made her way down the hall, where she saw Poe waiting and watching around the corner, and she was so damn glad he was hers. He looked at her, smiling, but his face faltered as he got a better look. He raised a hand to her face and brought it back with a tear on his knuckle, scared to ask what he must be wondering; and she answered the question with a smile of her own, a big old idiot grin, because everything was going to be fine, she suddenly knew, it really was.
All the joy just couldn’t seem to get out at once, so she put her hands on his shoulders to push him back against the wall and then she kissed him like it was her job. There was an interrogative noise, then he shrugged, put his palms in the small of her back and did some truly excellent work kissing her in return. It sent a wash of heat from her toes to her head, and some very interesting places in between; and there was an indeterminate period of time before she remembered they should probably go tell the others, because people were coming this way.
She took his hand and led him back to the waiting room, where Rose and Finn were standing side by side, arms around each other’s waists, looking anxiously in their direction. Their big silly grins should have been answer enough, but she went to them anyway, still holding Poe’s hand, and just nodded at them. “Yeah. She’s awake, and he’s with her, and I think they’re going to be okay, both of them, better than okay.” There was a gusty breath from Finn, and he smiled, the first real smile since they’d found her; and it was Rose, who’d known what to do, who’d quietly taken care of things, who burst into tears. And they all three hugged her at once, because they knew exactly how she was feeling.
There were people in the room, he guessed, he didn’t care, she was awake and looking at him like she should be, and he was still here too, not gone away in exchange, and she was warm and alive and he was holding her, like he’d wanted to do, and kissing her, like he’d hardly imagined he might. She hadn’t spoken, not yet, but the way she was looking at him and her mouth on his told him everything he needed to know; it was real, he hadn’t imagined it all, lying there in the street.
But the people were pulling him away from her, gently but firmly all the same, and that was not acceptable, and they were talking but the words didn’t make any sense. They’d stopped the clanging and beeping and they were doing things, important things, probably, to make sure Rey was okay. But she needed him and he needed her, and the hands on his arms were taking him in the wrong direction, and he said her name, “Rey!”, and tried to resist the hands but he was still so fucking weak , and he said “please; please let me stay”; and that was when he heard it, her voice, rough and painful-sounding, but hers, and she said “NO!”
Her hands were reaching for him and some kind of new alarm was making noise, and one of the people around her said something about pulse and pressure; but she looked scared , and that meant he had to be stronger. He could be stronger, for her. He shook off the hands and crossed the few steps to the bed and took her hand in his again, and she said “Ben”, still sounding like it cost her to talk; and the alarm got quiet and it stopped.
The doctor standing near her, a man with a lined face that looked like it smiled a lot and greying reddish hair, said “You know what, it seems to be helping, let him stay.” He smiled at Ben, a tired smile, and looked him over; from head to foot and back up to his face. “Mr. Solo, isn’t it? I’m Doctor Canady. I was coming to check on you next, son. Perhaps you’d like to sit down?” And yes, Ben discovered he would very much like to sit down, in fact he might not have much choice; his knees didn’t seem to be working and his head was swimming.
And the same arms, they belonged to a couple of worried-looking nurses, he could see now, held onto him until he was back in the chair where he’d been when he woke, how had he gotten there? Rey’s hand was still holding his, so that was okay, that was right, there was not a power on earth or anywhere else that could make him let go again right now. The nurses did things, he guessed, with blood pressure cuffs and competent hands, and said numbers, his numbers? But she was what mattered, so Ben kept looking at her and she kept looking at him.
They were waiting, the four of them, again; but it was a different kind of waiting this time. They were waiting in anticipation , now, to see their friends awake and mostly whole and happy , like it looked as though they might be, from what Kaydel had said. She hadn’t had to say anything, really, she and Poe had looked happy too, when they came back. They did, a lot of the time, but it was the quiet kind, of two people who knew what they were to each other and where this was going. When they’d come back from the hallway, it had been a big, loud, and suspiciously flushed kind of happy; the kind that made Finn want to get his hands on Rose as soon as he possibly could.
Visiting hours hadn’t started yet; that was ridiculous, given the shenanigans they’d been pulling all night, and the fact that Ben Solo was apparently still in Rey’s room. Maybe the hospital had just reached its limit for disregarding the rules for tonight; this morning, really, because the hours would start in about 10 minutes. Finn guessed he could wait that long, to see with his own eyes that she was okay, and ask her why she hadn’t TOLD him she’d set up all of that, to let him take care of her. There was one thing puzzling him, though (Ha! Just one?); so he turned to Rose.
“Why didn’t they notice he was gone? When he left the room, shouldn’t there have been all kinds of noise, like there was just now?” He sort of waved his hands at the air, like the bells and whistles and beeps had been visible.
Rose jumped, almost launching herself out of her chair. “Oh SHIT !” She snatched the laptop from the seat next to her, Rey’s laptop, and flung it open. She dropped her voice to a whisper. “I better fix that, before they put somebody else in that room, or somebody wonders like you just did and goes to check.” There was a clatter of keys; she pushed her hair back behind her ears, like she did when she was in the zone on a tech problem, and he loved it. He loved her , with a sharp sting and an easy warmth, all at once, and he loved the way they belonged to each other; and he dropped a kiss on the top of her head while she worked, because he just had to right now. She finished whatever she was doing and closed the laptop with a snap.
“There. They’ll never know I was there. I may have...convinced the monitors that Mr. Solo was still in his room. Shhhh.” Finn was a little shocked; he hadn’t known she could do that. She grinned at him, tapping her fingers on the lid of the laptop. “Don’t worry, I undid it, so everything’s back to normal. ‘I may be a burglar- or so they say; personally I never really felt like one- but I am an honest one, I hope, more or less.’ And I covered my tracks.” He felt himself grinning back at her, like he was about to split his face in half. She was just...he had no words. Maybe he should think of some.
One of the nurses came to get them, a dark-haired guy, he looked about 15 years old, but Kaydel seemed to know him. “Dolph! Tell us what’s happening! How is she? How are they?” She hugged him. “Guys, this is Dolph, I know he looks like he’s still in high school,” she punched him playfully in the arm, “but he really knows his stuff. He’s one of the best.”
He shook his head, but he looked delighted. “Come on, I’ll take you down to see her.” They started walking, the four of them, and he kept talking as they went, medical terms that would have meant nothing to Finn yesterday, but today he knew that the only important part was they meant she was going to be okay. And he had the words, now, and they shouldn’t wait, so he pulled Rose back by the hand as the rest turned the corner, and he cupped her face in his hands. She looked past him at the others, wondering, and he turned her face back to his.
“We’ll catch up in a minute. This couldn’t wait. You...you are the most amazing person I have ever known, just, I can’t… You are the bravest, most clever, caring,” he looked her up and down, “flat-out sexiest , wonderful person, and so smart it’s scary, like legitimately frightening. I love you so much that I can’t find the words to tell you how much; but if I ever forget, just know that the day I met you was the best day of my life. You, none of this could have happened without you, and I’m better, since you; since I knew I could trust you. And I love you.”
Finn shifted his hands to her waist and his mouth to hers, and they really had better catch up and the thought was gone; all the thoughts were gone except how much he loved her and how fantastic she felt as he kissed her. So he kept kissing her, his Rose, while she murmured that she loved him too; and there was a fair amount of body English in it now, probably more than there ought to be in a hospital hallway, oh well. His hands had made their way to her ass, and hers were playing along his stomach under his shirt, and if this got any more fun they were going to get arrested.
He backed reluctantly up, just a little, and took her by the hand again; and they ran down the hallway to catch up to the others just as they were getting to the door; that Dolph guy was still talking, and Kaydel was listening to him. Poe eyed them curiously as they padded to a halt, taking in the slightly sweaty pair of them. His eyebrows rose up toward his hairline, and he smirked and let out a quiet chuckle that neither Dolph nor Kaydel noticed.
“Nobody can figure out what the hell happened, but they’re both fine, much better than we’d’ve expected. And nobody can figure out how he got down the hall and into her room,” he shot Kaydel a sharp look as he opened the door to room 18, “but every time they try to make him leave, her vitals go haywire, so they let him stay; because she’s just better, when he’s there.” His eyes were suspiciously bright, and he sniffed a little as he ushered them inside.
Rose looked at him as she caught that last bit. “Athelas,” she breathed. And from the man stretched out in the chair next to Rey’s bed, eyes closed, long legs propped on some kind of box or bin, came a half-smile and an answer.
“Life to the dying, in the TA’s hand lying?” He opened his eyes to look at the four of them, the smile a little wider, was he blushing? “I’m not exactly a king, but whatever works for Rey.” He looked up at Rey, and it was the kind of look that made you feel like maybe you should leave the room, and all they were doing was LOOKING at each other, holy crap, and now he was blushing; but that might just be because he was thinking about getting Rose alone again. Hoo boy, Finn, get it together.
He looked at Rose; she made shooing motions at him, smiling, and he crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed to give Rey a big hug. “You SCARED me. Don’t ever do that again, please, I don’t know if I can take that twice. Why didn’t you TELL me you’d gone and set that up, to let me take care of you?” She hugged him back and they were both crying. Man, he didn’t think he’d ever cried so much in one day, that might be saying something; but it was a good thing this time.
From the other side of the bed he heard Rose say “I can’t believe you’re a Tolkien nut too, that’s perfect; I wanna hug you, can I hug you, Mr. Solo?” There was a laugh, a deep bass sort of splutter that Finn had never heard before; that was weird, you’d think they would have heard him laugh, at least once, in all those karaoke nights. You should know more, he thought, about someone who was in your life three days a week, every week. They should fix that.
“Ben. It’s Ben, and, um, sure. Just, you know, watch the ribs, I forget how many they said were broken. And you, I think I owe you a thank you, for something that I will deny any knowledge that you did, right?”
The four of them started laughing; Finn, Rose, Kaydel and Poe. Rey smiled, though she looked confused; then she looked at Finn, a bit more sober. “I don’t...think me doing that...again is going to...be a problem, Finn.” That sounded like it hurt. Her voice was ragged; they’d said it would be, when he talked to the nurses, from the breathing tube, when she was awake again. Except one of them had slipped and said *if*, and that had scared the shit out of him.
It still scared the shit out of him, even now, looking at her very awake, alive self; for a second, it was hard to breathe again. She gave him an apologetic look before she spoke again, voice gravelly; she looked pained, but kept going. “Hey, don’t...look like that. I know, I’m...sorry, but hopefully...you’ll never have to use the POA again. But…” she took his hand, “I’m really, really glad...I gave it to you, because you’re... family to me; and I’m glad you were there, all of you.” She looked up to include the rest of the room.
“Any time.” That was Poe and Kaydel together, sharing each other’s brains again. Poe continued. “We mean it. Any time you, any of you, need anything,” he shrugged, “we’re here.” He looked at Ben, still in the chair, holding Rey’s hand again, the one not already in Finn’s, like he couldn’t get enough of it. “That means you too, Ben,” he said, eyeing him critically; that hospital gown was indecently short on him. “Can I go get you some clothes, maybe?”
Ben turned red as a beet and sat up, putting his feet down. Kaydel and Rose were both giggling. Finn was looking at Rey, though, and her face was concerned as Ben winced and lost some color straightening himself in the chair. He hid it well, but Finn noticed Rey noticing. “That would be great, actually. Thanks, man.” Ben raised his free hand to stifle a massive yawn, then looked down at the cast on his arm. “Short sleeves, I guess? I keep forgetting it’s there.”
“That would be a trick, considering the compound fracture.” That was Doctor Canady, Finn knew, the head of the team in charge of Rey, who’d just come in while they were talking. “You snapped both of the bones in your forearm, Mr. Solo, so I’ll thank you very kindly to stop waving it about while you talk; it took some doing getting everything back in its proper place.” There was a very faint lilt in his voice, and he mostly failed to look stern as he lectured Ben.
He turned to Rey next, where she sat propped up with pillows next to Finn. “And you, young lady, are you going to behave if we send Mr. Solo here back to his own room so the two of you can get some rest?” Her hand tightened on Finn’s; she looked a little alarmed. “Yes, yes, we’ll have him back as soon as you both get some sleep and we’ve given him a bit more thorough inspection. Agreed? He’ll be just down the hall.” Rey looked doubtful, but she looked at Ben, whose eyelids were distinctly drooping, and nodded. “Good, then.”
He waved at Dolph, who’d come back in with him; he helped Ben up out of the chair, giving Rey an understanding look as he very gently separated their hands. “I will take very good care of him for you, okay? I promise.” She nodded again. Kaydel was right; he really was good, this guy, like the kind of person who’d be gentle giving you bad news. Some part of Finn’s brain was filing that away for later; it was a skill he was going to have to learn, that you had to know if you were constantly meeting people on their worst days.
Finn took Rey’s hand in his; he already had the other one, as she reluctantly let go, and Kaydel crossed the room to take Ben’s other elbow as he wobbled. Rey looked all done in, herself; they all were, really, Finn thought as he took in the room. There would be visiting hours tomorrow, too; but right now he was going to take Rose home with him and enjoy the hell out of the feel of her next to him while he slept. Finn got up, setting Rey’s hands in her lap. “Would you?” she rasped. She pointed at a scarf somebody had hung on a hook on the wall; he handed it to her, and she draped it around her neck.
He wasn’t going to ask about that and make her talk again. “We’ll be back tomorrow, okay? Everybody needs some sleep.” He kissed her forehead. “I’m so glad you’re okay.” He walked over to stand in front of Ben. “And you, just, thanks. I don’t know what you...just, thanks.” He reached out to clasp a hand and forearm, the best he could do where Ben stood between Kaydel and Dolph. Doctor Canady cleared his throat where he was watching all of this, bemused; he was really being very patient, Finn thought. One more thing.
Finn indicated Poe with a tilt of his head. “What he said...anything, any time. You’re with us, now, all of us.” A tear snaked its way down Ben’s face, through the stitches. Oh, shoot; what had he said? Thinking quickly, Finn grinned, to take a little of the solemnity out of the moment. “You may learn to regret this later.” He threw that one over his shoulder as he went back to Rose, who was cheerfully nodding in confirmation along with Kaydel and Poe, eyes wide in a pretence of innocence. There was every possibility that this was going to be fun.
Chapter 3: Part the Third
They have claimed him. But these two have never actually had a real conversation. Now what?
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
He’d fallen asleep. He was supposed to have stayed awake, he had a history final in the morning, but Ben was just so tired. His eyelids must weigh a thousand pounds each and there was no way he could get them open right now. That was okay, though, because his ears were working just fine and the beeping was slow and steady. As long as the machine kept making the same noise at the same rhythm, his mother was still here. And that was good, because he’d been so scared for her, for both of them, that his chest still ached in sympathy.
They’d been eating together at the kitchen table, scrambled eggs for dinner, his favorite. Mom wasn’t much of a cook, to be honest, but she was a whiz at breakfast. He’d asked where the butter was, for the toast, and she’d slapped herself in the forehead because she’d left it on the island; and when she got up to go get it her face had changed. She’d gone all gray and scared and put her hand to her chest, and when he’d caught her as she was falling she’d seemed very, very small. Ben knew, had known for years, that he was taller than she was, but she’d never seemed small to him before.
He’d scrambled for his phone and called 911, and held her on his lap until he heard the sirens because he didn’t know what else to do; and then he was unceremoniously shoved out of the way, not unkindly, but in a very businesslike fashion. The paramedics put a mask on her, for oxygen, he guessed, and he couldn’t see her face any more, but he could see, a little, over their shoulders, the thing with the paddles. Somebody yelled “Clear!” like they did in the movies and there was a ka-chunk noise, huh, that really was what it sounded like; and someone else said “sinus rhythm”, what did her sinuses have to do with it?
They brought in a stretcher thing and her eyes, Mom’s eyes, were open as they lifted her onto it; she had that mask on, she couldn’t say anything, but her eyes said “I love you” as clear as though she’d spoken out loud, so he said it back to her, “I love you, Mom,” and his voice broke like it hadn’t since he was thirteen years old. He hadn’t known, then, that he could go in the ambulance with her, so like a dumbass he’d stayed in their apartment and gone frantically hunting for the car keys. When he got to the hospital, finally, he’d realized he was wearing two different kinds of shoes.
It was okay, though, because she was out of surgery now, and they’d told him her recovery was going very well and it looked like she was out of the woods, what a weird phrase, he should look up where that came from and use it for one of his papers. He’d gotten an email; Uncle Luke was gone. He’d had a heart attack too, at the same time, they said; they were twins. But he’d been alone, and he hadn’t made it; Ben didn’t know when to tell her, or how. Why would being out of the woods have anything to do with being sick? The beeping agreed, though; it was slow and steady. She was still okay, she was still here.
His face itched, a tight, burning itch; so he brought his hand up to scratch it and there was something attached to it, maybe one of those things they put on Mom’s finger to track her pulse, he thought, and why was HE wearing it, did that mean she wasn’t? His other arm felt weird, too, heavy and clumsy and OH SHIT, no, wait a damn minute, it was 2018, not 2012; Mom had been gone for six years and he was the one in the hospital.
Ben reached his hand out for Rey as the events of the last day or so flooded back into his memory. He pried his eyelids open with a truly heroic effort; the room was backwards. No, it wasn’t; it was his room, not hers. He’d let them take him back to his own room, why had he done that, he needed to be there, with her, he couldn’t go anywhere, why had he let them do that? That was what had happened to Mom, he’d left her, like an idiot, and she’d DIED. He could smell scrambled eggs. Ben hated scrambled eggs.
The beeping was getting louder and faster. Mom? No, stupid, that was him, 2018, remember? There were the bells and alarms again, something was always making NOISE around here. A tray with one of those funny round plastic covered dishes was on the table next to the bed; that was the source of the smell, maybe? Breakfast was the LAST thing Ben was interested in right now. He pulled the pulse thing off his finger, what the hell WAS all this stuff? There were weird sticky patch things, ouch, those HURT coming off his chest.
“Woah!” That was the nurse, um, Dolph. “Mr. Solo, stop, you’ve got to stop DOING that. Hey. Eyeballs up here. We can do that for you, you know? Generally we try not to let patients pull out their own IVs, it’s just messy, and I know you want to get back to your girl, okay? I can do that; I can take you back to her. Can you breathe for a second so all the noise will stop and maybe eat your food first? It’s breakfast for dinner on Saturdays.” He was working while he talked, capably reattaching the stuff Ben had just pulled off, or out, or whatever it was he’d been doing. His voice was soothing, and his hands were cool.
His girl. That made him feel warm and panicky at the same time. Ben hadn’t really had a chance to think about that, but she was his and he was hers, even if they hadn’t said a word about it yet, to each other. And he’d said, Dolph, that he could do that, take him back to Rey. “My girl. Okay. I...okay. No eggs, though. I can’t…” He felt like he might throw up any minute; and he really didn’t want to do that, not the way his ribs felt, so not a good idea. He waved his arm, the one with the cast on it, at the tray.
“There weren’t any allergies in your records.” Dolph got a good look at his face. “Oh, nope, not an allergy, okay, give me a minute.” Ben closed his eyes to concentrate on slowing the roll in his stomach along with his breathing, and there was the sound of something being scraped off a plate into the trash. “Okay, all set, it’s just pancakes and sausage, they’re both terrible, but what can you do? I got rid of the eggs. Eat some for me, okay?” The hands were cool on his forehead and wrist now, and he shook his head and opened his eyes again.
Dolph was peering worriedly at him and he should try to explain. “Can I...can you take me there first, to her room? Please? I can’t...I don’t think I could eat, yet; I need to see her. I have to see her for myself. That she isn’t...while I was gone, she didn’t…” He closed his eyes again and the bells and alarms and beeps started, he should really have better self-control than this, but he just didn’t, it just wasn’t there, and the faster he breathed, the more it hurt. He was having trouble getting a whole breath, but if he told them that they wouldn’t let him go anywhere.
“She’s fine, I was just in there, she’s…” Dolph started to say, but he gave up and sighed. “All right, I give; I can see how this going to go. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll walk you down the hall if you promise to eat something when you get there, okay?” Ben nodded mutely. “Geez, I just got these back on you.” The sticky stuff and the finger thing and the needle were quickly and efficiently removed. Breathing was important for getting out of bed, Ben discovered; it was a good thing he had help. It was still kind of a process; he tried not to show what it cost him.
Dolph paused and held up a finger. “Your friend, the cute one; Poe? I mean, they’re both cute; anyway. He came back and brought you some clothes; you said he should, so I gave him your keys and told him your address.” The next several minutes, in the bathroom, were very embarrassing; Ben had had no idea how humiliating it would be to not be able to put on your own pants, but Dolph did a fine job of pretending he noticed nothing while actually pretty much being in charge of the whole bathroom process. He didn’t bother with the shirt, explaining that they’d need access to at least that much of Ben, and stuck the hospital gown on backwards, like a vest, which left Ben with some weird laces on his front, but whatever.
The walk down the hall wasn’t getting any easier; shouldn’t it be getting easier? Ben was impatient with himself and snappy with Dolph, which he regretted even while he was doing it, by the time they got back to room 18. He apologized when they got to the door and got a “For what?” and a smile as Dolph opened it. There she was, she was still here, sitting up in bed with a tray of breakfast of her own, eggs and all, but it didn’t bother him as much here, with Rey.
She set down the tray and fork and just held out her arms, and Dolph was steering him at the chair again. That wasn’t good enough, though, so he went straight to Rey and folded her into his arms. There was an exasperated noise and some muttering about so getting fired for this, oh well, worth it , and Ben found himself being boosted up so he could get onto the bed with her; the tray disappeared as he settled in next to Rey.
It had been more work than he would have thought, getting here; he was breathing like he’d been running a race, but still couldn’t seem to get enough air. Ben rested his head on Rey’s shoulder, closed his eyes and just took in the feel of her; the fabric of the hospital gown she wore, the texture of the scarf draped over it, and her skin against his. How could someone smell like sunlight? He could hear her heart beating, echoed by the monitor; she hadn’t left him, while he was gone. He hadn’t screwed up again, she was still here.
A couple of minutes later, maybe, he didn’t know, voices cut through Ben’s fatigue. He’d almost fallen asleep again, just the trip down the hall had taken that much out of him. “Mr. Solo?” That was Dolph. “Ben?” That was Rey, almost at the same time. He opened his eyes again; they really were very heavy. The two of them were looking down at him with almost identical expressions of concern. Rey spoke again, voice hoarse, hand on his chest. “...not breathing right. I can feel it.” Ben tried to slow his breathing, to deepen it. He didn’t want to worry her.
Dolph nodded; he was checking Ben’s pulse again. “That’s not surprising. His chest, his lungs, took quite a beating. We’d expect you to have some trouble, Mr. Solo, after all the blood we took out of your chest; but if this keeps up or gets any worse, we need to send you for scans so we can figure out what to do next. Okay? And yes, I noticed; in your room, and all the way here.” Dolph’s youthful face wasn’t very good at stern, but he did his best.
He wagged a finger in Ben’s face. “Don’t bullshit a bullshitter, Mr. Solo. If you don’t tell me when you’re having trouble, I can’t help you. Doctor Canady will be back tomorrow morning to have another good look at you.” Dolph sighed again. He was doing that a lot; Ben thought he must be a very troublesome patient. “Look; I won’t take you out of here again, either of you, except to do tests or scans we can’t do in here, okay? I get it. Together is better. In fact..well, you’ll see in a minute. But both of you need to eat.”
Ben nodded. Dolph helped him sit upright, then returned the dishes to their respective laps, Rey’s and Ben’s, when had he brought that? The pancakes did smell good. Ben noticed the eggs were gone from Rey’s plate, too; he didn’t know why, but he was grateful not to have to deal with them. He was hungry, now that he thought about it. This was echoed by a growl from Rey’s stomach where she sat next to him, which made them both giggle while Dolph tidied things up in the room. Right; he picked up the fork and went to work.
Once they’d both at least stuck their forks in the food, Dolph went off to do...something, surely he had other things to do than wrangle the two of them. Once he got started, Ben discovered he was ravenous, so he concentrated on getting the breakfast inside himself for a few minutes until he heard a frustrated noise next to his ear. He glanced over to see Rey frowning at a bite of pancakes on the bed next to her. She attempted to stab it back onto the fork, failed, and went back to the plate for another.
An irritated growl was levelled at the next bite as she lifted it and completely missed her mouth. That was weird; he hadn’t really spent a lot of time watching her eat, but he was a little worried she was going to stab herself in the eye at this rate. He put a hand on her wrist. “Hey...are you okay? Let me, I don’t mind.” He cut up the pancakes, a little clumsily what with the large cast on his arm and the very tiny plastic utensils, and offered her a bite.
Her smile warmed him from head to toe. “Thanks. I think so,” she rasped, putting a hand to her throat, “Just...can’t seem to aim.” She winced as she spoke. The door opened; Dolph and another one of the nurses came in with another bed. This one had wheels, though, and it was smaller than the sort of massive slab of hospital bed they were sitting in now, that had made Rey look so small and vulnerable when he’d first seen her. Ben shivered at the memory, and consoled himself by feeding her pancakes and sausage, one bite at a time. She smiled at him and her mouth popped back open after each bite, like a baby bird; it was adorable.
Dolph and the other nurse, whose name Ben didn’t know, wrestled the second bed into place; they came in and out of the room a few times with machines and equipment until things were arranged to their satisfaction. The last thing Dolph brought in was a bag containing Ben’s wallet and watch and a few other things; all that was left of what he had on him when he’d gone head to head with the SUV, he guessed. He wondered where his shoes had gone. Dolph looked them both over, nodded at the missing food on their plates, dropped a wink as he indicated the second bed, and headed back out the door.
Ben cocked an ear at the door, but he didn’t hear anybody outside. “So...you’re a siren, a psychopomp; how did that happen?” Stupid, that was stupid, what a way to lead off their first real conversation. There went his ears again, they were probably as red as that scarf around her neck; his scarf, where had that come from? Maybe it was better if he didn’t ask. He ducked his head and became suddenly very intent on cutting the next bite of sausage. God, he was awkward, this was ridiculous, how did people do this?
There was a sort of scratchy, hissing noise, which when he looked up again turned out to be Rey laughing. “Hereditary,” she said. “But…” he was sorry to make her work so hard to talk, “...no family, no one to teach. So...just knew , all of it, when I saw someone dead.” She swallowed; it looked painful, but she clenched her fists like she was determined to keep going. She was certainly determined, he already knew that. “Foster kid...me. But I’m not...a siren, not...anymore. Price for...being back. For you. Damn. My voice!” Her eyes were anxious.
“Don’t worry. It takes a while, after they take out the tube. My mom…” Nope, he couldn’t. Not after waking up thinking she was still here; the thought threatened to speed up his breathing again, and he was trying to stop doing that. He closed his eyes and took a breath, ow, then opened them and smiled at her. “Anyway. It’ll come back, I think. It’ll be okay. But...you won’t be one, a siren, any more? You won’t be able to use that, uh, power? Is that...I wouldn’t want to take anything from you, your...heritage?” That’d be a great way to start, with her resenting him because she wasn’t, what, a magical superhero anymore?
Rey’s response wasn’t verbal, but it was unmistakable. Her whole face lit up, radiant, like the way she’d...glowed, when they were standing in the street; and her smile was big and happy and beautiful. Oh. Wow. Ben just stared at her, stock-still, fork forgotten in his hand; he was pretty sure his mouth was hanging open; yup, because she pushed his jaw closed with her hand before she leaned in and kissed him, missing first and hitting his chin, until he brought his other hand up to correct her aim. She tasted like pancakes and syrup and sunshine, like the best, brightest morning of your life.
When they got back to the food it was almost cold, but neither of them minded. And Ben talked, since she couldn’t, not very well. He told her everything; well, most of it. He talked about growing up with his parents, so full of love and anger at the same time, sizzling and sparking when they were together; how that wasn’t very often, his father always off in some exotic, remote locale, chasing the next big thing, sourcing coffee beans and all sorts of other rare tastes and sensations. There was plenty of money, he’d been lucky that way, he guessed, but it hadn’t solved everything.
Eventually Ben and his mother had figured out how life worked without him and lived their lives, waiting for Han to blow into the house like a hurricane, turn everything upside down in the best and worst way, and be gone again. He’d always come home with a story of some narrow escape; a water landing in a jungle somewhere, keeping his business partner from destroying some guy who’d looked at them the wrong way, getting thrown in jail. Ben told Rey a few of those stories, too; they made her laugh, and him too, which hurt, a LOT, and he had to stop because she looked worried about him and he needed to breathe.
The parts about school weren’t nearly as funny. Rey listened while he told her about being skipped a few grades, probably too many, and how hard that made it to connect with anyone. As he got older the balance of love and anger between his parents had started to slip. He thought some of it must have had to to with him; he was always getting in fights at school. Somebody would say something, about his glasses, his age, his ears, about some other kid he didn’t even know, and that was it. He just got so angry , and he didn’t know why, and the anger wouldn’t go away until he’d done something with it, something physical. That had probably been hard on them, him being the way he was.
His mother had gone to endless meetings; there had been counselors and therapists and occasionally his father saying that there was nothing wrong with knowing how to handle yourself in a fight, he should just take Ben along on one of his trips, that’d sort him out in no time. And he’d hurt people, along the way, he knew; he shouldn’t have, you shouldn’t hurt people. But the only thing that helped, in the end, was the school letting him pile all the classes on at once until he’d graduated at 15. He still didn’t really know how they’d let him do that, but he suspected his mother’s hand in it.
Somewhere in there his father had left and not come back at all; but he couldn’t tell her that, not yet. That one was still raw, finished and unfinished. So he talked about his mother, how she’d helped him to get a scholarship and start college right away; he’d LOVED college, he didn’t feel as angry all the time. College felt peaceful. The heart attack, he told her all of that. They’d told him she was recovering well, all those weeks later, from her surgery; she’d told him she was fine, that it was a shame he’d been cooped up with nothing but school and the hospital. His stitches started stinging while he talked about this part, and he’d stopped eating but he tasted salt. Rey’s hand came up ever so gently, wavering back and forth until it landed on his cheek.
Mom had told him to go out and have some fun, see a movie or something. So he had, he’d gone to see The Hobbit, the first one, and he’d turned off his phone out of habit (Mom was a stickler for not spoiling other people’s movie experience); and when the movie was over he’d had so many messages, so many, and the blood clot had finished killing her before he made it back there to be with her. She’d been alone, and it had been his fault. After all the times she’d been there for him, he’d had ONE JOB, and he’d failed. Ben had turned 18 the month after that. Rey was crying, she hadn’t known his mother; for him? He felt bad that he was making her cry, but he couldn’t stop, his whole life was spilling out at once.
Somewhere along the line, he’d started studying mythology, especially the flaws of its heroes, and the virtues of what people called its monsters. If he could find another way to look at them, all of them, the heroes and the villains, maybe he could find a place where they were neither; just people who could transcend their fates and labels. Maybe he could get people to look at them in a different way, see what was behind their stories. Maybe they could choose, he could choose, what to be, if sirens could be kind and somebody with anger management issues could still be a hero. Maybe someday he could be; better than he was, than he’d been.
This next part was important, if he could get it out of his mouth. “Then there was you, and I was right, because you could have been cold, or distant, with a job like that, what a thing to make you do; a person should be able to CHOOSE. But you weren’t cold, you were warm and beautiful, like summer sunshine; I never really liked summer before. Before you. And you could have just sung your song and gone on with your life but you cared, I still don’t understand it. I thought I was hallucinating until I heard your voice, because I’d never heard you sing. I’d never even talked to you, really, outside of class, but I thought maybe, already, that I might love you. And I was right about that too.”
Now she was really crying; what was Ben doing wrong, why couldn’t he say anything right ? He was just terrible at this, all of it. No, wait, she was still smiling, though, while she cried, did that mean he hadn’t done it wrong? “I...think maybe...I know...I love you too.” She curled herself up onto his chest, ouch, that hurt, so what, it made him so damn happy. He could put his arms around her, he could hold her; he was allowed to do that, and he hadn’t thought that would ever happen. Ben rested his chin on the top of her head and just soaked up the feeling, of Rey; sunshine and warmth and belonging and home.
Rey wished she could tell him more, about herself, the way he’d shared with her. Her story wasn't that interesting, to tell the truth. But if they were getting to know each other, it should be both of them, shouldn’t it? How long was it going to take, until she could use her voice again, to talk to him, to tell him all the things she wanted to say? How long until she could sing ? She’d waited so long, listening to all the beautiful music in the world, playing it, watching her friends enjoy it, and never daring to use her voice just for the glory of sound; for joy.
Even if she never sang again, though, it was worth it. He was worth it. Rey wanted nothing more than to be able to tell him that. She’d listened to him explain the trouble he’d had in school, his parents’ marriage (she suspected there was more to that than he was saying), and his mother’s death; and she didn’t like the way he talked about himself one bit. It sounded like he blamed himself for some of that, maybe all of it. That was wrong. His being present for a failure in his parents’ marriage, or an illness that had ultimately killed his mother, didn’t make him responsible; any more than she’d personally killed people by witnessing their deaths.
The fighting, well, she hadn’t been there, but it sounded as though he’d had a rough time of it. Rey tried to imagine being years younger than everyone in her grade at school. Perish the thought; the ill-fitting hand-me-downs and the constant relocation had been hard enough. His mother had no doubt been doing her best, and Rey was certainly grateful for the timing, she probably never would have met Ben otherwise; but that was bound to have been a social disaster. Whatever issues he’d had, or even still had, Rey knew exactly what kind of person he was; the kind of man who wasn’t afraid to die to save a kid he didn’t even know. He was a hero, whether he knew it or not; and it was so frustrating that she couldn’t say so.
That was all very, very important; but not nearly as important right now as the simple fact that he was here . They were both here, both alive, and scandalously in bed together (she hoped Dolph wasn’t really going to get fired over that, he was so nice to help them). And neither of them, battered as they were, had the energy to so much as get out of bed. Well, there would be time for that later. Rey glanced at the TV, which had been playing something at low volume that she hadn’t noticed. There was a movie starting next; OH! She nudged Ben’s hand where it lay against her shoulder. It was The Fellowship of the Ring, and it was about to start.
He picked up the remote and turned up the volume. “I love the beginning of this; Mom always used to…” A shadow crossed his face. “She…” His breathing was fast, and shallow, against her side. Damn. She should have thought of that; but he’d seemed pleased, earlier, to talk Lord of the Rings with Rose. Was it because they’d been talking about his mother? Should she turn off the TV? He was losing color, again, around the bruises. There were a LOT of bruises, purple and blue and red; she could practically see the shape of the SUV’s hood across his chest, but the rest of him in between was paper-white.
Ben took a deep breath, which made him hunch over his middle, but she could watch him work to calm himself. He shook his head, his jaw working. “NO. I keep this. Eggs for dinner; hell, eggs in general I can live without, but death doesn’t get this. Hades doesn’t get this. This was ours, hers and mine; and it’s yours, and your friends’, too, isn’t it? And I want that, for it to be ours too. This I keep.” His eyes were dark with grief and brimming with memory.
He looked at her, pain and fondness warring in his expression. “She always said the words, along with Galadriel, at the beginning, just because she liked them so much. She said the whole thing was poetry, really.” He looked back up at the screen as it started. “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.” His voice chanted along with the words, a deep bass that made her ribs vibrate, and when she looked up at him he was smiling as he said them.
He was crying, but smiling too, as the words continued. “...But there were some who resisted…” Yes, there were, and she was very proud of him. “Victory was near…” As far as Rey was concerned, they were already victorious, just being here. “And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth.” He looked down at her; they snickered at the same time, it certainly had; and suddenly they were just watching a movie that both of them really, really liked.
It was a different experience, watching this with Ben; everyone noticed something different when they watched, Rey had found over the years with her own Fellowship. Ben pointed out the different scripts, the Dwarvish runes and their relationship to historical languages and scripts. He was particularly excited about the map of the Lonely Mountain; he told her about the editions of the books he’d read as a child; the cloth-bound ones with the Eye of Sauron picked out in orange and pink and green, with their own maps folded into the back covers.
She learned he’d scared himself, trying to reproduce the inscription on the One Ring with his calligraphy set at an impressionable age. Ben told her he’d heard the words from the film in his head, while he wrote them; and he’d thrown the paper in the fireplace. After that he’d limited himself, he said, to copying the poems and songs that weren’t quite as...fraught, until he was a little older; Luthien and Beren, and Earendil the mariner, all of the rest of them. It was unbelievably irritating not to be able to properly express how adorable that was; so she tried to let her eyes do the talking, then snuggled in against him.
They escaped into Middle-Earth together; always together, now. They watched Aragorn and Arwen, a man and a magical creature of myth who would choose to become mortal; they would always choose each other, and love, whatever the price. There was a marathon of the films, they found; and they watched them until they both fell asleep; together.
Dolph was passing outside the door of room 18 when he heard the faint scream. What the hell…? Oh, geez, if there was something seriously wrong with either of them; had it been a terrible idea, moving him into her room like that? It had seemed like a good idea; like kangaroo care, for babies; or those elderly couples you heard about once in while who’d been together for so long that they just didn’t know how to exist apart. No, hang on, the alarms weren’t making any noise; what on earth?
He unlatched the door, very quietly, and opened it. They were both sitting up on their pillows, wrapped in each other’s arms, heads leaning in close while they looked at the TV. On the screen, Gandalf was talking to a moth. Oh. The morgul -blade. That had been Frodo screaming, on Weathertop. Dolph lingered in the doorway just watching them for a few minutes; her silently mouthing the words along with the film while he talked in a low buzz about Arwen and Aragorn, about reading the books as a boy and how much he’d loved them.
They looked blissful, and safe; as though nothing could hurt them while they were together. Yeah, this had been a fabulous idea. Dolph ran the sleeve of his shirt across his eyes; he was in tears just watching them. It was just one of the most gorgeous things he’d ever seen; and he hoped someday he could find a man who made him feel like that, just being next to him. He closed the door, as quietly as he’d opened it, and went back to work humming “May It Be” to himself under his breath.
Is this the end?
We'll find out later.
Okay, personal stuff: I actually did this. I wrote out all the poems and songs from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in calligraphy. I spent a great deal of time doing that, in fact, in the face of some tearing down where there should have been support. And the editions of the Lord of The Rings described here are mine, passed down to me when I was 10 years old, along with the green leather-bound illustrated Hobbit and the words "They're yours. They were yours as soon as you read them.", which was very loving support from a different quarter. Only mildly pertinent to the story, but very important to me, which I also discovered while writing it, so there you have it.
Chapter 4: Part The Fourth
Our Fellowship shows Ben what it's like to be looked after. He is baffled. Ben gets a look at what he's done to his face and thinks it matters. And we get to meet someone new, who reminds Ben that *he* matters.
Warning: this medical issue may have unpredictable interactions with mythological conditions.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was amazing, the difference a lot of sleep and a shower made. Well, that and knowing their friends were alive and at least semi-well. Friends. They’d added one; that made Rose feel warm. It wasn’t a thing to be done lightly, adding someone to a Fellowship like this; but she knew it had been the right thing to do, to...claim him. And he was Rey’s, and that was a very good thing, because she’d needed somebody to be hers for a long time. It must have been hard, watching them pair off with each other over the last three years and change; but Rey hadn’t said a word about it, and she’d given every evidence of enjoying their happiness.
Rose wondered why no one else had come for Ben yet; there must be a story there. She’d learned, though, from Finn and Rey, that people’s stories were something they shared in their own good time. Meanwhile, there were certainly enough of them and they were determined enough that he wouldn’t feel like nobody noticed, or cared. She’d learned from the best how important that was; in all the trouble in their lives, Paige had made sure they were never separated, and that Rose always knew there was someone looking out for her.
Even now that Rose was in college, her sister still checked in all the time; they’d have lunch or catch a movie whenever Paige was free, and talk about their respective boyfriends. That wasn’t very often; Paige and Tom were both aircraft mechanics, mostly fixing and maintaining the helicopters at the place Poe worked. Poe had been so nice to recommend Paige for the job. He’d hardly even known Rose then, let alone Paige, but he and Tom had served together. And once Tom had caught sight of her sister, well, it was all over.
The whole hangar crew had started calling him Snap, after he’d broken a piece of strut right off in his hands while he was staring at her. He made Paige feel, finally, like somebody was taking care of her ; and Rose would have loved him for that alone. That was something she had never been able to accomplish, Paige was so determined to take care of Rose instead. Even though Rose missed her sometimes, she was glad to see Paige taking time for herself, to have a career and a relationship and find out what she liked to do.
But it seemed like maybe nobody had looked after Ben in a long time; she wished she’d known that sooner. That would change, especially if Rey had anything to say about it. That was the best way, when you got to take care of each other. She felt herself grinning, and put her hand on Finn’s neck to pull him in for a smooch. They’d taken care of each other in any number of ways after they’d gone home. He looked absently at her, distracted from going over the things he’d brought for Rey, but he was more than happy to oblige.
Poe was texting over in the corner; he had a shift coming up, so he had to make sure the air transport company knew where he was. Working on Sunday, yuck; but people got hurt every day of the week, and it was Poe’s job to get them where they needed to go. Rose hoped it was a slow day. She had a very good idea, now, what those patients and the people who cared about them would be feeling. And she knew exactly how good Kaydel would be at that, with him, when she was done with med school.
Speaking of Kaydel, she appeared in the door as though her name had called her there. She was carrying a tray of coffees. Oh; that was why she’d taken longer to get here, wow, that was nice of her. Evidently Poe thought so too. He just beamed when he saw her, like he always did; and he walked over and took her hand, planting his other hand on her waist. “Poe, don’t you dare, at least let me set the coffees down first,” Kaydel protested, but she was laughing.
She managed to set the tray down on a counter before Poe whisked her off to dance around the lobby in some kind of complicated step; who knew what, but Kaydel kept right up with him. He was singing, too: “You’re the cream in my coffee, you’re the salt in my stew/You will always be...my necessity, I’d be lost without you…”. Most of the nurses and staff nearby had stopped to watch. They were pretty spectacular. It was even more obvious, when they were dancing or singing together, how much they loved each other.
Finn shook his head at them, grinning, gave Rose’s hand a squeeze, and went to go retrieve the tray of coffees. She felt herself smiling, too, as Kaydel giggled and her hair started to come loose. Rose turned back to watch Finn; she did like to watch him walk away, almost as much as she liked to see him come back to her. Now she was giggling too. Finn gave her a puzzled look as he came back with the tray. “I just like looking at you, handsome, that’s all.” His smile was positively bashful; he just had no idea how beautiful he was. That was okay; she was happy to tell him any time.
Even Doctor Canady stopped to watch the dancing on his way out to the lobby. “Well, isn’t that a picture?” Kaydel and Poe finished their dance with a dip and a kiss, like they’d planned it that way; and came back, a little breathless and ruddy, to drop into a pair of chairs next to Finn and Rose. “If you’re quite finished turning this place into a dance hall, you’re welcome to come and see your friends.” His attempt to appear annoyed wasn’t very convincing, and the grin that followed it was surprisingly boyish. “We’re going to need some extra chairs, I think.”
Finn handed Kaydel her coffee without a word, carrying the rest on the tray while Rose grabbed the bag of Rey’s things. They made their way down the hallway while Poe picked up Kaydel’s hair ties from the lobby floor, grabbed the bag he’d carried in with him, and brought up the rear. Rose was a little confused when they passed Room 12 and headed straight down toward Room 18. “Aren’t we going to see Ben, too?” Somebody should be visiting him, too; he was one of them now. It wouldn’t be fair, if he were alone.
There was a small sigh from Doctor Canady; Rose could sort of hear an eye-roll in the middle of it. “Arrangements were evidently made for Mr. Solo overnight; don’t worry, you won’t miss him.” The words were a little curt, but there was a pleased sound to his voice. “Now. Ms. Johnson has some work to be done, so she’ll have to be elsewhere for a while; but I’ll leave you to talk a bit, first.” He stopped at Room 18 and opened the door. “Go on, then, I’ve things that need doing. I’ll be back to collect her.” He headed back the way he’d come.
They filed into the room to find both Ben and Rey looking very much at home, leaning on each other in a single hospital bed. There was another bed at the other side of the room, but it was clear to Rose that nobody was using it. Dolph was clearing away a couple of trays. “Hang on, guys, I’ll grab some chairs for you.” He rolled the tray tables out the door while Kaydel held it open for him. “Thanks, sweetie.”
Ben eyed the bags they were carrying. “What’s all that? Um. I mean, hi, guys.” He threw an arm over Rey’s shoulder and pulled her into his side, without looking; like he needed to make sure she was still there, like he needed something better than the evidence of his own eyes. She, on the other hand, was absolutely looking as she planted one on his cheek. Yeah, they were gone . Finn exchanged the remaining coffees for the bag, leaving Rose to set them down while he carried it over to Rey.
“Well, this one is for Rey.” He gave her a sideways hug that by extension included Ben’s arm, too. He didn’t seem to mind. “You’re looking good. We brought you your schoolwork, some clothes, your tablet; that’s where you keep all your music, right? Your necklace is in there, some headphones, and some of that tea you like so much--the throat soothing stuff?” She nodded, looking delighted. “Want me to go see if I can make you some?” So that was what it looked like when you said thank you with your eyes. Finn headed off down the hall to find some hot water and a mug.
Poe stepped up with the other bag. “And this one’s for you.” Ben did turn some interesting shades of pink and red, didn’t he? He looked at Poe like he’d grown another head.
“Me? What did you...you didn’t have to...um, thanks.” His eyes looked a little watery. Geez, nobody had been looking after him.
“It was no trouble, man, I already had your keys. I got your thesis notes, I think, some papers to grade, sorry, I brought you work. There’s some more clothes; I noticed you didn’t have any shoes, your laptop, and oh!” He held up a small case. “I found a pair of glasses at your place; you didn’t have yours, right?” Ben looked completely flummoxed. He ducked his head; Rose suspected to compose himself before he looked up again. But Rey looked a little pale all of a sudden, she wondered why that was.
“No, they were, um, destroyed.” He got a look at Rey. “Hey. But I’m okay, remember? I mean, mostly.” He looked ruefully down at his torso, which was covered in a rainbow of bruises. “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere, all right?” He tipped her chin up until she was looking at him. “You’ll be sick of me, I promise.” Rey shook her head, regaining a little color, mouthing “never”. He dropped a gentle kiss on the tip of her nose; and Rose could tell neither of them had any idea there were other people in the room, for a few minutes.
Rose busied herself helping Dolph bring in the chairs as he came back with them; he gave the two of them a fond glance as they set up the seats, mm-hmm, Rose was betting she knew who was responsible for them being together in here. Good for him. Poe sat next to Kaydel and began re-braiding her hair so he could put it back up like she liked it. Finn came back with a steaming cup of tea. That smelled really good; maybe she should pick some up for them too. Dolph looked over the room, nodded, and bustled off out the door.
They spent a while just, doing exactly what it said on the label; visiting. Kaydel and Rose and Rey worked on their papers for Professor Holdo’s class; Ben’s class, while he peered at them over his glasses, amused, and said “Spoilers!”, which made them all laugh. Poe helped Finn study for his psych quiz for a while, until he noticed Ben blow the hair out of his eyes for the fifth time. He took pity on poor Ben and beckoned Finn over, turning Ben’s head so they could each braid a few sections of hair back from his face.
Rose watched them, smiling and toying with the couple of little braids Finn had put in her own hair that morning, just for fun. Ben looked flustered as Kaydel passed them one of her hair ties to finish up the work, and Rey giggled. “I… like it,” she croaked. She reached up to touch the braids...and missed, patting the empty air next to his head until he re-directed her hand; that was weird. Her voice sounded better, though, stronger than yesterday. Wow, there were even more shades of red and pink available for the human face, who knew? And all of them were decorating Ben Solo’s cheeks and ears.
Doctor Canady came back into the room, followed by Dolph with a wheelchair. “Time for your scans, young lady.” Rey shook her head, looking apprehensively at Ben. “Now, now, he’s not going anywhere, and he seems to have plenty of company. Mr. Mitaka here will keep you company while I have a look at the contents of your cranium. No arguments, this is a hospital, after all, and we are rather obliged to provide at least some medical care, it’s in the charter. The chair is policy, I’m afraid. So come along and we’ll have you back as soon as we possibly can. Yes?” Rey nodded. Dolph waited for her to finish her tea and transferred her effortlessly to the wheelchair, along with the red scarf she insisted on taking with her. She shrugged and waved at them all, and blew Ben a kiss, which made him blush again, but he gave it back.
After they’d left, Ben patted the top of his head. “Okay, this I have to see. Who’s got a mirror? I haven’t seen one since I got here.” The room went quiet for a minute. Poe and Finn gave each other alarmed looks behind the back of Ben’s head, and Kaydel bit her lip; really, nothing from the professionals, current or aspiring, huh? Okay, it was going to be up to her. Rose grabbed the mirror out of her messenger bag. She mostly used it to see the back of equipment she was working on in tight spaces, but it was there; she handed it to Ben, who brought it up to his face as Poe and Finn moved back from the bed to give them room.
He’d been chuckling, a little, as he felt the braids, but he went silent as he caught sight of his sutures, row after row of little black knots running from his forehead, across his eye and his cheek, down his neck onto his chest. The remains of the flush across his cheeks disappeared like somebody had dipped him in bleach; and his hand rose slowly to touch the ends of the stitches, like brushing over blades of grass. Rose reached up to put her hand on his shoulder; it was a pain being short sometimes, she practically had to stand on her tiptoes. He started and turned shocked eyes in her direction. “Hey. I know. It’s a lot. You hadn’t seen it yet?” His head went slowly from side to side.
“She...how can she…I’m…” She could hear him breathing, quick and ragged; she caught the mirror as he dropped it, hand drifting to his ribs. His lips moved, but no sound came out; but it looked to her like he’d meant to say monster . Oh, hell no. Rose tightened her hand on his shoulder, just a little, so he’d remember it was there, while she thought about what to say. She could see Kaydel, having regained her customary cool, coming to stand next to her, giving the stitches a professional appraisal and laying a hand on his forearm.
“They did a good job, Ben. I think somebody must’ve called a plastic surgeon in to help. These are nice, small, regular stitches. You’ll have a scar; that’s unavoidable. But I think it’ll be pretty clean and even. Hey.” She squeezed his arm. “That just means you lived, understand? You get to have a scar because you lived. And we,” she waved a hand to indicate the four of them, “are really glad you did. Okay? And your hair does look awfully cute, did you see it?” He swallowed audibly and shook his head. “These boys know how to braid.” She smiled at him. He looked unconvinced. Rose’s turn again.
“Ben.” He slowly pointed his face at her. “Not a problem. Have you seen Rey look at you?” He looked confused. “She’s lit up from the inside, like she’s freaking bioluminescent. I have never seen her look at another human being the way she looks at you. And…” Gotta say this part right. “We all noticed her noticing you, in class, and you noticing her. Oh, what, you thought you two were subtle?” The blush was back; good. “She’s looking at you EXACTLY the same way now, only...more. I say it again. Not. A. Problem. Okay?” Hell, once the stitches were out, it would only make him look like the cover of one of those cheesy romance novels Paige used to read. Nope, she was not saying that out loud.
Rose glanced behind her, where Poe and Finn were quietly getting their things together. Shit. It was about that time. Poe had a shift, she had a date with a cranky server she was supposed to fix, yay, she was working on Sunday too; and Finn had an appointment to talk about Rey’s bills and legal stuff. She looked at Kaydel, who nodded. She’d stay. Good. “We’ll be back tomorrow, okay? Do you have everything you need?” He nodded. “All right. There’s no class for Religion 305; some lazy TA’s skipping to lounge around doing nothing, I heard.” There was a very faint ghost of a smile. She gave his shoulder a last squeeze, and went to join Finn as Poe stepped over to kiss Kaydel goodbye.
They heard a familiar voice as they turned toward the door; nobody had noticed it opening. “Now, who’s slandering my assistant?” Professor Holdo raised a cool eyebrow at Rose, then winked at her. She stood by the door, looking like a cool, fragrant breeze had ushered her in; but then, she always did. She was dressed in flowing, gauzy layers of blue and green that went nicely with her violet hair, looking even taller than she actually was in a pair of heeled boots; sun, star, and moon earrings dangled in rows from her ears to go along with the constellation picked out in her necklace. Cassiopeia, Rose thought. The big “W” in the sky.
She gave Ben a thoughtful, considering look, followed by a toothy smile that made her look decades younger than Rose assumed she actually was. “I like this look. The braids, the face, hmmmm, rakish, with the laces. Like a pirate. Invest in frilly shirts, and it’s a whole style. You may need to trade the glasses in for something more period, though. A monocle? A spyglass?” She winked at him and strode across the room, drawing up a chair next to the bed. She took a second look at the hair, then looked back at Kaydel. “Did you and Rose do this?”
Kaydel shook her head, displaying a dimple or two. “That was the boys, Professor. I don’t think you’ve met them, and I’m afraid they’ve got to go; but that’s my Poe, there, I know you’ve heard me talk about him before.” She indicated each man in turn. “And that’s Finn. He’s in school with us, but he wasn’t lucky enough to sign up for your class.” They waved.
Professor Holdo *tsk*’d at herself. “Well, wasn’t that a terribly sexist assumption. You’d think I’d know better.” She grinned. “Lovely job, boys. I look forward to making your further acquaintance.”
Ben was looking down at the backwards hospital gown he was wearing and feeling his hair again as Rose, Finn and Poe left the room. He looked a little stunned and a lot confused. Rose smiled. The professor would sort him out in short order...like Galadriel, giving the gifts they needed to make their way in the world.
He was exploring the stitches with his hand. There certainly were a lot of them. Amilyn felt a lurch in her stomach at how close it must have been. That would have been a loss; for the world, a brilliant mind on the brink of bringing his ideas to fruition. And for her; well, in the time since she’d met him as a lost, motherless undergrad, she’d come to think of Benjamin Solo as something like a son.
She’d been delighted when he’d accepted the position as her teaching assistant. Over the years, Amilyn had tried to get him to reach out to others his own age. She’d even gone so far as to leave a flyer for the Cantina’s karaoke night on his desk, something she knew many of the students in her class attended. Those students included Rey Johnson, and she’d known the young man long enough to have a good idea of the eventual results of putting those two in the same room outside class.
But right now he looked worried. She patted his hand. “Benjamin. How are you feeling? I was glad to hear you were up to visitors, though I wasn’t expecting to see quite so much of my class in here.” She glanced at Kaydel Connix, who was directing an amused look at her laptop.
Ben smiled apologetically at her. “I’m all right, I think. Um, sorry. Rey is, they took her for tests, she isn’t here; but I’m sure she’ll be back soon, if you need to talk to her.”
Amilyn had worked hard for serenity over her lifetime; but the exasperated sigh and eye-roll happened before she could quite stop them. “Benjamin Solo . I’m here to see you...wait. Rey is here? Why? Never mind that. She’s a lovely girl, and we’ll get to talking about her in a moment, I have no doubt,” she leveled a look a him, and he turned a surprisingly delicate shade of pink, “but I. Am Here. To. See. You . We have been working together for how long now? My dear boy, I was worried we’d lost you!” Serenity be damned. An unexpected tear made its entrance; she didn’t bother to hide it; let him see. It might do him some good; his look of surprise was a confirmation.
She patted his hand again and reached into her bag. “I also came to bring you these.” She pulled out the stack of cards and papers she’d tied together with a ribbon that had been on her desk, and handed them to him. They’d been appearing through the mailbox slot in her office door since Friday night; and students dropping by her office on a weekend was, well, unprecedented. “They’re for you. From the students. And some of the faculty, too. I think there are even a few from the admissions and service staff.”
He untied the ribbon with tentative hands. Some were just a short line or two hoping he felt better soon; a few were cards, homemade or bought in the campus bookstore. One of them was a perfect recreation of his desk in the classroom, in pencil, with a visibly Benjamin Solo-shaped dark silhouette and a note that said “Something’s missing!”. Amilyn chuckled, as she had when she’d seen it. “That one’s from Jessika and Karé.” He looked blank. “The two girls who sit in the far corner? The art students? They're a couple? Karé has a blonde Mohawk, you can’t possibly have missed them.”
Recognition dawned on his face. He really hadn’t noticed much other than Ms. Johnson. Now that she took a look around the room, she could see a second laptop on a table by the other side of the hospital bed, covered with stickers; daisies, feathers, and music notes. Ah, yes, she knew that one, and the name on the paper notes sitting beside it. There was a second bed in the room, but it looked as though no one had used it. Oh, excellent. At least something good had come of this.
She’d told him the stars had something terrible and something wonderful in store, he’d see, when they’d talked constellations as part of his own studies; but Benjamin Solo was shockingly skeptical for a specialist in mythology. “Oh, them. Wow, I...this is…” There was a distinct tremor in his voice. He smoothed his hand over the drawing from Jessika and Karé. “Will you thank them for me, all of them?” He was back to apologetic. “I don’t know how long I’ll be here, I’m sorry, but I can still do the work; at least, the grading, and…”
She pointed a finger at him. “You will be here exactly as long as you need to be. And you’re welcome to do the work, if you need something to do, but be sure to let me know if it’s too much. I’ll find help here and there; strictly temporary help,” she forestalled the fear of being replaced that she could already see forming on his face, “and the classroom will be ready when you come back to us. You take care of yourself. There are plenty of people who want to see you back where you belong.”
His face was full of ill-concealed amazement and the beginnings of a smile as he stared down at the bundle of well-wishes; that was good to see, but he shouldn’t be nearly this surprised. She ducked her head to catch his eye again. “Now. I can’t stay, I suddenly seem to have all this extra work.” He looked guilty. Oh, good grief; no one should be this serious. “Benjamin; I’m teasing . Show me the latest notes for your dissertation.” Kaydel was audibly amused now.
That got her a sudden burst of enthusiasm. She wondered where he’d gotten all the new certainty; he was writing as he talked, eyes bright and full of ideas. They spent a good while in discussion while he expanded on his theories, and as far as Amilyn could tell, Benjamin was happy . That was delightful. She asked him, eventually, about the boost in inspiration; he started laughing before she was finished with the sentence. That segued into a cough that sounded extraordinarily painful, as he tried to stifle it with one hand on his mouth and the other at his ribs.
She stepped back to let Kaydel through as she came running to give the monitors a practiced glance. “Ben. Slow it down; you know how to do this by now. Breathe.” She grabbed him by the arms and demonstrated. Amilyn was alarmed to note that his hand was dotted with red. “Okay. That’s better. This, though,” she pointed at his hand, “Dolph will definitely need to know. No arguing. It could be nothing major; is that the first time you’ve tried coughing?” He nodded; the cough subsided into just breathing; ragged, but slower. “All right. Better?” He nodded again. “I’ll talk to Dolph when he gets back.” Kaydel helped him clean up a little.
“Talk to me about what?” The question came from someone in scrubs entering the room backwards, which was shortly explained by the wheelchair he was pulling in with him. “Oh, hello there.” The young man to whom the voice belonged smiled at her, then back down at Rey as he wheeled her over to the bed. “We told you he’d have plenty of company; see?” He lifted her out of the chair and deposited her right next to Benjamin. So that had turned out exactly as she expected; how splendid. Rey snuggled into the curve of his arm and shoulder as though they’d been designed for her; which, it seemed, they had.
Dolph was a little worried about Rey. Her scans were...very strange. Doctor Canady had managed to find her previous records, which had shown a benign mass tangled with the archicerebellum and up through the temporal lobe; other doctors had concluded that it was responsible for her seizures, but it wasn’t in a place where they could remove it. And now it was GONE. Dolph knew traumatic brain injuries were weird; their effects were unpredictable. Sometimes those effects lingered, sometimes they cleared up faster than you’d expect, and sometimes they were permanent. Personality changes, balance issues, memory troubles; he’d seen just about everything.
Rey was lucky; where she’d hit her head, she could easily have been killed. But this was a thing he’d never seen, that there was something just suddenly missing; as though the injury had simply erased it. Doctor Canady hadn’t been happy about some of the neurological evaluation results, either; hand-eye coordination, for instance. So she’d be having a CAT scan, too. They needed a better handle on this.
The archicerebellum controlled balance, among other things, which explained those coordination issues she was having; and the temporal lobe was often involved in seizure disorders, among its other functions like hearing and music. He’d seen from the books and things they’d brought her that she was a music student; Dolph certainly hoped that aspect of her life wasn’t damaged. He was no musician, but he liked to sing and listen to music, and he knew he’d hate it if he couldn’t any more.
This new visitor was intriguing; she was elegant, but somehow unfussy, with an almost witchy sort of style that he really liked. She introduced herself as Professor Amilyn Holdo, evidently a teacher and advisor for both of them; but just at the moment, she was directing a troubled look at Mr. Solo. So was Kaydel, who pulled him aside as he heard Rey say “Professor!” The three of them started talking; well, two of them. Rey was mostly nodding and smiling. But Dolph heard a word or two here and there; it sounded like her voice was improving.
Kaydel pitched her voice low, just for his ears. “You need to send Ben for scans, too, Dolph; he was coughing up blood, just now. I think he’s just been trying to avoid coughing, until he started laughing and he couldn’t help it, but…” She blew out a breath. “Sorry. You guys know what you’re doing. He just forgets to think about himself, I guess; so somebody has to do it for him.” She waved a hand at Ben. “Maybe a whole army of somebodies.”
“Hey, it’s okay, you’re right.” He smiled at her. “I have a feeling the more people looking out for this one, the better. Pulmonary contusions, along with everything else, so yeah, that makes sense. We X-rayed him, of course we did; but those can get worse after a few days. He’s supposed to go this afternoon anyway, I think, but I’ll talk to Doctor Canady. Coughing is good, though, if he can get all that junk out of his lungs; it won’t be fun, with the broken ribs, but it might help him breathe.”
He looked over at the two of them; okay, the braids were adorable. “We’ve got this. As long as we can get him to stay still and do as he’s told.” Yeah, the skeptical look Kaydel gave him was exactly how Dolph felt about that himself.
Rey was glad to be back where she belonged; resting her head against Ben’s shoulder. Professor Holdo stayed to chat for a few more minutes; Ben explained why Rey was here, too. The professor didn’t look nearly as surprised as Rey would have expected; that Rey and Ben had ended up in the same hospital at the same time, or that they were here together. Here, outside the classroom, Rey could see how much Professor Holdo really cared about Ben; she kept sneaking glances at him when he wasn’t looking, as if to make sure he was still here, still okay. Rey’d been doing enough of that herself that she ought to know what it looked like; and she liked the way the professor seemed to always call him Benjamin.
After a while, she did have to go; and Kaydel and Dolph went to go find Doctor Canady. Rey was going to need more tests, for what, she couldn’t imagine, she thought she must have had them all already; and they said Ben was going to need some too. Alone at last; at least for a little while. She turned to kiss him, and he sort of flinched, turning so she couldn’t really see his face. Why? She went to touch his chin, to turn his face toward her, and nearly poked him in the eye. Stupid aim. Maybe her voice would work. “...Ben? What’s the matter?” It was mostly working. She still didn’t sound entirely like herself, but there was sound, which was better.
“I...it’s...I should get some work done.” Come on, who did he think he was fooling? She was a music major. Sound and tone were her business; tone conveyed feeling, and his said this had nothing to do with work. This time she got hold of his chin.
“Ben. Look at me.” He turned his head with some reluctance, and his hand rose to...what? Was he trying to cover the stitches? Oh. Those. So what? If she didn’t move her hand away from him, it was easier to make it go where she wanted. She ran her thumb across his chin. “This is beautiful.” She brushed her fingers through his hair. “ And this.” She slid her hand up to knock gently on the top of his head. “What’s in here is beautiful,” which got her a half-smile; and brushed her hand down to his chest, over his heart. “And in here.” That got her a whole one. She walked her fingers back up to the line of small knots marching their way across his face. “And this? This is beautiful. Like this…,” she leaned in and kissed his cheek right next to the sutures, “...and when it’s healed.”
Rey had to stop and rub at her throat; that was a lot of words; but there were a few more. “You, right now, are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen; just like the first time I saw you.” She gave him his words back again. “You’ll be sick of me. I promise.” That was enough talking. She let her eyes travel up and down the length of him this time, ending with his face again; and made her own face as full of happiness, and wanting, as she possibly could. Then she kissed him, thinking she would gladly spend the rest of her life looking at that face; she had every intention of doing just that.
Ben didn’t know why he’d worried about Rey seeing his face, really; she’d already seen it, but he’d felt like it would be different, now that he’d seen it himself. He’d nearly split his face in two. It really didn’t matter, though; he could see that in her face, and hear it in her voice. She’d used it, her voice, even though he knew she was worried about whether it would still work; to tell him it was okay, that he was beautiful. That was something he hadn’t heard in a long time. And she’d used his own words to tell him she wasn’t going anywhere. So he returned the favor, between kisses. “Never.”
It wasn’t quite enough. He needed to feel that she was there; that she wasn’t going anywhere. So he pulled her against his chest, and his hand found the spot in the back of her hospital gown where it never did quite stay together; and he rubbed her back, just to feel her skin against his own, warm and here and alive. She seemed to feel the same; she snuck her own hand up under the front of the gown he was wearing backwards, and rested it on his chest. That, finally, was enough, for now. Reassured of their mutual presence, they fell asleep.
There were bound to be complications, medical and otherwise; "The course of true love never did run smooth."
Meet Professor Holdo. She's been worried about our Benjamin.
Chapter 5: Part The Fifth
Things aren't entirely right with Rey or Ben yet. A new visitor gets Dolph's attention. We revisit Hades-space; why? Go find out.
What would it really be like, to have eternal, endless custody of the dead? Especially when some of them are far more stubborn than others. We get a little glimpse of the anger management issues Ben had, once upon a time. And Persephone is an inveterate, loving meddler.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Dolph had told him about the coughing; he and Kaydel both had, but Doctor Canady seemed to think that Ben could wait until the scans that were already scheduled for him that afternoon. There really wasn’t much you could do with injuries like his except wait and see, and deal with any problems as they happened. Until then, it was stay put and rest, which he’d seen was exactly what they were doing when he stopped to check on the two of them; curled up asleep like a couple of kittens. He’d have to wake them up now, which was a shame; but hospitals worked on a schedule, so when it was mealtime, you ate, even if you had to be woken up to do it. Kaydel had gone to get something to eat, and said she’d be back soon.
He was heading down the hall with the cart of lunch trays, most of which had already been delivered; he’d saved theirs for last so he would have a few minutes to see how they were doing. He really was becoming ridiculously attached to these two. Dolph was making his way past the nurses’ station when he stopped short and stood perfectly still in the hallway; he forgot about the cart, what he was supposed to be doing, hell, he was lucky he could remember his own name.
There was a man that Dolph didn’t know, but would certainly like to get to know, standing in front of the station, hat in hand. He was an EMT, by the uniform, which was a hell of a lot more interesting on him than it was on Kaydel; tall, slender, and my Lord, that chin belonged on an action hero. Dolph could practically feel his ears swivel to hear the conversation. The duty nurse looked like she found this one as decorative as Dolph did himself.
“Hi. I’m looking for Benjamin Solo?” Well, of course he was. Dolph wondered if he’d be disappointed to find that bed was already being shared. Oh, stop it. Anyway, he could at least help with directions. He walked over to the station, pulling the cart along with him.
“Hi there. I’m Dolph; I can show you where he is, I’m on my way to his room now….?” He waved a hand at the trays.
“Oh, sorry. Eugene Namit. That’d be great. I don’t usually...that scene was...I just wanted to check on him. I’m not making any sense. Let me start over. I worked on him at the scene of his accident. It was bad; I mean, I’ve been doing this for a while, but I thought we’d lost him for sure. The chest tube just wouldn’t...until it did. And I thought I heard...never mind.” He looked...spooked. “We were really glad to get him back, especially after he pushed that kid out of the way. So I just wanted to see for myself, you know?” He scratched at the back of his head, looking confused. Ben and Rey did tend to have that effect on people.
Hang on; it took Dolph a second to stop staring at Eugene (that name, adorable!) and process that last bit. “Wait, what kid; there was a kid?” Now Dolph was confused. He knew Ben didn’t have any kids; at least, presumably he’d’ve said something about it by now; the insurance forms only mentioned a father, who hadn’t shown up yet. And that was not okay, where the hell was he? Dolph shook his head and motioned for Eugene to follow him down the hall.
“That’s how he got hit. Some kid on a skateboard sailed right out into traffic without looking, and Mr. Solo pushed him out of the way. The witnesses at the scene said they’d never seen anybody move that fast; which, you know, grain of salt, I guess. By the time the police got to taking witness reports, the kid was gone, and...well, you probably know what happened after that, since you’ve got him here.” So he was a hero, too; Rey was a lucky girl.
“Mm-hmm. SUV versus human body, not pretty. I’m shocked he made it here with his head intact, but he was awake by morning; well, you’ll see.” They’d reached the door by this point; Eugene went ahead and opened it. A gentleman, too; better and better. Dolph glanced over at the bed. Yep, the lovebirds were still asleep. Eugene took in the two of them, then looked back at Dolph with a raised eyebrow and a puzzled look in his eyes; green and gold, my goodness, like sun on spring grass.
He lowered his voice as he prepped the trays; no sense waking them until he had things ready. “Oh, that. That is hard to explain. We don’t actually know how he got in here the first time; we didn’t even know he was awake, and there should have been a hell of a lot of noise when he got out of bed and pulled out his IV. But they’re...we weren’t sure she was going to wake up at all; and separating them doesn’t seem to go well for either one.” Dolph snuck a look over at Eugene to find him smiling softly at the two of them; yeah, they had that effect on people too. It was a really good smile. “That’s Rey. There’s just something about these two.”
Dolph walked over to the bed and put a hand on Ben’s shoulder. “Mr. Solo?” His eyes snapped open; he didn’t say a word, but his arms tightened around Rey as though he were afraid someone was going to make off with her. She just made a small, happy noise in her sleep and moved her hand up to pat his cheek before putting it back around him. Ben smiled at her like a man who still couldn’t believe his luck. He turned his eyes back to Dolph as he spoke, in what was probably as close to a whisper as he got, with a voice like that.
“Dolph. Call me Ben, really. Is it lunch already? We fell asleep; um,” he looked down at Rey again, “shhhh…” He laid a finger on his lips, then noticed Eugene as he took in the room; he went through a very strange series of expressions. Disoriented and thoughtful gave way to recognition. “I know you! Why do I know you?” He flinched. “You were at the...the accident. Right? You...were one of the EMTs?” He was back there, for a minute; Dolph could tell. Rey had slept through their quiet conversation, but her eyes flew open at the sound of his pain.
“Ben? Are you all right?” She reached a hand up and missed his face; odd, she’d found it in her sleep. He took her hand and corrected course, tenderly, to his cheek. “Is something hurting you?” She looked at Dolph, then glared at Eugene, who raised his hands in mock surrender. Okay, that was adorable. Oh, he should not have it this bad already. But really, just look at him. And listen to him. And...yeah. Hopeless.
Ben shook his head. “I’m okay. I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to wake you. But it is time to eat lunch, and you know what a tyrant Dolph is.” He dropped a wink at Dolph across the room and grinned. “This is…” He stopped. Eugene hadn’t actually had a chance to introduce himself. Now Ben looked puzzled, like he thought he ought to have a name for the face. “I don’t know who this is. But…” there was a warm smile. “He saved my life.”
Rey stared at Eugene, a very peculiar, steady look. Then she shivered a little, like she was shaking away a thought, and with complete sincerity put a hand to her own heart. “Thank you. Thank you so much for helping Ben.” Her voice really was improving. “You have…no idea what that means to me.”
Eugene felt cold. The hair on his arms stood straight up in the air. How did he know that? Ben Solo had been unconscious; no, that wasn’t really accurate, he’d been DEAD for most of the time that he and Eugene had been...acquainted. The chest tube had simply refused to be placed; and then there had been a sound; faint, beautiful, like someone’s radio was playing on the next block. He couldn’t make out any words, and really he’d been too busy to try. But when the sound faded, the chest tube had gone in with ease; and Ben Solo had taken a ragged, bloody breath. His eyes had opened, for a moment; but Eugene would have sworn he hadn’t really seen a thing.
“I’m getting an inkling. Sorry. I’m Eugene Namit.” He was pleased that he hadn’t stuttered. Now smile at the man, for Pete’s sake. He was sure it was a supremely strange expression, but Mr. Solo didn’t seem to notice. “How...never mind. I’m so glad to see you’re all right. We wanted to hang on to you, especially after you went and made a hero out of yourself.” The puzzled look was back. Did he really not understand? “Mr. Solo, that’s generally what you call somebody who puts someone else’s life ahead of their own. Particularly when they don’t even know the person. You didn’t, did you?”
“It’s just Ben. No, I didn’t. But why should that make any difference? It’s not like I was going to let the car hit him, whether I knew him or not. It was...anyone would have done the same thing. It was just something that needed doing.” There was no trace of false modesty. He really didn’t understand.
All three of them shook their heads at him. Eugene continued. “No, Mr...Ben. Anyone wouldn’t. I spend a lot of time at accident and injury scenes. You’ll just have to take my word for it.” He looked at Dolph. Some people were just exceptional. Sometimes you could tell by their actions, and sometimes you just knew. And Eugene knew that Ben Solo wasn’t the only person in this room who knew how to put someone else’s needs before themselves. Nurses who cared like Dolph clearly did either burned out fast, or they became hospital legends; people were just better when they were around.
Rey had turned back to Ben. “I wanted to tell you...stupid voice. You don’t ever have to worry about what kind of person you are, Ben.” Oh, he’d have trouble keeping anything to himself, with a blush like that. “People know. I know.” That sounded like part of another conversation. Not his business. She kissed the side of his nose; ridiculously cute, that. Eugene busied himself helping Dolph with the trays, and the grateful look he got in return was enough to melt him right on the spot. Who knew saving Ben Solo had been his lucky day.
Kaydel came back to find a new visitor in the room. And Dolph was obviously smitten; well, he should be. She turned her back on the rest of the room for a second to mouth an exaggerated Oh my God at him; his completely fake cough covered his reaction nicely, she thought. Once they’d been introduced, she and Eugene happily talked shop, with Dolph dropping a remark into their conversation once in a while, while Ben and Rey ate their lunch. This segued nicely into Eugene and Dolph animatedly talking (flirting) with each other; her work here was done, and she still had homework. A whispered conversation between Ben and Rey caught Kaydel’s attention; something about the bathroom. Rey ended it with a firm shake of her head and rose to her knees on the bed. She started climbing over Ben’s legs; oh, that was not a good idea, she hadn’t been out of bed on her own yet as far as Kaydel was aware. “Rey, don’t, wait!”
She was far too late. Rey got one knee on the other side of Ben; the second knee slid right off Ben’s shin and she wobbled in place and started to fall.
Ben had told Rey she ought to wait for help; but her chin had set, like it was made of cement, and she’d gone ahead and started climbing over him, saying she could use the bathroom all by herself, thank you. He’d given in to her stubbornness; it seemed fine, until she slid sideways and tilted like someone had changed the settings on gravity. Dolph and Eugene were turning at the soft, bewildered “Oh!”; but Ben didn’t know if they would get to Rey before she fell, and he was not, never going to let that happen. He twisted his waist, and chest, and shoulders, ignoring the pain that tore across his ribs and deeper inside him as he did, and reached out his hands to catch her.
Somehow the rest of him made it out of the bed and onto the floor in a motion he couldn’t have duplicated again in a hundred years, and he was standing by the hospital bed with Rey draped across both his arms. The two men stared at him as Ben stood perfectly still. He didn’t move because he couldn’t see ; not very well. A cascade of brown pinpoints, like the static on an old television, was rushing in from the sides of his vision.
Ben blinked; maybe it had been a long blink, because Dolph and Eugene were both standing in front of him. He squinted through the weird dust-storm shapes that were taking over his eyesight. “Here...take her, please, I need...to…” He transferred Rey into someone’s waiting arms as though she were made of the most delicate glass, a soap-bubble that might break if he blew on it, and stepped back as the room completely disappeared. He could still hear, but it sounded like someone shouting in a cave, all echoes and hollows.
It was four voices at once, as if they’d rehearsed it. That struck him as funny, and he thought briefly that he was laughing; but he was coughing, and there was a wet noise and a coppery smell, and then he couldn’t cough because he couldn’t breathe. Ben heard Rey say “NO!” and he tried to tell her that it was okay, she shouldn’t worry; but he couldn’t get enough air to make the words, to make her feel better. Sound was the next to go. The room’s noises vanished and Ben could hear, oddly, an old record player; the scratchy honey richness of vinyl music. He thought he was falling, but how would he know? Hands supported him, maybe, they were warm where he was cold, and then they were gone too and so was he.
He hadn’t been that far away. Just a few steps across the room, talking to Eugene; his two lovebirds were both snug in bed, what could go wrong? Even when he heard Rey say “Oh!”, faint and surprised, there was enough time; he could easily have caught her before she hit the floor. But Ben was closer, and he’d moved so fast , out of the bed and upright with Rey in his arms before Dolph or Eugene reached them. Eyes blindly searching between the two of them, he’d reached out, voice thick, and begged “Here..take her, please, I need...to…” It was Eugene who reached out to take Rey; Dolph wasn’t sure Ben could see either of them.
He was chalk-white and swaying; all four of them said his name at once, “Ben?”. He half-smiled for an instant; then started coughing, a wet, choked sound that left scarlet traces on his arms and the tile floor. All the alarms were going off, he’d pulled off all his leads again when he’d launched himself out of bed, and Dolph could hear voices outside the door, other nurses come running to see what the hell was happening in here. The cough stopped and Ben began wheezing, chest heaving, skin pulling in between his colorfully bruised ribs as he tried to get some air.
Rey yelled “NO!” Dolph was already moving without any conscious intention; he snapped “Get her out of here!” over his shoulder and saw Eugene hand Rey off to Kaydel. He heard “No!” again, but he couldn’t deal with that right now. Time collapsed into slow motion. Ben’s eyes rolled back in his head as his legs folded under him, and Dolph just barely got to him with enough time to ease him down onto the floor.
Ben was shaking, too, like he was freezing. Dolph fired again over his shoulder, “I’m sorry , I know, I have to worry about him right now, you have to GO!” Rey was screeching , a wordless noise that rose in pitch until it hurt his ears, piercing, like an angry falcon; Kaydel was trying to talk over her. Kaydel was tiny, he hoped she could handle this; no, he knew she could.
Behind him Kaydel’s voice was receding as she wrestled Rey out of the room and into the arms of the nurses outside the door. “Rey, they’ve got to work on him, you can’t be in here for that, they need the room, lis--” Her sentence ended in a shocked hiss of pain. What the…? Someone ordered a sedative, he thought, in the doorway or out in the hall; Dolph was focused on the problem in front of him, Eugene a solid presence kneeling at his side.
Shit. Fuck. Ben wasn’t breathing. Dolph started compressions; he turned to Eugene and barked, “We need a portable ultrasound and thoracostomy, and no, I don’t give a tin shit whether you have privileges here, yell at somebody out there to go get it!” Ben had hurt his knuckles somehow; on the bed-frame, maybe. But the damage to his hand looked bizarrely like...frostbite.
The rest was a blur of practiced motion; a corner of Dolph’s mind noted how well he and Eugene worked together, like longtime dance partners. Eugene got a chest tube placed; that made sense, he’d done it the first time, too. It was a tense couple of minutes before the tube started draining and Ben sucked in a harsh breath, followed by another, and another.
His eyelids cracked, and there was a guttural noise before they sagged shut again. Ultrasound confirmed the pulmonary contusions were causing some of the trouble; retained hemothorax was responsible for the rest, and neither of these perfectly predictable problems had been helped AT ALL by this goddamn idiot doing some kind of half-pike triple gainer out of bed.
Oxygen was deployed, leads reattached, and Ben transferred to the portable bed on the other side of the room, swiftly and automatically, nothing Dolph hadn’t done hundreds of times. That left him horribly free to think , and feel, no, he couldn’t afford that right now. He thought about the equipment, the leads and lines and what he’d need to tell everyone else, procedures and steps. Everything was broken down into single actions, one small motion following another.
They wheeled Ben out of the room; other people, co-workers, had come and gone without Dolph being fully aware of their presence. He was almost certain, somewhere in there, that “Get him down to imaging for a CT scan and you tell Doctor Canady to fucking well LISTEN next time!” had exited his cranium. And, oh , that was not at all a good way to talk at work and that was almost definitely going to bite him in the ass at some time in the very near future.
Dolph was cleaning up the mess on the floor, the leftover packaging and tubing and things. There were a couple of coins on the floor; he didn’t remember hearing them fall, or seeing them. They must have been knocked off a table or something; he picked them up and put them next to Ben’s laptop. This wasn’t even really a job he was supposed to be doing. Dolph needed to move, though, to work; so he was kneeling on the tiles when he felt a sob, messy, like an explosion, burst straight up out of his chest and mouth and nose.
A weight at his back turned out to be Eugene, whose arms went straight around him, heedless of the state of his scrubs. Dolph turned around and found himself pressed into a comforting shoulder, tears, snot and all; and he gave himself over, and just bawled until his eyes were red and sore and he was sure he looked ridiculous. When he was done, aside from the inevitable, inelegant hitching and sniffing, Eugene moved him back to arms-length. “Better?”
Dolph flushed. “That’s...so unprofessional, I’m sorry, you didn’t need to... Dammit, I’m better than that!” He winced; that had been a whine.
Eugene laughed; it sounded odd. Dolph looked up to see that the EMT’s action-hero face was just as messy as his, as he swiped a hand across it, under his eyes. “Better than what?! Look, if the way you took charge and got everything done just now was an inferior performance, I’m not sure the world is ready for your best! We’re human, Dolph; and they’re your friends, even if none of you is quite done figuring that out yet. You’re allowed to feel it, when the work is done; and it’s okay for somebody to be there with you when you do.”
“But…” Dolph could hear his own voice distort, mouth twisting, as he whispered, “She is never going to forgive me.” Fresh tears stung.
Eugene shook his head. “She will, when she realizes you gave him priority because he needed it; needed you. Don’t worry. No one could possibly fail to understand how much you care about both of them. I’d lecture you about keeping a safe emotional distance, but it’s much too late for that.” He waved a hand at his own face. “Besides, that would be pretty darn hypocritical of me right now.” He gave a helpless shrug. “You’re right; there really is something about those two.”
Ben was in the lecture hall. That was where he belonged; but...no, not right now it wasn’t. Rey wasn’t here. He was supposed to be with Rey. Somebody had left Professor Holdo’s record player running. It was one of the 1920s pieces she liked. Ben had tried to tell her there was great music in the second half of the 20th century, too; but he did kind of like her songs. He knew this one, he thought.
Listen, big boy,
Now that you got me made,
Goodness, but I'm afraid,
Something's gonna happen to you!
Ben walked to Rey’s seat as he listened. Something had happened to him; but then she’d come, and it had all been okay. There were her things. It made him feel warm inside, to see these everyday objects that belonged to Rey. There was her laptop, with the stickers all over it; it was like her, to make something pretty just because. Feathers, and music notes, and daisies. He’d never really understood the feathers, but oh, he did now. They were her nod to what she was, he knew, though the statues with feathers weren’t right any more, if they had ever been.
Listen, big boy,
You gotta be hooked, and how,
I would die if I should lose you now!
No, that wasn’t right. That was terrifying, that was the last thing he wanted; but no one had been lost. There was another feather, a real one, the one she used as a bookmark. From some kind of bird of prey? Ben picked it up and ran his fingers over the lines of it. And her necklace, the one that looked like daisies. She’d been wearing it, when he finally spoke to her; when she’d come to him at what was meant to be the end. It suited her; bright and beautiful, simple and sunshiny. He put down the feather to run the necklace through his hands. It was warm, like she’d just been wearing it. There was the mug she used for tea; there were daisies on it too, their stems and leaves the same color as her eyes.
Button up your overcoat,
When the wind is free,
Take good care of yourself,
You belong to me!
He’d buttoned his coat, on the way to the cantina. It had been cold. Belonged… He belonged to someone, now. That’s why he felt warm. Where was Rey? Ben didn’t want her to worry.
Leaning next to her seat was her cello, in its case, the lid open. He’d never heard her play. He should fix that, when he got back to… Why was he here again? Ben plucked one of the strings with his hand; the note sounded odd, almost like someone had cried “NO!”. He tried another string, with the same result. It sounded like a woman’s voice; like HER voice, low and full of some pain. “NO!” It was hard to remember. He was supposed to be with Rey. Ben didn’t know why he was back here, and not with her right now. She’d been falling, but he’d caught her; he always would. And then…something had hurt, inside him. And he’d fallen instead.
Eat an apple every day,
Get to bed by three,
Oh, take good care of yourself,
You belong to me!
Be careful crossing streets, ooh-ooh…
The music stopped. “ Be careful crossing streets …” that was good advice.
Ben turned to look at the record player and nearly jumped out of his skin, which would have been impressive, considering how much it hurt to move. Wait, no it didn’t. Not right now. Shouldn’t it hurt? There was a man standing by the record player; he’d just taken his hand off the needle. Nope. The temperature in the room took a precipitous drop; Ben could see a plume of his own breath.
That was not a man. There was nothing obvious to tell him who this was. He was a slender, bearded redhead, wearing a neatly tailored black button-down shirt, black jeans, black belt and boots… It wasn’t entirely dissimilar to Ben’s own wardrobe, if he was being honest; but this was most certainly not just a man.
“Why have I been brought here again?” Ben didn’t think the question was intended for him; it was soft and thoughtful, like people sounded when they talked to themselves. The man turned to face the rest of the room, and started; not unlike Ben had himself. His brows drew together in a frown. Ben felt like the voice should have been deep, and hollow, like the cavernous places under the earth. But it was light, and clear, and strangely normal.
He hadn’t expected to return to this place. Hades remembered it from the last time; some sort of lecture hall, He thought. But Seph’s girl, the siren, had been sent back to a fully mortal life. Her story was over, her clemency granted; for His love, Hades had broken His rules again and set them both free. So why was He here? The phonograph was playing. It was a nice enough tune, like most from that era of human creativity in the face of burden and disaster; but it was distracting, so He lifted the needle before turning to survey the remainder of the space.
It had been a long time since Hades had been surprised. Things in the underworld were generally...routine, which was exactly the way He liked them. It was definitely the same room; there was the desk with its mug and fountain pen and the jar of ink. How she’d glared to see Him touch those things. Her ferocity had been inconvenient, unacceptable; and yet somehow endearing. But it wasn’t Rey (that was her name) appearing before Him now. Standing by one of the seats for students was the Solo boy. That wasn’t right. Released before he properly arrived at his destination, Ben Solo should have returned to the expected span of his days.
Hades frowned. “Why are you here? This is her place.” He closed his eyes to better sift through the vast array of knowing, of His power; the stories of all the dead. Oh, that...that was purely ungrateful. Did he not value the gift he’d been given? And his mind, too, as he died, had thought of this place. Hades strode across the room and stood before the boy, examining him with a critical eye. He was oddly dressed, in black dungarees and what looked like a hospital gown worn backwards, and his feet were bare. His skin was livid with bruises, and his eyes were distant, disoriented and foggy.
“Her place...Rey’s place. I was...I was with Rey; and she was falling. I don’t know why I’m here.” He ran a necklace of metal flowers absently through his hands; Seph would like it, Hades thought. He should find one; it would make her smile. He could make one, really. “Who are you?” The boy was growing agitated. “You’re...someone important, I know.” His hands tightened on the necklace. “The last time I met one of you, you were there to take her...to take Rey away. Is it my turn? Are you...wait.” Solo peered at him, his wits visibly sharpening by the moment.
“ I know who you are.” The only warning Hades had was a convulsive movement of the boy’s hands. The necklace came apart, raining metal flowers onto the wood floor; and then a sizeable fist shot out and punched Him square in the mouth, rocking His head back. Hades didn’t fall. It would take more than one angry mortal to break His connection to the earth. He was too shocked to react; no one had dared lay a hand on Him in millennia, and the insolence of this boy took His breath away. “You son of a bitch. I know who you are. You’re Hades, and you took my mother from me. You took her while I wasn’t there; you let her die alone. You took the only person who had ever seen me for who I was, and you didn’t even let me say goodbye.” He stood panting, fists still clenched, knuckles white.
The shadows gathered at Hades’ back, His servants and defenders, the tools and sigils of His power. He grinned, a predator’s baring of teeth, as He explored the damage. The boy had marked Him. Spitting the blood to one side to clear His mouth, Hades considered His next move. He could have ended the boy with a thought. Solo shivered as the light dimmed, gooseflesh rising on his arms and bare chest. A tear slid down his uninjured cheek, followed by more, freezing against his flesh as they reached his jaw. “She didn’t know how much I loved her. She didn’t know what I would have given to be there and hold her hand. You…” He doubled over, arms wrapped around himself, shaking with sobs and the growing frost.
Pity and cold fury were uneasy companions. Something was nudging against the edge of His consciousness. Oh, bold, this one; stubborn and persistent, evidently not unlike her offspring. Normally He had to seek out the dead, to sift through the soft hum of their voices, always buzzing at his back like the bees that serviced Seph’s garden, until He found the tale that was needed. But she was insistent, demanding to be heard. Ben. Ben. Fierce anger, worry, pride and love battered at His awareness of the dead. How had she known that her son was thinking of her? Hades himself, He thought, had become an inadvertent link between them. Well. He knew, all too well, what a mother would do for her children.
All at once it was too much. Hundreds and thousands of years, and this one voice was one too many. The buzzing had become a clamor, painful, sawing at him. He knew them all; it was His responsibility, his power and his pride. So many dead; and the number was growing, always growing. The three, with their threads, were diligent in sending souls to Him; caring for them was a weight that became heavier with each passing century. For most, it was the waiting. He could feel them always waiting, calling the names of those they loved, begging for reunion. Parted lovers, families rent apart, longing and impatience constantly beating at Him; sparks of joy punctuated the great tide of separation and sorrow as some came together again, but there were always, always more. He must remember all their names.
For the truly irredeemable, filled with malice, their punishments had to be decided. He must paw through the memory of their crimes, faintly sickening; but once beyond any earthly penalty, His justice was all that was left for the dead. That wasn’t the most difficult part of His labor, though. The worst were the children; they almost never understood. Hades had a duty, forever, to the work; but He had a heart, and like any other it could break. They’d never had a child of their own; Hades feared, when he thought about it, the hold such a bond would have on His soul. He made death as kind as it could be, for the small ones, with Seph’s help; but they would never have the chance to discover what they might have become. And he was exhausted. Too exhausted to deny this mother’s messages to her only child.
Ben hadn’t thought. Not like he tried to do now, like she’d tried to teach him, patiently, over and over; until he started learning how to master his rage, the crackling redness behind his eyes when things had happened that were just wrong . He’d reacted, the old, bad way; with his fists and a snarl. If he could be angry at someone else, it meant that he didn’t have to be angry at himself; for not being there when Mom needed him, for leaving Rey, somehow, after he’d said he never would. He’d had a moment of savage satisfaction at the sensation of his knuckles hitting flesh.
Hades had grinned at him, feral and bloody; Ben’s skin crawled, and he was afraid. The Lord of the Underworld had turned his head to spit; where his blood touched the lecture hall’s floor, it froze. The wood buckled and cracked, a rime of frost spreading from the droplets. Shadows climbed each other at Hades’ back, reaching across the space between them. Ben could feel that same cold leaching the warmth from his bones; his chest hurt, deep under the muscles and skin. He didn’t really know if it was Hades’ chill; or if that thought, that he’d left them both, had wounded him again. The SUV was nothing compared to that.
“She does, you know.” It was a tired sound, kinder than Ben would have expected. He was so COLD; and as angry as he was, the shame and guilt and sadness had surfaced, one after another, right behind it as he spoke. He raised his head, teeth chattering.
“What?” He was tired, too, and it was hard to breathe now.
“She does know how much you loved her. How much you still do.” Hades put a hand to his face, working at his jaw. “That is My work, to care for the dead; not to decide when they come to Me. That office belongs to another. My duty is to hold them safe, to know and remember them until they are returned to the company of their own.” You could really hear the capital letters; it was very strange. The God of the Dead cocked his head as though he were listening. Ben didn’t hear anything, but Hades spoke again. “She has peace, while she waits; her body was worn, and tired. She...trusts you to make your own way, to use what she taught you. Your mother is proud of the man you’ve become.” His lips curved in a smile. “She likes this girl of yours; with stubbornness and defiance to match your own, and a care for others that leads her to forget herself.” He shook his head.
The smile disappeared. “You will see her again one day. You have My word.” A sneer twisted his lip now. “Sooner rather than later, if you cannot be bothered to take care.” Hades stepped up to Ben, anger and exasperation in his voice. “For someone who’s been given a second chance at life, and love, you are being terribly cavalier with My beneficence. My patience is not unlimited. Think , boy! Were there others, in that place, who could have helped her?”
There had been, but he hadn’t trusted them enough, not with Rey. Hades was toe to toe with him now, cold crowding from his skin, carried on the sound of his words; and Ben thought he might shake his joints apart, falling to lie in pieces. But he was still standing, still listening. “She has already sacrificed herself for you, once; and given up her power. What would it do to her, do you think, to lose you now? You are no longer alone, and you must consider yourself alongside her; think of how she might feel , if you were gone.”
A curl of warmth tendriled its way through the air. A fresh, green smell teased at Ben’s senses, and there was an odd softness against his palm. He brought his hands up to his face, opening his fingers where they’d been tightly curled; first in fists, then to try vainly to hold on to some vestige of warmth. Belatedly he noticed that he’d broken Rey’s necklace; he would have to fix that. One of the metal daisies had stayed in his hand, but it wasn’t metal any more. Lying there, warmer than the room, slightly wilted from the pressure of his grip, was a real daisy. He couldn’t help but look around at the ones that had scattered.
Hades looked even more incensed, if that were possible, that Ben had looked away from him; and then followed the direction of his gaze. The daisies on the floor were...growing; rooted into the wood, straightening and lengthening until the lecture hall began to look like a garden. The spring wind coiled around Ben’s chest and arms, and the frost receded a little, as though someone had run a warm hand across the places where he was chilled. Hades picked one of the daisies that was growing out of the floor nearby and tucked it into the breast pocket of his shirt. He sighed. “Seph. Again? But he...very well. Always, for you.”
Ben had no idea what that meant. He was still too cold, really, to think; but he closed his hand around the flower again. He wanted to ask, to plead with the god to tell his mother he loved her; and goodbye, until he saw her again. Hades turned back to look at him again and nodded, as though he’d heard the words Ben was too frozen, his chest too tight to speak. His expression was...soft, somehow; and he sighed again, speaking as though patiently explaining something to a child.
“It is our duty, and our privilege, for those we love, to be steadfast and certain. We are the bedrock of their lives; always there when we are needed. Part of recognizing how important someone is to us is that we consider how much we might mean to them as well; we must be there, when they call. Heroes are all very well, Ben Solo; noble, and brave, blindingly bright. But they come to Me far more often, and far earlier, than most; and those who love them wait a very long time to see them again. Perhaps a quieter sort of heroism is called for here; a steady devotion to helping someone else understand that they are no longer alone.”
Ben began to lose the thread of the words. He thought Hades might still be speaking, but he was caught in the eyes that looked into his; he was swept into a vision, an impression of vast, unfaltering strength. He could feel Hades, rooted in the earth and stone, his dominion extending miles below both of their feet and the Lord of Death himself a part of all of it. Hades’ kingdom was immovable, ancient, and sure, and so was he.
Ben felt dizzy now. The god’s eyes were green as the grass that lay over his kingdom; and Ben was falling, his sight dimming as he sank through layers of soil laced with gems and metal and stone, all in Hades’ eyes. He smelled the sharp tang of copper again. There was too much pressure, all the weight of earth, and he couldn’t breathe. A cascade of soil stole his vision; he could still hear, all the tiny, crawling, tunneling things and the trickle of underground rivers flowing into secret seas. The sounds quieted as he drifted to the deepest, silent places; but Hades’ voice had followed him.
The last thing Ben heard was “Don’t spend the coin of your life so cheaply, boy; it has immeasurable value to another, now.” A sliver of sight appeared, the bars of his lashes lying across it; all he could see were the rounded edges of a pair of coins, every serration sharply outlined, silver gleaming in the searing, white-hot brilliance of too much light. It hurt. Oh, everything hurt. He closed his eyes again, or maybe they closed by themselves. He was being carried. Lifted from the rock and soil that had enclosed him, Ben felt the daisy, that so-important flower, slip from his grip. He tried to protest, to tell someone that he needed it, but found that he really hadn’t done anything at all; and then his thoughts slipped from his grip, and were gone.
She was calling him, in the garden; a leisurely, unhurried request for his presence. Her voice in his mind was all the sounds of life’s return; the gentle sound of water over stone, the small sounds of creatures celebrating the soft light of the sun, the whisper of Zephyr as he exhorted Seph’s blossoms to grow and thrive, and the patter of rain on leaves. Hades walked, turning the earth’s paths beneath his feet until he came home; and there was the familiar lift and surge in his breast as he saw her waiting; so beautiful, his bride, always the joyous, flourishing creature who’d woken his heart.
Hades embraced his wife, still hardly able to believe this enchanting woman was his to hold, to care for and caress. He would never tire of watching spring bloom in her eyes. He pulled the daisy from his pocket and tucked it behind her ear. “I return your gift to you, as every day you return mine to me. Don’t think I didn’t notice you improving me again.” As he pulled his hand back from her hair, more daisies formed behind it; delicately fashioned of gold and tiny gems, alabaster and citrine and peridot, a chain of them multiplying upon itself until he held a necklace. “And this is just from me, to make you smile.”
He fastened the necklace around Seph’s neck, elegant and fair, and traced its path with kisses. She sighed, her head thrown back as he made his way to her mouth. She’d been eating pomegranates again, she never could resist them; and under it was the exquisite taste of something, sharp and fresh and herbaceous, subtle and strong, that was just Seph herself. She moved closer to him, curling her hands around his belt and pulling him into her warmth, as though she knew how it thrilled him to be wanted.
The hoped-for smile was there when he pulled reluctantly back so he could look at her some more. “I’ve brought nothing out in you whose seeds weren’t already there, Hades my love.” She stroked the jewels where they lay, already warming next to the flawless shell-white of her skin, then brought her hand up to his hair, tousling it the way she liked to do. Hades thought it undignified, a thought that rapidly disappeared as his wife ran her fingers through the loosened strands. She frowned, tracing a path under his eyes with her thumb. “You’re tired, my heart; I can see it, and feel it. Come to bed.”
She shook her head at the grin that was curling the corner of his mouth. “You’re incorrigible. I meant to sleep, and you know it.” He rested one palm over her heart, reveling in the feel of her, the balm of her pulse under his hand. His other hand crept around her waist, drawing her even nearer to feel his desire; she could never be close enough for his comfort. Hades tasted her again, her mouth heated in the cool of this place. The sun’s rays did not reach His kingdom; but Seph seemed to bring her own light with her always, gently playing along the flaxen locks of her hair and teasing out the glimmer of his gift.
Seph was grinning now too, her cornflower eyes darkening to indigo and a faintly hungry look spreading across her face. There was a gentle tug at the strands of hair curled around her fingers, that grew gradually less gentle, more full of promise. She kissed the hollow of his throat, wending her way to his ear, where she murmured, “We’re definitely going to sleep, husband.” Her breath sighed against his cheek. “Later.” A shower of petals, velvety and fragrant, rained down on them both as she took his hand to lead him from the garden.
Eugene is based on Geno Namit, who serves in the Resistance Navy. @flypaper-brain found him, and he was exactly what I needed. Leia, even in death, insists on being heard; she's just that much of a badass and she loves her son. Ben may have been *slightly* pissed off at Hades; a bit of a blind spot, for a student of mythology like him.
Chapter 6: Part The Sixth
Ben has been very foolish. Now what?
There are possibly more forces at work here than we thought. Finn is getting a crash course on how to handle people in a crisis, and how to wait. Both of these are very good skills to have. Dolph is wearing himself threadbare, poor thing; but he's got people looking out for him too. And Ben and Rey are apart again; we'll have to fix that, won't we?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Finn ran a hand over his face. He hated spreadsheets. But that was the only way he was going to be able to keep track of all the bills. There were so many tests. CT scans and MRIs and EEGs and...he kept losing his place. He wondered if they were really all necessary; there wasn’t any insurance, how was she going to pay for all this? No. That was stupid, it was her BRAIN, so they should do whatever they had to do to make sure it was okay. And it was how were they going to pay for this. She didn’t have to do it alone; they were family.
They’d been nice enough to make an appointment to explain it all to him, even though it was Sunday. So Finn had gone, and he’d listened to the nice lady talk numbers until he thought his ears might bleed; and then he’d come back here to sit in the lobby and try to put it together in some form that would make sense later. He wanted to go and see Rey again, and he would, just as soon as he was done; which he should be by the time lunch was over. He peered at the laptop screen again. Okay. Maybe a little later than that.
Finn scrubbed at his jaw. Crap. He’d forgotten to shave. He glanced over at Rose, back from slaying the Uncooperative Server Beast, and grinned. He’d better fix that. She was not a fan of beard burn. She turned to look back at him as though she’d felt his eyes on her, and a slow smile lit her face. She got up and walked over to see what was on his screen, and wrinkled her nose. “That looks really boring.” Her hand ran over his jaw too; and she *tsk’d*. “Looks good on you, handsome, but it feels like chicken wire.” She left kisses where her hand had been, and made a face. “We’ll get rid of that later. What is all that?”
He sighed. “Boring. Just like you said. It’s the bills. There are going to be a lot of them. And they’re not going to be small.” There was a headache forming between his eyes. He pinched the bridge of his nose, which didn’t help at all. Rose stepped behind him and started gently rubbing his temples. Finn could feel his head lolling, like his neck had abruptly become boneless. “Oh, God, Rose, you can stop doing that when we’re both ninety. Do you have anything in your bag for a headache?” She tipped his head back further, looking quizzically at him upside-down.
“Finn. We’re in a hospital. I’m pretty sure they’ve got something.” She eyed him, brow furrowed. “Maybe you need a break. Have you eaten anything since breakfast?”
He kissed her, upside-down, slouching in the chair with his legs sprawled out in front of him. “Rose, I am one hundred percent certain that I can’t afford lunch or an aspirin in this place.” He waved his hand at the screen. “Trust me.” She left him with a kiss on each temple and walked over to dig through her bag. “Hey, it looks like I’ve got…”
That was when the noises started. There were plenty of other people in this hospital. It could be somebody else, couldn’t it? That didn’t mean it was Rey...or Ben, right? Rose came back to sit beside him and took his hand, eyes wary. “It could be anybody,” Finn said. “Not that I hope it’s somebody else. I mean, I hope it’s nobody, but…” There was a finger across his lips. Yeah, that was probably a good idea.
Down the hall from them came an unearthly shriek. Oh, that did not sound good. Finn thought he heard Kaydel’s voice, but he couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. A couple nurses came running back around that corner to...somewhere else, and the same two came back with an empty gurney. Finn and Rose just kept watching, and holding hands. It was all they could do. The gurney came back around the corner, and this time Rey was on it; her eyes were closed and she wasn’t moving. Oh crap. Oh crappety crap crap. This was followed, finally, by Kaydel, with her hair coming out of its braids again. Her face was bleeding.
Kaydel’s eyes followed the gurney down the hall and then sort of skittered over to the two of them. It took her a minute to register who they were, he thought. Then she kind of shook herself, all over, and headed in their direction. Finn immediately started peppering her with questions, he couldn’t help himself. “What happened? We saw Rey. Is she...is her head worse? Is there something else wrong with her?” He stopped at the tug on his hand and looked at Rose. Slow down , she mouthed at him. Right. Finn put his free hand on Kaydel’s shoulder. “Sorry. Sit down. Are you all right? What happened to your face?”
She touched it with her fingers, smearing blood across her cheek, then looked at her hand. Four parallel scratches were revealed in its wake. “Well, shit.” She sighed. “Rey happened to my face.” Finn started to say something, but she held up the same hand, streaked with red. “It’s not what you think. Rey is fine. Well, no, she’s not fine. We had to have her sedated. It’s not her, though.” Her voice thickened. “It’s Ben. He…” She took a deep breath. “Rey fell out of bed. Almost. He caught her, but...it did something nasty to his chest, his ribs and lungs. I don’t know what, not yet.” Her eyes wandered toward the hallway. “I should go find out what.”
Oh boy. Finn put his fingers on her chin; she started. “Kaydel. There’s already somebody with him, right? And with Rey?”
She nodded. “Dolph is with Ben. And Eugene. Oh. You guys don’t know him yet. You will. He’s…”
“Kaydel,” he interrupted, “you need to go have somebody look at your face. Did you say Rey did this?” Why would she?
“...yeah, she, um, she wasn’t happy when I took her out of the room. But she couldn’t stay in there while they worked on him, I mean, you guys know that, right?” She looked back and forth between them, like she was trying to get them to understand. Convincing them wasn’t going to be the problem. So that’s what that scream had been. At least her voice was working again. Oh, stop. That was a stupid thought. Kaydel was still looking at them.
Finn took her unbloodied hand. “Of course. You did what you were trained to do, what needed to be done. You always know what to do; that’s only one of the things we admire about you.” He looked at Rose, who was nodding. And pale. Yeah, she’d gotten very fond of Ben. “Baby, why don’t you go with Kaydel while they take a look at her face? I’ll stay and let you guys know if there’s any news, okay?” Rose nodded, and some color came back to her face as she got distracted thinking about what Kaydel might need.
Over Kaydel’s shoulder Finn could see a nurse passing behind her; he took her other hand by the wrist and held it up where the nurse could see the blood. Her eyes widened; and a couple seconds later Kaydel and Rose were both being shepherded down the hall in the opposite direction. Finn watched them go, miming a kiss at Rose when she looked back at him.
After a little while, who knew how long, one of those rolling beds went past, accompanied by nurses, an IV bag, and a lot of medical chatter. In it was Ben Solo, with an oxygen mask and a bunch of other stuff on him, white as the sheet that covered most of his body. His feet hung off the end of the bed, bare and a little bloody. Finn sat back down in the chair without really intending it, so hard his breath went out with a *whoosh*. Crap, double crap, crappety crap.
Once they got the room set to rights, Dolph made his way down to Imaging; he took that scarf with him, the one Rey insisted on wearing whenever she was apart from Ben. Eugene followed like he was Dolph’s shadow; it was unexpected, and comforting. They passed the front desk, and Finn, staring at the screen of a laptop like he wasn’t really seeing it at all. He looked up as they passed, anxious questions plainly written on his face; but Dolph didn’t have any real answers yet, so he spread his hands and pointed down the hallway. Finn sank resignedly back into the chair. Eugene watched the silent exchange, bemused. “Who’s that?”
“Yeah, he’s Rey’s brother.” Interestingly, Eugene didn’t bat an eyelash at that. “They were foster kids together, I think? Anyway, there’s a whole pack of them here with Ben and Rey; you met Kaydel, but you haven’t met Finn, there, and Rose, and Poe. Which is funny, since they’ve barely left since those two were admitted. There are a lot of people pulling for them, it’s…” He had to clear his throat. “More importantly, medically speaking, he’s got her POA.” They passed an unoccupied bed; Kaydel was sitting on the edge of it with a serious-looking Rose next to her, while one of the more humorless nurses worked on her face, which was scratched all to hell.
“Oh boy. I wondered what made Kaydel sound like that. Hang on.” He stopped and grimaced, mouthing Are you okay? across the hallway; she made a see-sawing motion with her hand, then shrugged and nodded, causing the nurse to stop and put her hands on her hips. She turned and glared at Dolph, who plastered an innocent look on his face and kept going while Rose smothered a giggle. “Well, I least I could make somebody feel better, for a minute.” Himself, not so much. Dolph felt Eugene squeeze his arm; right, stay on task.
They didn’t make it to Imaging; Doctor Canady crossed their path coming from there. His genial, sort of perpetually rumpled face hardened as he caught sight of Dolph coming his way, and he stopped in front of the two of them with his arms folded. Oh. Shit. Dammit. Dolph’s outburst had made its way to the subject even faster than he would have expected. “Doctor Canady, I…” what exactly did you say when you’d f-bombed a doctor in front of half a hallway full of other nurses? It wasn’t really that hard. “...I’m sorry, sir. That was unprofessional; I--I was upset, but that’s no excuse. It...it won’t happen again. Um, probably, almost definitely won’t happen again, but please, don’t take me off his team, Ben’s, and Rey’s, I…” There was a quiver at Dolph’s side; was Eugene laughing ?
Doctor Canady examined him, face stern. “I should. Shouldn’t I?”
It was Eugene who answered him, face serious again. “Begging your pardon, Doctor, but Dolph handled things perfectly; if I had my choice, he’s exactly who I’d want next to me in a crisis.” Doctor Canady’s brows shot precipitously toward his hair. Dolph felt a rush of warmth at the support; but the doctor didn’t know Eugene from Adam. Eugene seemed to recall this fact on the heels of that thought; his face flushed, but he stood his ground. “He’d be an asset to any team; but it matters to him what happens to those two, and I’m coming to understand how important that is.”
Canady just looked at Eugene, who faltered to a stop. “Thank you, young man, for that interesting endorsement.” He turned back to Dolph. “You’re passionate about the welfare of your patients; I understand that, and I respect it. It’s admirable, even.” He raised a finger. “However. I expect to receive some respect in turn. There are decades of experience between us.” There was the weight of all those decades in the sound of him; until now, Dolph had thought “the voice of experience” was a metaphor.
It wasn’t. It was courtesy over pure steel, and so were his eyes. “I’ve seen injuries like this before; so have you, Mr. Mitaka! And you know perfectly well that getting Mr. Solo to imaging earlier wouldn’t have made the slightest difference in this unfortunate setback. Had we had a better look at him sooner, we’d’ve told him to stay still and be careful with himself, which we did; and which he most certainly did not. I’m going to ask, politely, that next time you trust me; and be sure that your...enthusiasm does not outstrip your authority, should we encounter another such situation.” He was back to his usual tone; weary, but not unkind.
The day’s work, and its emotions, had crept up on Dolph while he tried to listen; the relief that shot through him as he came to understand that he was not being removed from their case just added to the toll. He found himself staring at the symbol on Doctor Canady’s coat; the Rod of Asclepius, not the caduceus, like most people thought. Mesmerized, he thought he heard a rustle of tiny scales; had that snake blinked at him? There was a hand at his back; Eugene’s, he thought. It took him a second to realize the doctor had stopped speaking and was regarding him with sympathy. “Mr. Mitaka? Have you been home, at all, since our two miscreants were admitted?”
He hadn’t. He’d grabbed a shower, and a nap, sort of, somewhere in there. “Huh? Maybe? Um. I mean, no?” What was the right answer here?
Doctor Canady glanced at his pocket watch, an affectation Dolph had always found charming. “I believe your shift was over some time ago. I won’t bother to order you home now; but both Mr. Solo and Ms. Johnson are elsewhere at the moment, and will be for some time yet. Take a break, Mr. Mitaka. Go sit down. Eat something. Both of them will still be here; yes, they will, we’ve got everything under control. I’ve got them, they’re not going anywhere. And you’ll be the better for it. Go and see them both first, if you must; they’ll be none the wiser, I’m afraid. Then go. Help yourself.” He exchanged a look with Eugene over Dolph’s shoulder. “I’m going to get on the outside of a cup of tea before it’s back to work.”
There had been a daisy on one of the chairs in the hospital room. That was odd; there hadn’t been any other flowers in the room. He should bring some, when he came back. Eugene had come to two conclusions, he realized. First, that he was smiling at the idea of handing a flower to Dolph, which wasn’t at all what he was supposed to be thinking; and second, that he was definitely coming back here again. He’d picked up the daisy and tucked it absently into his pocket; he couldn’t have said why. Ben and Rey were both in Recovery, for now.
They went to see Rey first; she was frowning in her sleep. Dolph tucked the scarf in around her and told her he was sorry, even though they both knew she couldn’t hear him. Ben was next; his color was better, Eugene supposed, insofar as he was breathing, which tended to improve things in that department. They hadn’t intubated him, relying on positive airway pressure; that was a good sign. The chest tube was doing its job. Following a compulsion he didn’t fully understand, Eugene slipped the daisy into Ben’s hand and closed his fingers around it while Dolph was having a totally unauthorized peek at his chart.
Really? He’d practically fallen asleep standing up in the middle of being lectured, and he was still trying to help. “Okay, hey, that’s enough. The doctor’s right, Dolph. I already know better than to try and get you to go home; so let’s go get something to eat, and then we can sit in the lobby. You have to take a break; you really do. I can stay; it’s my day off,” he laughed, realizing exactly what he’d just spent some of that day doing, “and we can wait and see how they are, okay?” He took Dolph’s elbow. “Come on.”
There was a frustrated sigh, but Dolph went along with it. “Fine. But I’m not leaving.”
Eugene smiled at him as they headed for the cafeteria. “I didn’t for a minute think you would.”
Somebody was ever so gently shaking his arm. Must be his shift again; he usually set an alarm for catnaps, though, and the breakroom cot had never been this comfortable. Dolph wondered who needed him now. That...was not a cot. Or a pillow. He opened his eyes. Oh. That was a smile. A very, very nice one. And that was a shoulder. Also a very nice one. Uh-oh. He scrambled into a fully upright position, face flaming. “Um. Sorry. That’s...sorry.” He wasn’t even *in* the breakroom. When had he even fallen asleep? Everybody was sitting out here waiting; even Poe had come back, and Dolph had noticed none of it.
Eugene shook his head. “I would’ve just let you sleep, but I figure Rey ought to be waking up by now, and I thought you might want to go see her.”
What time was it? Oh, shit. It was almost dark outside. And he’d been...Rose interrupted the thought. “Eugene, will you guys tell us what’s happening once you know? How she’s doing? If...if Ben’s okay?” Clearly they’d gotten introductions out of the way while Dolph was out cold cuddled up to somebody he’d just met; way to go, there. He couldn’t help thinking how nicely they’d fit together, though. Stop it. Eugene was nodding at Rose.
“Of course.” He stood and stretched; no doubt ironing out the kinks Dolph had left in his arm, and smiled at him again. He could stop doing that never. “Ready?”
“Um. Sure.” Oh, hell. Just go with it. Dolph just desperately hoped he hadn’t been snoring.
She was curled up in the bed in Recovery, face snuggled into that red scarf. She looked...happy. But she wouldn’t be, once she was awake. And she’d hate him. Dolph didn’t know what to do. He’d taken care of Ben, brought her something for comfort; he’d done what he could. Or had he? “We need to get them both back to their room. Together.” The sentence fell out like somebody else had spoken it with his face. But it was right. He knew it. Everything was wrong when they were apart.
“Um, Dolph.” Eugene did not sound excited about this plan. “We can’t...can we just move her? Doesn’t she have to be, cleared to get out of Recovery, or have her scans back, or….? And Ben’s...he was dead, Dolph. Again. Shouldn’t somebody make sure he’s all right first?” There was an adorable and thoroughly inconvenient we’re gonna get in trouble! sound to his voice. Right now, Dolph would have bet a not inconsiderable sum that Eugene had been a Boy Scout.
It would be irresponsible to involve him in these kinds of shenanigans. Dolph sighed. “Look, Eugene, you don’t have to be a part of this. Me, I’m already up to my eyeballs in trouble. I’m so tired I can’t see straight, I don’t know which way is up any more. But this, this is the one thing I do know. I have to get them back together. They fit ; they need each other, they’re two halves of a whole. And nothing goes like it should when they’re separated. They can’t do it themselves, so I’m going to do it for them. It’s...” he looked at Rey; her hand was searching along the blanket next to her. He knew what was she was looking for. “...it’s the least I can do.”
Eugene turned his head, a sharp motion, and headed for the door. His hand reached for the latch. All of a sudden Dolph couldn’t swallow past the lump in his throat. But that was best. “I...it’s been nice meeting you...goodbye”, he whispered; he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be heard or not. He was going to cry. God, why was he such an idiot? He turned back to Rey. Never mind. Back on mission. It had been too good to be true anyway.
He nearly jumped out of his shoes when he felt the hand at his back and heard the next sentence. “Okay. I thought I heard a noise. But there’s nobody in the hallway. What do you need me to do... oof !” Dolph found himself with his arms wrapped around this man for the third time in a day. He was going to give himself a stern talking-to about self-control. Later. Was Eugene laughing again? “Easy. What? If you’re in, I’m in. Somebody had to pretend to be the voice of reason.” Eugene still sounded nervous; looked it, too; but he squared his shoulders and walked back to the door. “Right. Reason discarded, let’s do this.” He opened it and nodded. Dolph pushed the bed out into the hallway and started back to room 18 with Eugene looking out ahead of them.
There was a sound of footsteps and bed wheels behind them. Dolph had always found that the best way to get caught doing something you weren’t supposed to be doing was to look anxiously around like you were afraid someone would see. So he looked straight in front of him and just kept walking. Easiest thing in the world, just transferring a patient to a room. He did it every day. Nothing to see here. Move along. They opened up Room 18, Dolph transferred Rey back into the big bed, and they were done. Eugene went to take the rolling bed back to Recovery; they’d need it.
Except the footsteps and the sound of bed wheels had followed them in here too. Dolph turned around to see a second bed, occupied by Ben Solo, being pushed into the room. He’d thought he knew every other nurse working here, but this woman wasn’t familiar at all. She was short, probably not much over 5 feet, sort of motherly and round, with curly, graying brown hair and glasses perched on her nose. Her scrubs were patterned with flowers. Dolph was pretty sure Ben wasn’t due out of Recovery for a while yet, which is why he’d been planning to hijack him next; but here he was, ahead of schedule. He stood frozen, not sure what was happening here.
The nurse, the stranger, put the bed back where it had started, on the other side of the room. She fussed with Ben for a minute, patting his hand, then turned and looked at Dolph. “You make sure these two are comfortably settled, now. I think you know what to do.” Her faded blue eyes bored into his; for a moment they were a sharp, saturated lapis blue, the flowers scattered across her scrubs somehow reflected in them. But the flowers mirrored in her eyes were moving , furling and unfurling; and one of the silver-threaded ringlets shone a pale gold. Doctor Canady was right. He really should go home for a while.
Dolph couldn’t tear his eyes away; but then Rey made a noise, a plaintive sound as her hand groped across the big bed searching for something missing. Dolph looked over at her for a heartbeat; she was almost awake. When he looked back, there was no one else in the room; but Rey’s papers shifted like there was a breeze in here. He frowned. He hadn’t heard her leave, or the door. Come to think of it, where had her lanyard and ID been? Everything smelled like flowers. Dolph pinched himself. “Ow!” Nope, he was awake. The door definitely made its usual click and creak as Eugene came back in the room. Shit.
“...Ben. I…” Rey was awake. And upset. “Where’s Ben?! Dolph?” He watched awareness of the day’s events fill her eyes. “Oh no…” Tears pooled and ran down her cheeks. Dolph took both her hands.
“Oh, Rey, honey, no, look, he’s right there, he’s okay, we think, he’s not awake yet, though. They’re not sure why.” She looked over to the other bed, hope warring with worry. “Hang on.” He unhooked her leads; he could hook them back up later. Dolph transferred her over to the smaller bed. It was a tight fit with the two of them, but that was probably just as well. “We got him back; but...he needs you.” Eugene quietly went about the business of transferring her leads and monitors to this side of the room.
Once he had Rey settled, propped up in bed with Ben’s head on her shoulder, Dolph kept going, taking her free hand back in his. “We...I had to look after him, and we had to clear the room, so we could work. I didn’t...I didn’t have time to be kind; and I’m so SORRY!” He’d told himself he’d just explain, it was logical, it was the way things had to be done, right? But that was a wail, and he’d lowered his head until it met their hands. He’d never heard a human being make a sound like that, like she’d made when they took her away; and he couldn’t look her in the eye.
Her hand pulled away from his; he flinched, expecting her to tell him to get out, or that she wanted somebody else to look after them. But her hand came back to rest on his hair. “Dolph. You don’t have to apologize. I was scared, and angry; I couldn’t think. But you could; you did. You took care of Ben.” When he raised his head, her other hand was tangled in Ben’s hair. “He’s still here because you were here; both of you,” she smiled at Eugene over Dolph’s shoulder, “and I can never thank you enough.” She looked down at Ben. “Now it’s my turn.”
Eugene’s hand was on his shoulder. “Come on. We need to not be in here when they figure out these two are missing from Recovery.” He looked at Rey. “You guys aren’t actually supposed to be back in here yet, but Dolph insisted; he was right, I know. We’ll be back, I don’t doubt; but you,” he was tugging at Dolph’s free hand, “need to go home.” Dolph was too spent to argue. It would be okay. It had to be.
She’d thought he was next to her. The scarf still smelled like him; but when she’d opened her eyes, she was alone in that big bed and the last thing Rey remembered was Ben falling and Kaydel wouldn’t let her go , and she’d...oh, she shouldn’t have done that, but she’d just been so terrified and they wouldn’t let her get to him and his chest was heaving but he wasn’t getting any air, she could tell, and now she was awake and where was he? He couldn’t be...no one, no god could be that cruel.
But then Dolph had explained, and moved her, and she could finally touch Ben again. His eyes were closed. He was warm, though, and she could feel him breathing. Why was Dolph apologizing? Oh. That didn’t matter; nothing did, as long as she and Ben were alive and together. But it mattered to him, was he crying? So she told him it was okay, and thanked him, like she should have before; because he was the reason Ben was still in her arms. And then they were alone. His eyes were still closed.
“Ben? I’m here. I should have listened to you; that was a stupid thing to do. But you...you shouldn’t have done that; you have to take care of yourself, because you belong to me and I need you.” She ran her hands over every part of him she could reach. His breathing was slow now, and steady; that was better, wasn’t it?
Alarms weren’t making noise, that was good. Rey slipped her arm out from under him, not without some effort, and cautiously sat up in the bed. She hadn’t fallen over, though things still felt kind of sideways; there was a rail on the bed, good. He still didn’t have much color. Rey put her hands on either side of his face and pressed her head against his. “Come on, Ben. Come back to me. Please. I’m here.”
She took his hands and rubbed them, so they’d be warm; she talked to him, about nothing and everything, for who knew how long.
“I never told you, how I fell in love with Middle-Earth, did I? I haven’t told you anything , which isn’t fair, so you’d better listen. I was never in one place for long. A lot of foster kids aren’t; and, well, most of the homes where I got sent, they didn’t want to deal with my seizures. I wasn’t easy, I guess. There were lots of doctor’s appointments and records, and nobody could decide what was causing it. I didn’t even know that, until later, when I learned what I was.” She cleared her throat; this part was hard to talk about with anybody.
“So I didn’t really feel like I belonged anywhere. I did what I was supposed to do; I studied, and got good grades, and tried to get along with the other kids, but I always knew I wasn’t staying long. Eventually I figured out that if I said I wanted to go to the library and study, nobody was going to tell me no; and if I stayed there I didn’t have to make friends I wasn’t going to get to keep.” She’d known better than to get too close to any of them, until Finn. But even he had run away, not that she blamed him; that hadn’t been one of the better places. And she hadn’t found him again until college.
“All the places I stayed, I always found a way to get back to that library. I know every bus route in the city. The schoolwork was easy, mostly; but I didn’t want to go back to somewhere that wasn’t home when I finished it. So I started picking books off the shelves at random. Fiction, nonfiction, I didn’t really care.” She’d read history, technical manuals, travel guides; the mythology section had been particularly helpful, later.
“There was this,” she laughed, “ tiny little librarian; Maisie, her name was, this little old lady with enormous glasses, lenses as thick as bulletproof glass. After a while she’d pass by the table where I was studying, or reading, and she’d just leave a book there without saying a word. Good books, all of them. Narnia and Lemony Snicket and Little House and everything, you know, that kids normally read, I guess.” She’d loved them all.
“Eventually she got around to The Hobbit, which I devoured; who wouldn’t? I was all set to find the rest of them, anything and everything Tolkien had ever written. And when I showed up that day, like she’d known what I was going to do, there was a copy of all three books; old copies, stamped DISCARD, lying on the table in the corner where I’d sit. Inside the front cover of the Fellowship of the Ring, in this old-fashioned cursive, it said ‘The belonging you seek is not behind you; it is ahead.’ No name or anything, but I knew they were for me. After I read them, I understood; I hoped she was right, that someday I’d belong, like the Fellowship belonged to each other. And I did, I found them, a family, long after I’d thought I never would.” She was crying, now. “But I didn’t know, I never so much as hoped, that I’d belong to somebody like you. I wanted to tell you that too.”
She remembered what he’d said about himself, his childhood. “The way you talked about yourself, when you told me how you grew up; I don’t like it, Ben. Your parents’ marriage failing, your father leaving; that wasn’t your fault. Your mother, that wasn’t your fault either; she loved you, and you loved her, so much. I could hear it in your voice, in the things you shared with her. And the fighting, I’d’ve probably done the same; hell, I did, sometimes, in the bad places. I told you; you don’t ever have to worry about who you are. I see you; I see how gentle, and brilliant, and loving you are. I see how you put others before yourself; me, a kid you don’t even know.”
Now she was angry. “And that’s wonderful, and I love you for it; but Ben, I need you to think about you too. You told me,” her voice was thick, “you told me you weren’t going anywhere, you told me I’d be sick of you, but you didn’t take care of you . You were so busy worrying about me that you almost left me. And I...I need you. I don’t know how to be without you, now. We do this together. We take care of each other, yes, but we have to be here to do that. Please,” she pleaded with him, “please open your eyes and let me know you’re still here. Because I am. I’m here with you. You don’t have to say anything; don’t even move, until we know you’re okay. Just open your eyes and look at me.” They stayed stubbornly closed.
What else could she do? Right. Rey sat up straight, at least she thought she was sitting up straight, and took his hands again. She took a deep breath and used her core, her muscles, and the longing of every time she’d heard someone sing, just for their own delight. She put everything she wanted Ben to hear into her voice; all the love and comfort, need and hope and desire and belonging, and she called him home.
Even music wasn’t much help for Poe right now. It had been a spectacularly shitty day. The first part of it had been like a race; a race he’d lost. The snow had kept falling, more and more of it, and it was beautiful, sure; but snow wasn’t great for flying, and his bird had felt heavy and ungainly in the air.
He knew he was good, but no matter how good he’d been, he hadn’t been able to get this one to help in time; and there were children, he knew, who wouldn’t see their father again. He’d cursed the mechanics, including Snap, up one side of the hangar and down the other, and he’d snapped at Paige, and it wasn’t their fault, they’d done everything they were supposed to do, sometimes you just couldn’t win.
Kaydel had taken one look at him when he got back here and wound herself around him, never mind the snow still melting on his coat. It had been a good few minutes before he registered the bandage on her face. That had taken some explaining; but that was all hours ago now, and they were waiting again. He’d have almost preferred wrestling an iced-up helicopter through the sky to this, to the waiting. No, no almost about it.
Rose and Finn were occupied with each other, good for them, and Kaydel was napping on his shoulder; they’d all gotten pretty damn practiced at sleeping in these chairs. Dolph had tried calling himself an Uber home, and yeah, he didn’t look like he should be driving; but Eugene was having none of that, and had taken Dolph home himself, despite his feeble protests. The quiet had gotten oppressive, and made him think, again, about what he could have done differently, how he’d made mistakes; that wasn’t helpful, Poe knew. And he’d tried the music, music always made him feel better; but it hadn’t worked, and he’d taken out the earbuds and put the phone away.
He thought, for a second, that he’d forgotten to turn off the app; he could still hear singing. That wasn’t, though, it wasn’t any artist he knew. In fact, he’d never heard this voice before at all; but he knew, like he knew the sun would rise in the morning, that it was Rey. She was singing. She never sang. Weeks, years of karaoke nights, and she’d clapped and smiled and laughed and joked with them, but Rey never, ever sang.
She was singing now; and they were a pretty talented bunch, their Fellowship, but this was like an angel had fallen to earth. He felt like Frodo, just woken up from dark dreams and hearing that one clear voice, “A Elbereth Gilthoniel”; he still remembered the way Tolkien had described it, the “sweet syllables...fell like clear jewels of blended word and melody”. And he felt like he hadn’t really understood that description until just now. It wasn’t Elvish. Poe was pretty sure it was The Fray, but he was betting it would be enough to call Ben back from under Shadow. How could it be otherwise, full of so much love and hope?
Be still and know that I'm with you
Be still and know that I am here
Be still and know that I'm with you
Be still, be still, and know
When darkness comes upon you
And covers you with fear and shame
Be still and know that I'm with you
And I will say your name
If terror falls upon your bed
And sleep no longer comes
Remember all the words I said
Be still, be still, and know
Finn and Rose had turned, puzzled, at the sound. He patted Kaydel’s shoulder, gently, to wake her. “Kaydel, honey. Listen. It’s Rey. Don’t ask me how I know. Why didn’t she ever...with a voice like that?” He trailed off; and no one made a peep, the better to hear the pure, ringing sound; like somebody had cast a bell out of light.
And when you go through the valley
And the shadow comes down from the hill
If morning never comes to be
Be still, be still, be still
If you forget the way to go
And lose where you came from
If no one is standing beside you
Be still and know I am
Be still and know that I'm with you
Be still and know I am
That was the end of the song...but she sang a little more; like a prayer, like a spell, to bid him return to her.
Be still and know that I'm with you
And I will say your name…
Rey spared a stray thought to be glad, that she could still sing, as the last note faded. But most of her was focused on him.
There he was. There was an inarticulate slur of sound, but his eyes , his eyes were open again; meeting hers. They were the exact color, Rey thought, of afternoon sunlight on the well-worn library table where she’d sit, when she escaped to the place where the stories lived.
“Ben! You came back to me. You...I love you.” She rained kisses on every part of his face she could reach, around the tubes and things.
“You said...you sang...Be still...and know...that you were...with me… So beautiful. I knew; I know. I heard you. I love you.” A crooked smile tugged at her heart as he laced his fingers with hers.
Rey helped him to sit up, just a little; and she held on to him like he was the last solid thing in the universe. Maybe he was. Now that he’d spoken, and looked at her, she had a minute to feel where she’d come apart, seeing him so still again.
“Don’t you leave me. Don’t you EVER do that again.” She’d meant to be stern, but it wasn't; it was anguished, a sob.
“Yes, ma’am. I mean, no, ma’am. Rey…” His arms came around her, a world of tenderness in his voice. “I’m sorry. I won’t. I love you. I’m going to take my time showing you how much. I’m not going anywhere. I understand now.” He tilted her chin up toward his face and kissed her, ever so gently. “You get to keep me. Okay?”
He’d heard that. “Good. You take care of yourself. Because I let myself love you, Ben Solo. I belong to you; and you belong to me.” She laid his hand over her heart, and set her palm on his chest so she could feel the reassuring, steady beat. “We belong to each other.” Rey kissed him again, her senses full of Ben; the sight and sound and scent of him, the music of his pulse against her skin. Here. Alive. Hers.
Rey has found her voice again. And Ben is taking relationship advice from Hades to heart. He can be taught.
Thanks, @flypaper-brain for making me do it the hard way despite my complaining. Thanks @sunbug1138 for embellishment, encouragement, and an ending. And thanks @leoba for letting me know when it's good and making it better.
Music notes (ha!) Okay...Button Up Your Overcoat was written by Ray Henderson, first performed by Ruth Etting in 1928; but the version playing in the story is Helen Kane, from 1929. The Fray's Be Still is just a marvelous, beautiful song. Poe and Kaydel are dancing to Poe's rendition of You're The Cream In My Coffee, also by Ray Henderson; sung, like Button Up Your Overcoat, by many artists; notably Nat King Cole. Each of the Fellowship has their own music preferences, which will become clear. Rey likes 90s music; Professor Holdo prefers Depression-era pieces. Poe likes everything, he just loves music. Ben has his own preferred music, as do Finn and Rose and Kaydel; but we don't yet know what those are. Well, I do.