A baby was crying...somewhere. Where was she, again?
Rey jerked awake and groaned.
She was here, in her bed. The baby was her baby.
She looked at the clock. One hour since the last feeding.
She had slept for one hour.
Her heart was pounding and everything in her sympathetic nervous system was screaming comfort your baby, comfort your baby, but her limbs almost refused to move. When she finally dragged herself upright (remembering to keep her legs together) and gingerly transferred her weight to her feet, her knees and hips ached, like someone had hollowed out the joints with a spoon.
Sleep deprivation was a form of torture, she remembered.
She stumbled into the nursery where Ben was sitting in her nursing chair with Leia, looking almost as tired as she felt, frantically shushing and rocking and jiggling and back-patting, the anxiety of his movements dulled by his obvious sluggishness.
“She's hungry again? Already?” Rey said it like an accusation. Like it was Ben's fault.
In a way, it was, since he was completely worthless at breastfeeding. Why did Rey have to do everything ? Why did men even have nipples, anyway?
“I don't know, I'm sorry, I tried everything, I guess she's cluster feeding?”
“Ok, well, you go sleep, I guess,” she muttered as she took Leia and sat down, attempting to soothe the still-crying baby in one arm while arranging her nursing pillow with the other.
Ben was hovering.
He reached out to try to help move things around. He didn't know what he was doing. His hands flailing in her space made her head feel like it was about to explode.
“Just go!” she snapped.
Rey struggled a bit with getting Leia calmed down enough to latch well, then once she was eating, let her head fall back and closed her eyes. She knew it wasn’t safe to sleep like this, but she just couldn't keep them open anymore. Everyone talked about how tiring it was to have a new baby, but somehow that still didn't prepare her for the reality. Nothing could have, she realized now. It was impossible to imagine until you had experienced it.
It wasn't just the physical tiredness—she'd felt that before, weak yet sleepless from hunger pains, exhausted from long days of searching for valuable scavenge. But back then she had been responsible only for herself. When she needed to take a break, she could. Now she was constantly at the beck and call of a tiny person with immense needs. It was round-the-clock work, and even more than that, it was emotionally draining. She had thought that being deeply wanted and needed by someone who shared her blood would heal the wound left by her parent's abandonment—and maybe, in time, she still hoped it would, but now all it seemed to do was to force her to constantly relive it.
On the good days, when she would watch Leia sleeping peacefully in her arms, would trace each contour of her beautiful face, would count each dimple in her perfect chubby hands, would feel powerfully, fiercely in love with this tiny person in a way that even her passion for Ben had not prepared her, suddenly Rey would be overcome with grief. How could any mother who had held her baby like this have left her? Was Rey not once just as innocent and precious? Was she so unloveable?
On the bad days, when Ben was gone and Leia would wail for hours and nothing Rey did could calm her, the shame and panic would be paralyzing. She felt unable to cope with the neediness of another when no one had ever met her own needs. A few times Rey had left Leia in her crib to cry alone while she fled to another room, holding her head and rocking, drowning in her own loneliness and inadequacy, at once both the abandoning mother and the abandoned child, dramatizing her own self-loathing through Leia's desperate cries.
“Rey, hey, I just wanted—are you alright?”
Rey looked up in horror as the Bond opened. She knew her eyes would be red and her cheeks streaked with tears. Suddenly Ben was at her side, gently wiping her face with one hand while the other pulled her close.
“No, no, no, shh, shh, princess, what's wrong?” he implored, his voice soft but urgent. “Why didn't you reach out to me?”
They had been practicing opening their Force Bond at will, and Rey was getting pretty good at it, but she had never wanted to call for him during the bad times. He was busy, she could handle it—this is what she told herself. But really she was deathly afraid that he would be appalled if he saw her like that. He would know what a horrible mother—what a horrible person—she was. She couldn't bear to ask for help, to let him see her in her total weakness.
“I—it's fine, I'm fine, just...tired. Long day,” she shrugged, trying to sound casual.
He looked at her skeptically, but didn't argue. Instead, he pulled her into his chest and rested his chin on her head. “I'm sorry it's so hard. I'm sorry I'm not there to help. I miss you and Le-Le so much. Where is she, by the way?”
Rey had started to melt into his caresses, but froze at the question. “She's in her crib,” she said, keeping her tone as neutral as possible.
“Really? She's sleeping on her own now? That's great!” He was excited. It was so tempting to just go along with it, to lie.
“No...she's awake. She's crying, I'm so sorry, I tried everything, I just couldn't get her to calm down, I just needed a little break.” Rey could feel the tears threatening again, a burning in her sinuses, but she forced them down.
“I'm coming home.” He jumped up and started arranging some items that she could not see.
“No! Ben, no! I mean, you don't have to do that, I'll be ok, I can handle it. I'll...I'll ask Finn and Rose to come help for a little bit.”
He looked at her sternly without saying anything, then returned to packing.
“You're light-years away, I don't want to ask you to do this for me.”
“Well, then it's a good thing I'm not waiting for you to ask.”
She huffed. “Don't you have...meetings? And important things to do?”
He stopped dashing around and stood right in front of her, staring into her eyes from a height that always made her feel small. “Nothing is more important than my family.” Then he was gone.
Rey had always looked forward to Ben's homecomings from work trips with eager anticipation. This time her feelings were decidedly more mixed. She tidied the house frantically (wearing a sleeping Leia on her front, of course), conscious that this time it was not so much about wanting everything to be peaceful so they could relax together as it was about needing to prove to him—and to herself—that she could do this, that she wasn't falling apart.
Ben had always loved her for her power and skill, her independence, determination, and strength of character, hadn't he? He loved that he could push her in the training room, that they challenged each other to confront painful truths. He wanted a partner who could be his equal in every way, not an overgrown child that he had to take care of.
But that wasn't quite fair, was it? Leia was his baby, too. Why did he get to continue living his life while she was stuck here alone? She realized that as much as she was dreaded his disappointment, she was also angry at him leaving her in the first place. Maybe if he hadn't left, things wouldn't have gotten this bad.
If he hadn't left.
If her parents hadn't left.
It was like a punch in the gut. She dropped her pile of folded clothes and sank to her knees.
This is what she was afraid of.
That once he saw her failure, her weakness, he wouldn't want her anymore. That he would leave, and this time, he wouldn't come back.
Rey was collapsed on the sofa, trying to stay awake while Leia nursed, when she heard the door open and Ben's voice calling for her.
“Here,” she said weakly.
He rushed to her side and took her face in his hands, searching her eyes for something. “How are you?” he asked, and it was not a formality.
“I'm...I'm glad you're here,” she said, realizing that despite her fear and anger, she was. “I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too, sweetheart. I was so worried about you.”
“You don't have to worry about me,” she said, stiffening again. “I can do it, I don't need—“
He cut her off with a kiss. “Rey,” he said, firmly but ever so gently. “You don't have to do this by yourself anymore. Remember? I told you. You're not alone.”
“Then why did you leave me?” Rey wailed and burst into uncontrollable sobs. This, this was what she dreaded, crying like a baby in front of someone, but she couldn't hold it back anymore. Not when Ben was there, warm and solid, looking at her with those eyes that always saw right through her, rubbing her arms and brushing her cheek with soft kisses.
“Rey, Rey, my love, sweetheart. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry,” he said, and he was crying now, too. “I—well, you know I have work I have to do, but that's not... The real reason is...” He paused and took a deep breath. “I was afraid,” he said, quietly. “You're so close with Le-Le, and I felt left out. I didn't know how to do anything with her, it seemed like every time I tried to help it just made things worse. I thought...I thought maybe you didn't want me around so much. It was easier to just get out of the way.”
Rey's jaw had been steadily dropping as he spoke, and suddenly the spasms in her abdomen began again, not as sobs this time, but as laughter.
“What?” he said, pulling back. “Why are you laughing?” He looked hurt.
Rey was wiping away more tears. She caught her breath and tried to explain. “It's just that...here I was, so afraid, too. I felt inadequate. I thought if you knew how helpless I was, that you...that you wouldn't want me. ”
Rey's chuckles were returning as sighs of relief, but Ben was absolutely serious. “Rey,” he said, taking her hands. “Rey, look at me. You are the mother of my child. You are more precious to me than the whole galaxy. You are...you're part of me. You are the other half of my soul, that I thought I would never get back. How could I not want you? I want you more than anything .”
“Really?” Rey's voice sounded tiny. She met his eyes, not daring to blink lest the tears that were pooling there spill over.
“Really,” he said, and his voice was quivering.
“Even though I'm so messed up and...a horrible parent, sometimes?”
“You are not ,” he insisted, and seeing her skepticism, added, “Not any more than I am. We will figure it out, together.”
“So, no more work trips for awhile?” she asked, feeling lucky.
“Not until you're ready,” he promised. “Maybe not even then. I can hardly stand the thought now. I just want to be with you and Le-Le every moment of every day.”
Rey's eyes were twinkling. “Hm, don't you think we might get a little tired of each other?” she teased.
He leaned in and slowly laid a kiss on each of her dimples, resting his hand on Leia's fuzzy head. “Never,” he breathed.
Rey smiled drowsily against her pillow as she watched Ben rocking Leia. She was impossibly tiny in his large hands. Her head was on his shoulder, turned up towards him with her sweet little mouth hanging open. His dark eyes met hers, a perfect mirror. He was awkwardly humming an Alderaanian lullaby and the corners of his mouth turned up slightly, even while a stray tear escaped his eye. They were so beautiful together, Rey thought her heart might break. This is where I belong , she thought as she drifted into a long-awaited sleep. With my family.