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The Good Fortune of the Skywalker Family

Chapter Text

According to his grandmother, the good fortune of the Skywalker family could be traced back to Ben’s great godmother, Breha Organa. 

On the fateful summer day that would change the Skywalkers forever, Padme was celebrating her baby shower. The presents had been opened, the onesies and stuffed animals had been cooed over, and the cake had been dished out on pretty little plates. 

Picking at her slice of vanilla chiffon, Padme felt heavy enough to fall through the center of the earth.

Breha turned to her and asked, “are you alright?” 

A lot of people asked Padme that, as if the swelling of her belly made her an easy-to-pop balloon. Usually, she would smile her senator smile and feed them the usual, “of course, I’ve got work to do,” or “of course, what did you expect?” or “of course, I’ve survived worse than this.” 

But the soft light falling on Breha’s concerned face struck her as particularly tragic, so Padme told her the truth. 

“No,” she said. “I’m not alright.” 

She told Breha about the men who pointed at her belly and asked how she could support abortion clinics; she told Breha about the politicians who pointed at her petitions and asked how she could tax her wealthy friends; she told Breha about the assistants who pointed at the factories and asked how she could hope her children and their world would survive.

She told Breha about the husband who pointed nowhere - lost in the maze of his mind.

She told Breha about the reflection that pointed back at her, alone in front of the bathroom mirror.

“You’re not alone,” Breha told her. Then, she took Padme’s hand and pulled it into her lap, a pool of golden fabric in the sunlight.

For the first time in what felt like one hundred years, Padme wept.

 

 

When the baby shower had finally ended and the last of their guests had returned home, Padme led Anakin into the garden. It had been a long time since they’d walked, hand and hand, among the flowers.

“When did you plant these?” Anakin asked, pointing to the bushes of delicate white blossoms. 

“A few months ago,” Padme answered. “Gardenias. We had them at our wedding, remember?”

He shook his head.

“What do they mean?” he asked.

He knew she possessed a wealth of knowledge regarding the symbolism of flowers. Everything she planted in her garden had some greater significance, a design only seasoned horticulturalists could discover, a purpose only the watchful could see.

“Love,” Padme said. “Truth. Hope. Among other things. What most flowers symbolize.”

“Except butterfly weed,” he added.

It was a running joke between them, how Anakin had once given her a pretty bouquet of the orange flowers without realizing they meant “leave me.”

“Except butterfly weed,” she agreed. They shared a familiar smile.

There, among the blooming gardenias, she told him all she had told Breha Organa. She told him about her sorrow, her solitude, her despair. Released in the open air, the words seemed to taint the floral sweetness wafting about them. She could see Anakin holding his breath, as if to keep the bitterness from entering his lungs.

“Something needs to change, Ani,” she said. “I can’t go on living like this. We can’t go on living like this.” She brushed a white petal out of his hair. “When was the last time you slept through the night?”

He couldn’t answer. The insomnia had begun even before he went off to war. Midnight was plagued by nightmares. Nightmares that predicted his mother’s death, then nightmares that endlessly repeated it - his brain was a feedback loop of his greatest torment.

Lately, his nightmares had been about her dying in childbirth. 

“That won’t happen,” she’d say, holding him in the dark. “The doctors say I’m doing fine. We wouldn’t risk it otherwise.”

But he refused to be soothed; comfort had never comforted him.

Now, cupping his face between her hands as they stood in her garden, Padme told him, “you’re afraid you’ll lose me. I’m afraid I’ve already lost you.”

They clung to each other desperately, backs shaking with sobs, petals and leaves crashing into them like waves at sea. This moment, Padme knew, would decide whether they rose from the dark waters together or sunk in a lover’s embrace.

“You need to see someone, Anakin.” She loosened her hold on him, stepping back so she could look him in the eye. His expression was still stormy. “You don’t have to see my therapist. But you have to see someone who can help you stay afloat.”

His eyes darted away from hers, seeking an escape. She caught his cheek in her hand and turned it back to her.

“I mean it.” Her words were firm. “I’ve been trying to carry too many burdens - mine, your’s, our children’s, the country’s. You were supposed to be my partner, my support. But you’ve just… disappeared. I’ve never felt so alone.”

“You’re not alone,” he reassured her in a rush of hot breath.

They were the exact same words Breha had told her just a few hours ago. For this reason, she laughed aloud instead of cried.

“Neither are you,” she replied.

 

 

It became a trademark of the Skywalker family to reassure each other with those words. Anakin passed them on to Luke. Padme passed them onto Leia. Leia passed them onto Han. Han passed them onto Ben. 

“You’re not alone,” Han would tell him, bandaging his son’s bloody knuckles after yet another breakdown. Ben, still high from the adrenaline of wrecking his mother’s latest party, would automatically reply:

“Neither are you.”

Six words. Eight syllables. Two breaths.

Repeated over and over again, they became a tether, a spell of binding, a circle.

The words would always be there: no matter how high Leia climbed, no matter how far Han ran, no matter how silent Luke became, no matter how far Ben fell. Those words always brought their family back together.

At least, until the day Ben met Rey.

 

 

Ben was seeing red by the time he’d parked his car outside of Maz’s little office on Takodana street. On the way over, he’d torn through traffic, roaring with his car horn, flashing his headlights at slow drivers - a bull with horns of fenders and flanks of steel. 

The poor soul who’d been trapped with him in the elevator trembled all the way up to his floor, spilling his coffee on his briefcase when he exited (fortunately, he avoided splashing Ben).

Regularly, Ben would be careful to tamp down his anger, an emotion that never left him completely but ebbed and flowed, an ocean in his heart.

But today the ocean tossed and turned, brewing waves so terribly high that they overwhelmed any sense of reason. His logical brain was drowning somewhere beneath his heart’s turbulence.

Surging past Maz’s receptionist, clenching the latest issue of First Order in his hand like a sharp, bloody sword, Ben crashed headlong into a girl.

Gravity was a terrible god and now it dictated that Ben fall practically on top of her. He managed to catch himself at the last second, the palms of his hands slamming against the linoleum tiles.

He only had a moment to stare into her face, their noses separated by barely six inches of air, before she shoved him away.

“Oy!” she exclaimed. “Watch where you’re going!”

The contents of her purse had spilled in the fall: loose papers, plastic buttons, a tube of chapstick, bright blue candies, spare change, and a black pocket knife. She gathered them up so quickly that by the time Ben had come to his senses, the floor was practically spotless.

“You’re lucky you ran into me.” She huffed in indignation. “If a big guy like you ran into a kid or a little old lady - I don’t even want to imagine it.”

Her efforts to shame him rekindled his anger.

“Yeah, well, you’re lucky you ran into me,” he retorted. “Some scrawny little guy - you would have broken his bones.”

She gaped at him. 

“This wasn’t my fault! You weren’t being careful!” She still clenched the pocket knife in her right hand. Strangely, the sight of her with that knife mollified him. 

Then she picked up the First Order magazine.

“Hey, that’s mine!” he cried, wrenching it from her grasp. “Hands off, scavenger.”

Something cracked behind her eyes. Up until this moment, he hadn’t realized that they were both just barely holding it together. Now, a dozen questions came to mind: what was she doing in Maz’s office? Was she a patient? Had she just finished her session?

Was she broken too?

Beyond the sliver in her chipped mask, he glimpsed something raw and despairing. His breathing stopped.

Then she kicked him in the shins.

“Bastard!” she called over her shoulder as she stomped down the hallway. “Dick! I hope the next thing you run into is a speeding bus!”

The door slammed so hard he was surprised the glass didn’t shatter.

“Ben Solo.” The little wrinkled figure of Maz Kanata had snuck up behind him while he was lying on the floor, massaging his bruised shins. She gave him a mischievous smile. “You do know how to make an appearance.”

“I have a bone to pick with you, Maz,” he hissed through clenched teeth.

“It seems you have a bone to pick with everyone.” She waved her hand in a careless gesture. “Lucky for you that was my last appointment. Come, we’ll talk in my office.”

“I certainly don’t feel lucky.” He glared mutinously at the evergreen tree wallpaper, but still followed along. 

“Many people mistake good fortune for catastrophe. They dress in the same clothes.”

“And you’re blind. You are literally blind - it is illegal for you to drive without glasses.” He plopped himself down on the chair she usually reserved for her patients. His family hadn’t employed her in years - not since Grandpa Anakin had stitched himself back together. Following the termination of their professional relationship, she’d become a close family friend, someone he thought he could trust.

He never should have been so foolish.

“Is that why you gave that disastrous interview to the First Order magazine?” He shoved his crinkled issue in her face. It was taped together in several places and even bore various teeth marks: the aftermath of having been fed to Poe’s golden retriever. It took every ounce of willpower Ben had not to set it on fire.  “Because you can’t tell the difference between good meddling and catastrophe?”

She regarded the magazine with feigned innocence.

“Open it,” he said. “Page sixty-six. Article written by Armitage Hux.” Gritting his teeth, he added in a dangerous undertone, “it’s titled, ‘Richboy Heartbreaker, Ben Solo.’”

A gleeful light sparkled in her eyes as she thumbed through the story.

“I see they published our conversation,” she said. She had the gall to puff out her chest with pride. “I’m glad. That reporter was not very easy to talk to. Rather snobby man. He looks just like one of the Weasley boys, from the Harry Potter movies.”

“I’m not here to talk about Harry Potter.” Ben was seething. “And I know what that gremlin looks like. He happens to be my next door neighbor.”

“Ah, that explains his vendetta against you.”

“If you realized he holds a grudge against me, why the hell did you do this interview? You’re endorsing this libelous garbage!” He snatched the magazine back and jabbed his finger at the headline. He read aloud: “‘Ben Solo: reclusive translator of Japanese and Chinese poetry by day. Wealthy playboy by night. Hear all about the exploits of this millionaire cheater from close friends and old flames.’”

He threw the magazine down on the floor with the violence he reserved for venomous snakes or burning crosses. 

His anger was stoked by the eerie sense that he could hear his father’s obnoxious sniggers playing like a laugh track in the background.

Early this morning, his dad, considerate man that he was, made Ben aware of his situation via a kindly phone call. 

At first, Ben thought Han was having a stroke - he could barely breathe from laughing so hard.

“I had no idea,” Han wheezed on the other end. “My son, the lone-wolf academic. The boy who spent most of his childhood with his nose stuck in a book. The man who spends most of his adulthood meditating in Taoist temples. Who woulda thought such a guy was secretly cruising around at night, throwing away his inheritance on booze, drugs, and one-night stands?”

He had proof his dad was finally going senile. 

“...What?” Ben asked.

“Kid, you’ve gotta read the latest issue of First Order magazine.”

Dutifully, Ben had gone down to the drug store to buy the latest issue of the garbage tabloid. He wasn’t proud of the inhuman screech he uttered when he saw a heavily Photoshopped version of himself leering from the front cover.

Glaring down at his sleazy magazine doppelganger lying on Maz’s floor, the schmuck giving him a wink from behind dark glasses, Ben was certain his scholarly reputation was ruined. That resignation to his downfall had inspired a revenge-filled suicide mission. Ben’s first stop was Maz. His next stop: Armitage Hux’s apartment, armed with a gallon of lighter fluid and a box of matches.

“Why did you do this to me?” he asked Maz, kneeling down on the floor. He was actually quite miserable. His parents said he was lucky to be born into a family possessing lots of old friends. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have any.

“Now, now, Ben. It’s alright.” She patted his bowed head. Ben knew she would use the same gesture to cheer up an unhappy dog. “It came to me in a dream.”

“What?”

“I had a dream of that interview. Me, saying those exact words: ‘he will be a heartbreaker.’” There was a mystical tone to her voice and a faraway look in her eyes. “This was destined to be.”

Maz, like Grandpa Anakin and Uncle Luke, possessed a self-destructive belief in all things supernatural. Prophetic visions were her favorite past time.

“You ruined my life… because of a dream.” 

“Stop being so dramatic. Your life isn’t ruined. In fact, thanks to my dream, your fate has been altered in a most fortuitous way.”

“You said I’m going to be a heartbreaker.”

“Is that mutually exclusive from happiness?” She smiled at him, pulling him up from his kneeling position on the floor. For such a small woman, she was surprisingly strong. “Hearts are broken and they are mended. Some things are better from having been broken. More brilliant. More beautiful.”

“Kintsugi,” he muttered. 

He looked at the kintsugi piece of pottery she displayed on her bookshelf. It was a piece he had given her, a souvenir from one of his trips to Japan. The deep black bowl was laced in golden fault lines, cracks that glowed like golden stars. Kintsugi was hope bleeding out of hopelessness, light sobbed in great tears by the dark. 

Solace greater than he would ever know.

As she led him to the front desk, he said, “I’m letting you off the hook this time. You didn’t know any better.”

She gave his elbow a tender squeeze. Expelling a despondent sigh, he turned to the door, but just as he was opening it, the front desk receptionist called out, “wait!”

The receptionist waved something at them. A wallet. “The woman from before. The one you… bumped into.” Even in Ben’s surprise - he’d forgotten all about the violent scavenger - he wryly noted the receptionist’s delicate wording. “She dropped this. Must not have noticed it, hidden and all behind the potted plants.”

“Oh dear,” Maz said, taking the wallet. As she rifled through it, Ben glimpsed a few dollar bills, crumpled receipts, several photos, dog-eared cards, and a license. “Look at this. A piece of mail with her address. We do have the fates on our side.”

Then she turned to him.

“Ben. You should bring this back to her.”

“What?” Ben was flabbergasted. “No, why would I - can’t you just call her? Tell her to pick it up?”

“She can’t drive around without her license,” Maz pointed out, choosing this moment to indulge in cold logic. “And this mess is your fault. You’re the one who bumped into her.” 

“She also bumped into me.”

Ignoring this, Maz raised her hand in a magnanimous shushing gesture. “No arguing. You will go straight to your car, enter this address in your GPS, and return this wallet to poor Rey.”

That is how Ben found himself hurtling down the highway at 90 miles an hour, bracing himself for an inevitable collision with the fierce woman with a pocket knife. 

He peered down at the little wallet lying on his passenger seat. Rey’s photo smiled back at him.

“Rey,” he said, testing the name in his mouth. Then he drove on.  

 

Chapter Text

The good fortune of Rey’s family must have run out quite quickly, because her parents abandoned her at a garbage dump in Jakku, Arizona when she was just five years old.

She’d grown up scavenging parts for broken cars and trading them for food from her foster father, a tumor-turned human called Unkar Plutt. Like any good father, Plutt taught her all the essential survival skills: how to expect disappointment, how to dispel hope, how to spot a liar, how to rely on yourself. 

Teedo, one of Plutt’s fellow garbage men, taught her how to fight using broken pipes. That is, if teaching meant he attacked her for semi-usable engines, and she picked up enough from his beatings to give a few of her own.

Loneliness was faded letters on a painted sign. Literally. She kept the sign in her little tent, wondering if it had come from a desolate restaurant, or a town with only one inhabitant, or an amusement park with a solitary ride.

One day, a woman in fine clothing descended on the dumpster, a goddess among ruins. 

Rey was glad to see the goddess berate Plutt for his abysmal practice of burying garbage in toxic plots of land or dumping it into nearby rivers. More than her sharp words and her high ideals, Rey idolised her for what she overheard the woman say during a private phone call. She stood by Rey’s “Loneliness” sign as she spoke into her phone with tenderness.

“You’re not alone,” the woman said, reassuring the person on the other end of the call. She clenched her free hand tightly before running it through her brown hair. Rey could tell it was a makeshift gesture, a substitute for the way she longed to comfort the person she was talking to. The goddess bit her lower lip, and it gleamed red in the flickering neon lights. A mother’s bite.

In that moment, Rey felt the words were meant for her. A hand reaching out to her from the darkness, a fire lit in the rain.

Even the voice that answered the woman on speaker phone seemed to be Rey’s voice. Disembodied and placed in another person’s throat, but her voice all the same; all its yearnings, all its pain, all its reaching out. Of course, the voice didn’t belong to her. It was a faceless, nameless young man, God knows how far away, who said:

“Neither are you.”

Ever since that day, those words had been Rey’s mantra. When she was too thirsty to cry, too hungry to steal, too bruised to recover, and too tired to sleep, she spoke the words to herself.

“You’re not alone,” she whispered, lying on a threadbare DIY canopy beneath the night sky. Miraculously, the light pollution cleared and Rey could see the stars. Reaching out for their brightness, she reassured herself. “Neither are you.”

Six words. Eight syllables. Two breaths.

Later, when she was going through a phase of imitating posh English dramas, Rey recited the words in a British accent. It was a rebellious effort to distance herself from the slurring lowlifes at the Jakku dumpster. The women in the lush period pieces reminded her of the motherly goddess who’d stood beside the “Loneliness” sign and crooned comfort into her phone. Rey had never grown out of that manufactured accent or the dreams of finding love and belonging that transcended her lowly origins.

After she’d left Plutt and Teedo behind with the help of a scholarship to a college in Naboo, Rey would continue to chant the six words. Repeated over and over again, they became a tether, a spell of binding, a circle. 

She was complete in herself. She was more than a scavenger.

The words would always be there, no matter how many times Rey fell apart. In their cadence, she would always shore up the strength to salvage her broken pieces.

At least, until the day Rey met Ben Solo.

 

Rey was seeing red by the time she parked her banged up car outside her apartment on Crait boulevard. On the way over, she’d flown through traffic, cutting through packs of slow moving semi trucks, and weaving through masses of filthy RV’s - a bird with wings of rubber and feathers of bright blue metal.    

The unlucky drunkard who’d been trapped with her in the elevator quivered all the way up to her floor, spilling booze all over her purse as she exited (thankfully, she avoided splashing Rey).

Usually, Rey would be able to tamp down on her anger, a feeling that never left her completely but shifted and stilled, a desert in her heart.

But today the desert blew and whirled, conjuring sandstorms so terribly tall that they overwhelmed any sense of calm. Her thinking brain was suffocating somewhere inside her heart’s gales.

Surging past the doorman, clenching her latest self-reflection assignment from Maz like a sharp, deadly lance, Rey just barely avoided crashing headlong into Finn.

“Holy mother of mercy!” Finn exclaimed, backing into the wall in his surprise. “Rey! You nearly scared me half to death.”

“Sorry, sorry,” she said. She pressed the heel of her hand into her temple, desperately trying to recover a sense of peace. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

“I’ll say,” Finn replied, hoisting the rolling pin he held in one hand over his shoulder. Flour dusted his shoulders and hair in flakes soft as snow. 

Finn always came over on her appointment days, making himself at home in her kitchen as he baked sugar cookies, brownies, and miniature berry pies. A little sweetness to soften the bitter aftertaste. Being cherished like that pressed down on her tenderly, a bruise of love.

He peered closely at her now, as if by looking hard enough he might detect her fissures and seal them up. Bind her broken pieces with gold. Kintsugi.

Kintsugi pottery was one of Rey’s favorite art forms; she especially liked the dark bowl in Maz’s office. She often stared at it during their sessions, tracing the golden fault lines to ground herself, seeing in them models for keeping together a perpetually lonely girl-woman, torn between the past and present.

Kintsugi was an eloquent extension of the scavenging and repair work Rey had done in her youth at the garbage dump. She’d studied Japanese art obsessively in college, and a few of her recent sculpture pieces had been constructed with gold lines that branched out like starry trees. Her sculptures were shriveled black things bearing golden cracks, masked creatures that looked like they’d been burned to the bones as they descended from the pages of her favorite fairy tales.

One of the sculptures stood by the front door. Rey peered at it now, her nightmare and her guardian all in one. It was the length of her forearm, a warped dark knight with a skeletal black mask. The only light in the whole piece came from the golden cracks that crawled out of the figure’s mouth, an homage to kintsugi. Kintsugi was joy chipping off of despair, light screamed in painful silence by the dark.

Finn caught her staring at the sculpture and waved his flour-covered rolling pin in concern. 

“You looked like you’ve been transported to a warzone. You have those devastated dragon-slayer eyes.”

“Can we not talk about this?” said Rey, slipping off her sandals and placing them with her purse by the front door. “It’s been one of those shitty days.”

“Are you… alright?” The words were hesitant, concern strained through a sieve. He knew Maz’s appointments left Rey feeling raw in the way wounds stung when they were smeared with salve. While he ached to offer consolation, he didn’t want to patronize her. Rey rejected all suggestions that she was anything less than fine.

She loved her friends. 

But she could take care of herself. 

Depending on them would only leave her too weak to endure their inevitable departures.

“Of course, why wouldn’t I be?” she chirped. 

It was one of her favorite lines she’d picked up from Senator Amidala. Rey remembered watching the senator’s impassioned speeches on the staticky TV in Plutt’s junkyard. Something about her reminded Rey of the goddess by the “Loneliness” sign. Maybe it was the way she stood up straight, like her spine was being hoisted up towards the moon; maybe it was the way she looked directly at the camera, as if she could see into the starlight of Rey’s soul; maybe it was the way she ran her fingers through her hair, as if longing to comfort a ghost. 

Whatever it was, Rey watched news segments with Senator Amidala compulsively, even switching to her gardening show once the senator had retired.

Finn had gone through several foster homes without accruing much exposure to television, so he didn’t realize her words were hand-me-downs, scavenged from someone braver and stronger than she.

“Well, okay,” he said. Dropping the subject was a familiar practice to them, two foster kids familiar with every kind of abandonment.

Then he grinned a mischievous grin. It lit up his flour-dusted cheeks like he was a wintery sprite.

“Actually, there is something I’ve been waiting to talk to you about.”

Then he presented her with the latest issue of First Order magazine.

“What the fuck?” she exclaimed, stunned to see the face of her newest enemy blazoned across the tabloid cover. 

The asshole from Maz’s office had been the last straw in a pile of worries and frustrations proverbially breaking Rey’s back. After she’d spent days anxiously awaiting her last appointment, after she’d spilled years of her childhood issues to Maz, after she’d spent minutes in the bathroom washing tear tracks from her face, she just had to run into the raging bull of a man. He’d stripped her of all her fragile strength with one simple word: scavenger.

One thousand iterations of Rey searching among ruins of great machines, nicking her hands on broken neon signs, and tangling her hair in pipes and wire were reflected over and over again in that word.

The guy from Maz’s office had looked at her as if he could see her countless lonely reflections, all the weak and shameful yearning she’d hidden away in the dark cave inside herself. The darkness in his eyes reflected the shadows in herself, and it frightened her.

So she’d kicked him away. Fear led to anger led to hate, Maz always said. But Rey wanted to destroy the monstrous double she saw in this uncanny man.

She knew him intimately, though they’d only screamed at each other during their six minute collision. He was so familiar to her, her soul at the edge of the lonely world, that she could tell  that the man on the First Order magazine, the one wearing black sunglasses and a thousand dollar suit, just wasn’t him.

Maybe the guy from Maz’s office had a twin. An alter ego. A doppelganger. Looking down at the First Order front cover, Rey couldn’t recall him looking quite this… douchey. 

There were two types of men in the world: men who needed a kick in the ass, and men who needed a kick in the nuts.

The guy at Maz’s office needed a kick in the ass. 

The guy on the magazine, ogling at Rey as he wrapped an arm around the skinny waist of some headless Victoria’s Secret model, looked like he needed a strong kick in the nuts.

Finn’s curiosity had been piqued by her earlier exclamation.

“What, what?” he asked, peering over her shoulder.

“Nothing,” Rey said, handing back the magazine. “I just thought this asshole looked like an asshole I know.”

“Well, this is an asshole I know,” Finn replied. “Kylo Ren. This is him. Though I guess he calls himself Ben Solo nowadays.”

“Kylo Ren? The fascist?” 

“He didn’t like being called a fascist,” Finn replied. “He always insisted he just associated with a group of people who were fascists.”

“That’s called being a fascist,” Rey said.

During Finn’s wandering teen years, he’d been forced to join a gang that called itself The Supremacy. He often complained to Rey about the wackjobs who ran it: in particular, he waxed poetic on the madness of Phasma, a drill sergeant who perpetually wore a chrome biker helmet, and Kylo Ren, a beefcake death god who haunted friend and foe alike with his all black ensemble - black goggles, black hoodie, black scarf - and blood red baseball bat.

Rey could never admit it to Finn, but aside from unwittingly lumping himself with a group of fascists, she found Kylo Ren kind of… intriguing. Who wouldn’t be attracted to a guy who could both recite Japanese tanka poetry by heart (according to Finn he did this regularly, a calming mechanism with a fifty-fifty percent success rate) and crush a group of drug dealers by himself, armed with only a dented red bat?  

“What’s he doing on that magazine?” Rey asked, too distracted by her mortal enemy from the clinic to fully take in the tabloid headline.

“Well, apparently he’s in some sorta scandal. They say he’s wasting all his family’s million dollar inheritance on puking gallons of booze, getting high, and screwing hookers.”

(Somewhere on the road to Rey’s apartment, Ben Solo would sneeze in quick, furious succession.)

Rey gave Finn an unsure look. “That’s… not great.”

“It’s weird,” Finn said. He scratched his head in consternation, flour falling from his hair like snowflakes. “I mean… the guy was awful, but not that kind of awful. Never saw him touch anyone unless he was giving them a beating. I always thought he was some kinda dark monk. Or ace. I dunno, he was committed to a higher realm of darkness.”

Rey, taking the article back and skimming though it, added, “this isn’t even a lower level of darkness. It’s just pathetic.”

“Horny.”

“Bratty.”

“Manchild whore-ishness.”

Rey knew the dark: it was the starless night sky hovering over a lone garbage dump; it was a masked creature with golden cracks running down its face, borne from a fairy tale; it was herself, reflected in the dark eyes of a raging bull of a man.

Looking down at the First Order magazine, she knew it wasn’t this.

Laughing together over the misfortune of Finn’s old tormentor, Rey and Finn finished preparing their sugar cookies. Rolling up her sleeves at the kitchen counter, Rey saw the little words she had scrawled on her arm, a binding spell.

Written in little black cursive were the words, you are not alone, and neither are you.

She smiled and wiped the flour from her cheek.

 

Later that evening, Rey and Finn were dozing in front of the television as they watched Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times for the hundredth time - she always concluded one of her appointments days with Judy Garland singing “smile, though your heart is aching. Smile, even though it’s breaking…” - when a bull rammed into the front door.

At least, that’s what it sounded like. It was more than impatient knocking or angry pounding. It was rage, purely bestial and bloody.

(Rey couldn’t know that over the course of his drive, Ben Solo’s weary resignation had reverted back to overwhelming anger. Night was falling and Hux’s apartment was still intact. This situation, he couldn’t abide.)

For that reason, Rey and Finn glanced at each other in wariness before Rey picked up the rolling pin and approached the front door.

“Quiet down, we can hear you,” she said. She didn’t open the door. “What do you want?”

Silence. Then a low murmur, so quiet that it sounded like a garbled chant from a dark sorcerer.

“What was that?” she called from behind the closed door.

“I said, I have your wallet.”

Rey recognized that voice. It was deep and gravelly, the echo of an abyss threatening to consume anyone who tiptoed too close to its edge. It reminded her of that Nietzsche quote: “beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

It was the bastard from Maz’s office.

She yanked the front door open, unwilling to give him the impression that she was afraid of him in any way whatsoever.

He blinked down at her, his dark eyes wide with surprise. Like earlier that day, in their fall, Rey found their faces separated by barely six inches of air. He was standing closer to the door than she anticipated. He must have been practically bowing, for his face to be so close to her’s now.

In the background, Rey could hear Judy Garland’s voice warbling, “if you smile through your fear and sorrow… smile, and maybe tomorrow… you’ll see the sun come shining through, for you….” Sad and hopeful and lonely - yearning cracking though gold in song lyrics.

Rey and the man just stared at each other as the song kept playing.

Then Finn’s astonished voice broke out:

“That’s Kylo Ren!”

And the spell was broken. Yet the words were so unexpected that they didn’t dispel the dreamy atmosphere. They just transformed it into another type of surreality. The man looked mystified as he peered over her shoulder and at Finn.

Finn was standing close behind Rey’s shoulder, hissing in an urgent undertone, “that’s Kylo Ren. What the hell is he doing here?”

Rey looked at the man - Kylo Ren, Ben Solo - in astonishment.

“You’re Kylo Ren? The fascist?”

Kylo grimaced, his throat bobbing like he was swallowing a familiar bitter pill. “I’m not a fascist,” he told her. “I merely had the misfortune to associate with a group of fascists in my youth.”

“That’s called being a fascist,” Rey retorted.

“I’m not a fascist! I never held any fascist ideologies!”

“Yeah, well, you beat up people on the orders of fascists. Actions speak louder than words, mate.” She crossed her arms. “You’re a fascist.”

She was somewhat aware that she was stoking the flames of his anger and, somewhere along the way, they’d both lost the plot (he had her wallet? How? She could have sworn it was in her purse.). She was aware of it in the back of her mind, but she found she didn’t really care.

He scowled at her. “Well, I don’t associate with those assholes anymore.” He practically spat the words. “So Miss Actions-Speak-Louder-Than-Words, I can’t possibly be a fascist.”

“Oh right, you’re doing so much better,” she mocked. “And what exactly are you up to nowadays? Cruising around at midnight, drinking yourself silly and sleeping with any woman who feels an ounce of pity for you?”

He sputtered, his vivid anger so large it was choking him.

“Those are lies!” he roared. “Don’t believe every garbage tabloid you read. Didn’t your parents teach you about common sense?”

Rey whacked him with the rolling pin.

She heard Finn exclaim “holy shit!” in the background, but she was already backing Kylo Ren down the hallway.

“Get out of here!” She was screaming and hitting him over and over again. She wished she had her pocket knife instead of the rolling pin. Then he couldn’t protect himself with only his large forearms. “Get out! Who do you think you are, coming to my apartment in the middle of the night to mock me?”

“You were the one mocking me!” he retorted. 

The flour on the rolling pin was coming off in great flakes every time she hit him. It drifted in the air like snow. She and this man were no longer antagonistic strangers, but warriors fighting to the death in a hellscape of bitter winter. Some of the flour snowflakes were caught in her mortal foe’s dark hair. Rey couldn’t help imagining him as some December monster, a beast from fairy tales of ice and cold.

Her teeth chattered and her limbs trembled as if she were buffeted by frigid, wintery winds, though she knew it was adrenaline and anger coursing through her veins. 

She hated this man, hated how he found her tenderest wounds and pressed on them with viciousness. She hated how his tall dark figure reminded her of her nightmares and dreams. She hated how his voice sounded like an abyss and a bull and a shadow all at once. 

“Monster!” she screamed at him. “I hate you!”

For some reason, those words were the ones to shake him from his rage. She wasn’t prepared for him to drop his guard, his arms lowering from their shielding pose, his knees unfurling from his fighter’s stance, his spine loosening from its defensive curl.

So she hit him with all the force she could muster, sending him plummeting down a flight of stairs.

Horrified,  she gazed down from on high as a halo of blood pooled around his fallen form.

 

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!”

She was kneeling on the ground, cradling Kylo Ren in her arms. Dark blood flowed from a long gash on his face, staining his grey sweater and her white skirt.

“Oh shit, oh crap, oh god. Fuck!” She was muttering any expletive she could think of as she wiped at his head wound with a towel Finn had fetched from her kitchen. 

“Is he gonna die?” Finn asked as he paced around in frantic circles. “We can’t have the cops coming here. I’ve done shit, Rey! They’re gonna lock me up for sure!”

“If I die,” Kylo said from his place in Rey’s lap, “leave my body at the doorstep of Armitage Hux. If I’m going down, he’s going down with me.”

“No one’s going to die,” she told them. “I’m taking you to the hospital.”

Finn stayed behind to mop up the bloody mess as Rey hauled Kylo into her banged up car. He looked at the dent in her back fender with dismal uncertainty, but climbed into the passenger seat without protest. A screeching sound pierced the still night air as she tore out of the parking lot.

“This is why I hate therapy days,” Rey said, holding onto the steering wheel for dear life. “Nothing ever goes right.”

Beside her, Kylo barked out a bitter laugh.

“This always happen to you on therapy days?” It wasn’t his usual mocking voice. This one was dry, self-deprecating, tired. Like he’d been beaten over the head with life’s absurdity so many times, that the blows ceased to mean anything. It almost sounded like he was commiserating with her. “Do you usually just avoid committing murder?”

Rey dredged up a desperate laugh.

“Sure, don’t you?” she asked. She willed the red light to change faster, watching from the corner of her eyes as blood dripped down his face. That was going to leave a scar. She felt it in her bones. This would be a permanent crack in his mask.

Kintsugi.

She hit the play button on her car’s CD player and Judy Garland’s sorrowful voice came to life. It was her favorite song. Grasping at anything to anchor her panicked mind, Rey sang along.

“Light up your face with gladness,” she crooned, hoping to distract both Kylo and herself from the endless blood. “Hide every trace of sadness. Although a tear may be ever so near…”

“I love therapy,” Kylo said out of nowhere: a reply to her earlier statement. His drawl was morbid and casual, but she could tell from the time he’d taken to mull over his answer that the words were carefully weighed. “Crack me up like a piece of pottery. Sift through my broken pieces. I definitely know why I subject myself to it week after week.”

“Understanding,” Rey replied. Her appointment, their fight, his fall - it all left her feeling vulnerable and raw. She’d been transported to a weird twilight zone of honesty. “Belonging. Being so desperate to connect with anyone that you’ll endure the worst kind of pain. Loneliness.”

“You’re not alone,” he said.

The words surprised them both. The shock of hearing him say them, so easily and with such certainty, almost compelled her to slam on the brakes. He was staring too, as if he’d opened his mouth before his brain had fully processed his actions.

A reflex of the heart. An instinct as necessary as breathing.

Rey traced the words still etched on her skin in bold black ink. She felt the sticky drops of blood smeared all along the cursive letters.

“Neither are you,” she replied.

Six words. Eight syllables. Two breaths.

He still had her wallet in his jacket pocket. Rey peered at the photo of herself, and her doppelganger smiled back at her.

Then she drove on.

Chapter Text

The good fortune of the Skywalker family was that all its male members got injured in the exact same way. Used to the scars of their disaster-prone men, the Skywalker ladies rarely wasted time panicking. For it was inevitable that one of the dramatic Skywalker men got injured. Although the Skywalker matriarchs could also be vicious, they were too cunning to get involved in poorly-planned revenge schemes or catastrophic knife fights. 

On the other hand, the Skywalker fathers and sons had no qualms about getting caught up in the same stupid brawls, accruing the same injuries their predecessors had suffered. Every Skywalker expected injuries at some point. Thus, they dealt with them in a calm and collected manner.

Ben wasn’t worried about his latest scar frightening his parents, Uncle Luke, and Grandma Padme.

No - what Ben was worried about was becoming the unwilling subject of his family’s intrusiveness, the latest animal in his relatives’ zoo of nosiness.

Fear of becoming part of the menagerie made Ben prone to lashing out. When Padme hovered over his injured face, only Ben’s immense love and respect for his grandmother kept him from gnashing his teeth. Her fingers lingered by his brow, as if she longed to touch the scar running across it. Thankfully, she remembered Ben’s need for personal space and restrained herself from touching him out of curiosity.

“Just like Ani,” Padme said.

“Uncanny,” Leia said.

“Fate,” Luke said.

“Jesus Christ, Luke,” Han said.

Leia also turned to her twin brother with a disapproving look.

“I have to agree with Han,” Leia said with a dignified frown. She smoothed her black and white checkered dress under elegant fingers. “This isn’t fate, Luke.”

“You afraid Ben will end up like dear dad?” Luke’s voice was teasingly light. He raised his prosthetic right arm and gave a cute little wave. “The man cut off my arm, and I ended up just fine.”

Leia and Han exchanged skeptical glances. They made no secret of their low opinions regarding Luke’s mental health. Ben’s frequent visits to his parents’ home included lunchtime discussions on subjects like, how do we stop Uncle Luke from digging a moat around the front porch? How do we convince Uncle Luke that building a mountain in the backyard is a bad idea?

His uncle’s sole obsession, aside from exotic dairy products, was the flow of energy within an architectural structure. He would stop at nothing short of murder to ensure that the right element was situated in the right part of a house. “It was a small price to pay,” Luke would say, as he covered the living room wall in kitchen knives. “It was a small price to pay,” Luke would say, in the process of adding a fireplace to their bathroom.

As annoying as this feng shui advice was, Ben welcomed the distraction his uncle created. Ben’s atypical hermit-like lifestyle was given a free pass in the face of Uncle Luke’s much more troublesome quirks.

At this moment, though, Luke’s mysticism was working against Ben.

“Your dad is a psycho,” Han told Luke. He made offensive gestures with his fingers. “Cuckoo crazy. Ain’t no son of mine gonna end up like him.”

Han Solo had a long-standing grudge against Anakin Skywalker. It had began with his unjust imprisonment in Anakin’s privately owned prison, the Carbonite. Apparently, Anakin didn’t like that a teenage Han was sneaking into his daughter’s bedroom at night; so, one evening, after a joy-ride in Han’s used car, the lovers had snuck back through Leia’s window only to be welcomed by Anakin, a pair of dirty cops, and some sturdy handcuffs.

A bribe to Cloud City’s nastiest authorities guaranteed that Han Solo’s petty smuggling earned him a prison sentence twenty years long.

Leia ran away from home in protest, taking on the last name “Organa” and making her godmother’s house her new base of operations. Luke was busy exploring East Asia with Ben Kenobi at the time, so he avoided the whole debacle. But Padme wouldn’t speak to Anakin for weeks, and her silence eventually broke down Anakin’s resolve.

Six months into his prison sentence, Han Solo had been set free. He’d been sporting eyes so badly bruised that he couldn’t even see past his swelling eyelids. Several of the inmates were dumb schmucks he had cheated before. They were thrilled to find out he’d be staying with them, and sorry to see him go early.

Han didn’t like talking about the Carbonite even now. Ben only knew about the sorry story because his father and grandfather had almost come to blows over it during one particularly tense holiday dinner.

Naturally, Han was horrified by the thought that Ben’s latest scar indicated a divine plan in which his son took on the mantle of his greatest enemy.

“You’re nothing like Anakin Skywalker,” Leia reassured Ben. Like her husband, she had never fully gotten over that little incident with the Carbonite. Or Anakin’s inadvertent burning of Leia’s godparents’ house. 

During the period of his daughter’s rebellion, Anakin had set off fireworks on the Organas’ front lawn, intending to annoy Breha and Bail Organa into returning Leia. The plan failed spectacularly; initially, the Organas had maintained a neutral stance of the latest Skywalker Drama. Following Anakin’s antics, they became vocal supporters of Leia’s cause. 

Anakin’s fireworks had ended up turning the Organas’ property on Alderaan street into a blazing firestorm. Luckily, they got out of their ruined house with only minor injuries, and relocated to a place on New Republic boulevard. But the incident shamed Padme greatly, and she became even less inclined to start speaking to her husband again. 

Standing in Ben’s living room, Leia searched his face for any signs that his latest scar had sparked an inclination for pyromania.

Her eyes were intense and terrifying.

“Of course he’s not like Anakin,” Han said. He gave a visible shudder and added, “Ben’s much more sensitive. He translates love poems, for God’s sake.”

Han was using the usual subject of his relentless teasing in defense of Ben’s sanity. Ben wasn’t sure how he felt about that.

But Luke, ever the trouble-maker, said, “dad wrote a few love poems too in his day.”

For a self-proclaimed pacifist, Luke committed a sinful amount of mischief.

Leia gave a dismissive huff. “That garbage? I’ve seen it. Lots of rambling about coarse sand, glowing angels, and levitating pears. What Ben writes is actually well-crafted and subtle.”

Luke winked at Ben, who hung his head in dismal defeat. 

Padme could see her son was about to pull another argument out of the devil’s backside, so she interrupted. ”Luke, honey. I just added some chimes to Ben’s North-facing window. Could you tell me whether they help the flow of energy?”

Feng shui instincts and filial sense of duty winning out, Luke gave up on his trolling and followed his mother out of the living room. Ben and his parents exhaled in relief when he’d left.

“That woman is a saint,” Han said.

“Wasn’t Luke supposed to be on some island?” Leia asked. “I thought he’d been hired by a colony of rich fisherwomen to give hut decorating advice.”

“That’s next month,” Ben answered.

They sighed again, this time in trepidation for all of the drama his uncle would stir up before he embarked to Ahch-To.

That small moment of Solo-Organa solidarity evaporated when Han pointed at Ben’s face and said, “tell me how you got that again.”

Ben crossed his arms. He hated lying to his parents. It’s not that he felt guilty about it; it’s just that he wasn’t particularly good at lying. 

Despite being a supreme disbeliever in the concept of hope, Ben hoped against hope that they’d buy his excuse. “I tripped,” he said.

“Right,” his father replied. “That’s what you said: you tripped. The thing is, it still sounds like a lie.”

“I don’t lie,” Ben retorted.

“You don’t lie well ,” Leia clarified. She graced him with a long-suffering frown. “Ben, you may have one of the clumsiest mouths I’ve ever seen, but you are scarily graceful on your feet.”

“You do Kendo ,” Han added. “ Kendo, kid.”

“I remember, thanks, Dad.” Wracking his brain for another excuse, Ben blurted out, “maybe I was drunk. Lots of people get into stupid accidents when they’re drunk.”

“You don’t drink!” Han exclaimed.

“No matter what the First Order says,” Leia added. Then she stifled a chuckle. Ben was horrified by the realization that his mother, the woman who had brought him into this world, was amused by that garbage article.

“Yeah,” Han said. He was too annoyed by Ben’s attempted deceptions to share in his wife’s merriment. “Next, you’ll tell us you got it while you were stoned out of your mind - even though you don’t do drugs. Or you got it in a fight with your mistress, even though you’re practically celibate.”

His father’s last jab was a little too close for comfort. He definitely didn’t think of Rey as a prostitute. (She wasn’t, was she? Not that it was a bad thing, if she was. Sex work was as legitimate as any other profession. With the shit that sex workers put up with, they probably deserved more respect than any corrupt politician) 

He hadn’t objectified Rey or approached her for sexual favors. Still, like Han Solo sarcastically suggested, Ben had been injured by a female-identifying human being who’d been incensed by his latest blunders.

However, his rudeness alone had not provoked her aggression. Yesterday, on the way to the hospital, Rey had explained that she was in a bad state of mind, and his behavior had brought up bad memories. 

“I’m not trying to excuse my actions,” she insisted. Her knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel so hard. 

Ben was entranced by the scarlet blood staining her fingernails. 

Ashamed, Rey added, “I’m so, so, so sorry. Unspeakably sorry. I’m usually much less violent than this. Honest.”

“It’s okay,” he answered. Weirdly enough, he meant it. He didn’t really have the high ground necessary to lecture someone on reigning in their violent impulses. Just an hour ago, he was planning on beating his next-door neighbor senseless and setting his apartment on fire. He didn’t even want to think about his disgraceful teen years, wasted wreaking havoc for a group of fascists.

But more than that, Ben felt Rey’s pain. She was tired and scared and full of regret. Behind his blood-crusted eyelids, he could still see the vision of her flying down the stairs, mere seconds after his fall. Swooping down the steps, her brown hair flowing past her shoulders, her white skirt billowing around her knees, he thought she looked like some celestial being.    

It was probably the blood-loss; but he’d never been more certain that he’d met his savior.

In the car she looked more frazzled than transcendent. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to add to her crushing guilt or her bloodstained panic.

“It’s okay,” he repeated. 

“It’s not okay!” she cried. The light in her eyes glistened, disturbed by an ocean of distress. “I just met you this afternoon, and I’ve already beat you within an inch of your life!” Her voice constricted in a tight choking sound. “God, I’m awful. I’m the fascist. If any of one of us deserves to be locked up, it’s me.” 

The blood on her fingernails was washing away, cleansed by her fast-flowing tears.

Ben thought it was a terrible waste. Her scarlet hands were the most poetic thing he’d seen in a long time. Staring at them, he could feel lines of tanka poetry coming together inside his bruised skull.

“Sorry, sorry,” she said. “I’m crying and you’re the one who’s injured.” Sniffling loudly, she reprimanded herself. “Stupid Rey. Worthless. Garbage. No wonder mum and dad abandoned you at a garbage dump.”

“You were abandoned at a garbage dump?” Ben asked. His voice was pitched high in shocked disbelief.

“What?” She whipped her tear-streaked face in his direction. “No, I wasn’t.”

“You just said you were.”

“No, I - I did, didn’t I?” She expelled a shaky sigh. The red traffic lights reflected off the tears on her face. Everything about her - her hands, her cheeks, her swollen eyes, her blouse, and her bloodstained skirt - was dyed scarlet.

It reminded Ben of a poem by a Zen Master. The fall must have damaged his impulse control, because there, sitting beside a bloody girl in a dangerously banged-up car, Ben started reciting the lines from memory:

“The red coral has its home on the floor of the south sea; 

The purple lawn grows lush on the slopes of arctic hills. 

Everything alive on earth has its home as its birthright…”

“That’s beautiful,” Rey interrupted. Her tears had stopped, much to his relief. She gave him a shaky smile. “Did you write it?”

“No,” he answered, smiling his own small smile. “I wish. It was written by an old Zen Master. Ryokan.”

“Ryokan,” she repeated.

“Your hands,” he said. He took one from the steering wheel’s leathery surface. It was small, but strong. Soft, but solid. A wonderfully poetic hand. “They’re red like coral.”

She wrinkled her brow. “Do you have a concussion?” she asked, concerned. Yet, she didn’t snatch her hand away. Ben figured it had to be okay to hold it a while longer, since they were stuck at a particularly slow red light.

“No, I’m okay,” he said. “Tell me about the garbage dump.”

She gripped his hand in hers. It gave him immense pleasure to see the blood on her fingers smear crescent scarlet moons across his palm. "Denial is an automatic response for me. I spent a lot of time denying that my parents abandoned me. At first, it was out of desperation. Then, it was out of shame.”

“You feel so lonely,” he said. The red marks on his palms were like claw marks and berries and spider lilies. “You see an island, but you’re the only person stranded on it.”

“Not even any red coral,” she replied. The corners of her mouth hitched up in a reluctant grin. Moving those facial muscles transformed the dried tear tracks by her jaw. They became hooked, painful shapes. 

“You don’t have to smile if you don’t feel like it,” Ben replied: his unasked answer to her unvoiced question. It hurt to see her brave face. The memory of Judy Garland’s “smile” song swam in his memory, a monster lurking beneath the ocean’s waves.

Rey looked at him, faltering. “If I don’t smile, I’m afraid I’ll break,” she said.

“Somethings are better for having been broken,” he replied. Back at Maz’s office, the wrinkled therapist had talked about a prophetic dream. She’d seen something that compelled her to give that disastrous interview to Armitage Hux. Something that led Ben to Maz’s office. Something that led him to Rey. 

“More brilliant,” Ben said. “More beautiful.” 

“Kintsugi,” Rey breathed.

The blood on his cheek reflected in her eyes, which reflected in Ben’s eyes, which reflected back in Rey’s. A thousand reflections of scarlet color bounced off each other in passionate circles. But before either of them could say another word, a car horn blared.

“Get a move on!” screeched an annoyed voice on their tail. “Are you blind? Green light means ‘go’!”

As they sped away, Ben could have sworn he heard the irascible driver say “horny kids. Do it in some goddamned parking lot.”

They’d spent the rest of the drive in silence. Once they’d arrived in the hospital, the doctor had given her prognosis with efficiency. (“A few stitches,” the doctor said. “Nothing more. The scar will always be there. Still, it won’t ruin your boyfriend’s pretty face.” Rey had blushed at the doctor’s mistake, and Ben had blushed at Rey’s embarrassment. By the time they were coherent enough to correct the misunderstanding, the doctor had been called to another patient.)

Standing in the waiting room, expecting a summon for his stitches, Ben had told Rey to return home.

“It’s gonna take awhile,” he said. He looked at the clock in weary resignation. “Don’t you have work tomorrow?”

“Nine o’clock art classes,” she admitted. Everything about her looked worn out. Her back was hunched in exhaustion, and her eyes were heavy with freshly shed tears. The once-scarlet blood painted on her hands and skirt had turned a rusty brown color.

“Go,” Ben said. “I’ll call my dad. He’s always up at this time of night. Besides, he’s retired. No co-workers will miss him in the morning.”

“Let me at least pay for it,” she insisted. Each word leaving her mouth looked like it pained her, but she soldiered on. “It’s only right. This whole nightmare is my fault.”

“I’m pretty sure it was at least partly my fault,” Ben replied. He knew he could be pretty… antagonizing. She opened her mouth to argue further, but he was just as determined. “No. Keep your money. The only thing that garbage tabloid got right was the immensity of my inheritance. You’re an art teacher. I think paying this hospital bill would mean much less to me than it would to you.”

“Please.” She wrung her hands desperately. The dried blood on her fingers fell to the floor as bloody snowflakes. Ben didn’t envy the hospital worker who’d clean up that mess. 

Rey pleaded with him in a small voice. “You have to let me do something. I feel awful about hurting you. I’ve got to make it right.”

Ben sighed, too tired for this conversation. 

“I don’t care much about making things right,” he said. “Or apologies. Or what people deserve. We fuck up and we live with it, Rey. We’ve always got that history. There’s no erasing or replacing it.”

He had learned that the hard way.

“We’ve just got to learn from it,” he said. “Stop making the same mistakes. Break out of the cycle.”  

Her bloody hands were clasped together in silent prayer. He didn’t want her to beg him for anything. He didn’t deserve any sanctity, any glorification. 

He was just a flawed, introverted, and anger-prone translator.

Then Rey said, “I’ll bake you cookies.”

“What?” Ben asked.

“Are you allergic to anything?” she continued. She fished a little notebook out of her purse; Ben marveled at just how many things she managed to carry around with her. Clicking a little gold pen, she flipped open the notebook, preparing to jot down reminders. “I’m allergic to peanuts, so all my deserts are nut-free. But I use lots of chocolate. Fruit too, and cinnamon.”

“Rey, really…”

“Is it a bother?” she asked.

Her eyes were red-rimmed and soft, lit by sugar and framed by blood. Suddenly, the prospect of eating cookies didn’t seem too bad. His mother had never had time to bake when Ben was growing up, so he hadn’t developed a sweet tooth. In his teenage years, chocolate chip cookies seemed unbearably saccharine.

But maybe they’d taste better now. 

Less sweet. A little bitter.

“Dark chocolate,” Ben finally replied. “I like dark chocolate. No hazelnuts.”

“Dark chocolate,” Rey repeated. Her pen bobbed up and down as she jotted the words in an elegant scrawl. Then she gave a brisk nod, closing her notebook and putting it back in her purse. She hoisted the strap falling off her shoulder. “No hazelnuts. Dark chocolate. For Kylo Ren.”

“My name is Ben Solo,” he said. He regretted it almost immediately - not because he was ashamed of the name, but because the breathless haste with which he said it made his voice sound fairly pathetic. 

Yet, Rey didn’t look put-off by his earnestness. If anything, she looked pleased. Delighted, even.

“Ben Solo,” she said. “You’re not really a fascist, are you?”

In the sterile lighting of the hospital waiting room, Ben laughed. He was unexpectedly amused by that familiar, annoying accusation.

“No,” he said. The temporary bandage on his facial wound itched. He barely resisted the urge to scratch it. “I just had the misfortune to associate with fascists in my youth.” 

They had exchanged phone numbers and addresses, deciding she’d drop off the cookies and his car the following afternoon. He was staring at her contact on his phone when Han Solo rushed into the hospital waiting room, refreshingly honest about his concern. 

The conga line of Skywalker involvement had started from there: his father alerted his mother, who alerted her twin brother, who alerted Ben’s grandmother. Which brought them to the present moment, sitting in Ben’s overcrowded living room, staring at Ben’s latest scar.

Ben wished they would leave. They’d overstayed their welcome, as usual, and they were now impeding his meeting with Rey. He didn’t want them to meet Rey or learn about her role in his fall. He was oddly protective of his fierce attacker, and he wasn’t sure how his dramatic family would react to her.

“Well, it was great seeing you all,” he said, shepherding his family to the door. “I’ll call you if I get any more scars. You can go home now.”

“What’s the hurry?” Han asked, dislodging his son’s pushy hands. He looked Ben in the eye. “What are you hiding?”

“I’m not hiding anything,” Ben replied.

“You’re hiding something,” Leia said. “We don’t keep secrets from each other. Remember, Ben?”

“It’s nothing,” Ben insisted. He didn’t have time for this. “I’m just tired. You guys are tiring.”

“You’re not exactly a walk in the park,” Han grumbled.

“Great. Then we can save each other a lot of trouble by saying goodbye now.” Ben opened the front door, exerting his impressive strength to push his three relatives past the threshold. Grandma Padme had left just a few minutes earlier, worried about leaving Anakin unattended for too long. So Ben didn’t hold back from putting all his muscle behind moving the Skywalker-Organa-Solo wall of stubbornness. 

“Oh, hello there,” Luke said out of nowhere. The amused tone of his voice caused Ben’s stomach to drop. Whoever Luke was talking to outside the front door had sparked his mischievous fire. “I didn’t expect to see you.”

“Master Skywalker?” 

Rey was staring at the group of Skywalker-Organa-Solos in stupefaction. She’d probably gaze upon a fantastic multi-headed hydra with the same level of astonishment. 

She held a plate of cookies in her hands.   

Then Han exclaimed, “what are you doing here, Rey?”

“What are you doing here, Han?” she replied.

“My son lives here.”

“Solo,” Rey said. Then she smacked her forehead in realization and groaned. "Of course. Ben Solo. Han Solo. There’s no way that’s a common name.”

“One of a kind,” Han said, puffing his chest out in pride.

As disastrous as this run-in was, Ben found his attention wholly occupied by Rey’s fingernails. They were no longer stained in a blood-red color. After she’d gotten home from the hospital, she must have spent a long time washing his blood off her hands.

Now the soft pads of her fingers were dusted in flour. Her skin was winter white, the paleness of snow. On the fingernails of her right hand, she’d painted the words “you are not alone.” On the fingernails of her left hand, she’d painted the words “neither are you.”

Uncle Luke had said his scarring was an act of fate.

“Your hands,” Ben began.

“Oh yeah,” Rey said. She moved her tray of cookies to one hand and presented her free hand to him. “Not red anymore. Is it strange that I miss it?” She smiled. “You were right - I looked it up later. The blood was the color of coral. Almost a pretty shade too.” 

He felt like she’d hit him with the rolling pin again. The breath left his lungs.

“It’s not strange,” Ben replied.

“Kid, everything about this conversation is strange,” Han interrupted. Ben almost jumped; he’d forgotten about their curious audience. Judging from Rey’s startled twitch, she’d forgotten about them too.

“Would you mind telling us what’s going on?” Leia asked. She smoothed her elegant black and white dress. ”Sweetheart?”

Grimacing, Ben turned to Rey. How did you telepathically ask, is it okay if I tell my relatives you attacked me with a rolling pin, inadvertently causing my fall down a flight of stairs, a panicked trip to the hospital, and a nasty scar? 

Rey seemed to get the message. She grimaced too, but shrugged her shoulders. It was a do what you have to do kind of gesture. 

Sighing together in commiseration, Ben relieved her of the tray of sweets and led his family back into his apartment. Unwilling to look his nosy relatives in the eye, he directed his gaze down to the cookies. They were decorated with elaborate strokes of dark chocolate frosting and edible gold glitter. Half the cookies were shaped like dark bulls with luminescent eyes. The other half of the cookies were shaped like dark bowls with starry cracks. It was sugar dyed in the color of the night sky, and Ben, for all his worldly travels and studies, felt he’d never seen anything more beautiful.

He looked back at Rey as she closed the front door. The sunlight streaming from the stained glass window framed her in a bright halo. The brown hair curling around her face glowed celestially in the light.

"Hi again, Ben," she said.

"Hi again, Rey," he replied.

Then they walked on.   

Chapter Text

The good fortune of Rey’s family was that they were absent, and thus could not be humiliated by Rey’s apology to the Skywalker-Organa-Solo gallery; only Rey had to suffer that embarrassment. At this point, Rey was almost thankful she was abandoned at a garbage dump. She was spared the struggle of explaining to both Ben’s parents and her own parents how a sane person could attack a stranger with a rolling pin.

At least her feng shui guru, Master Skywalker, seemed amused.

His shoulders were shaking with laughter when he put a friendly hand on Rey’s knee.

“I should have known it was you,” he said. The corners of his eyes crinkled gleefully. “The moment I saw the kintsugi piece in your sculpture studio, I sensed it: the same raw power as Ben Solo’s poetry. Something inside me knew you two would be cataclysmic.”

At this pronouncement, Ben burst out, “is Rey the sculptor you’ve been talking about?” 

Rey was almost as astonished as he was. She hadn’t thought Master Skywalker talked about her work. More often than not, his only responses concerning her art were either ponderous silences or lectures on the workings of the Tao. It was frustrating enough that she wondered why she bothered with his critiques in the first place.

“Yes,” Master Skywalker said, his back pressed to the leather armchair. The posture was completely at ease, and perhaps a little smug. “This must be the hand of fate.”

“Jesus Christ, Luke,” Han Solo muttered, running a hand over his face.

Strangely enough, none of the Skywalker-Organa-Solos seemed mad at Rey for her mishap. If anything, they were more fascinated by the connections she had to its various members. She had been so frightened by the prospect of their anger, that she nearly prostrated herself on the floor like a soldier preparing to commit hara-kiri. Thankfully, Ben’s mother intervened before Rey could get to her knees, gently taking Rey’s hand and leading her to the couch. 

She still had Rey’s hand clasped in her own as they watched Master Skywalker and Han Solo bicker. Rey peeked at the regal lady from the corners of her eyes.

Her expression was remarkably placid considering the chaotic energy surrounding her. The only sign of agitated emotions came from her fingers, which ran along the folds in her dress and smoothed them down under heavy silver rings. 

Once or twice, she did the smoothing motion as she looked at her son’s new scar; perhaps she wanted to rub away the wound. But instead of reaching out, she raised her hands to her own face and pushed a stray hair over her ear. It reminded Rey of her childhood and the goddess she’d met at the Jakku dumpster. Even now the blessing rang in her ears: “you’re not alone,” and the answer, “neither are you.”

(Rey had no way of knowing then that Leia Organa was in fact her childhood goddess.)

Ben’s mother considered Rey and spoke. “Luke’s told us all about your work.” Her eyes twinkled with kindness. “He says it has great potential. Like a vision or a dream captured in a butterfly net.”

Rey was touched to be described in such poetry. “Really?” she asked.

“Of course,” Master Skywalker interrupted. “But there is always room for improvement. You have yet to harness all the cosmic forces percolating in your mind. Rey is in the process of reaching out less literally - evoking the everlasting struggle to grasp the unnameable essence of the universe.”

“Jesus Christ, Uncle Luke,” Ben Solo muttered. In that moment, Rey was more drawn to Ben’s little mannerisms than she was annoyed by Master Skywalker’s vague criticisms.

Ben Solo had a gruff and cynical way of working his jaw that echoed the chewing frown of his father, Han Solo. Even his exasperation was a copy of Han’s, down to the last word. At first, the men didn’t seem similar - while they were both tall, Ben’s nose was a bit more hooked, his face a bit more thin, his moles a bit too many, and his eyes a bit too dark. But, if Rey looked closer, she saw the surprisingly manifold ways in which the men were alike: their practiced nonchalance for instance, and skeptical glances that hinted at experiences with disillusionment and disappointment. Even their sardonic smiles betrayed shared concerns in their tight corners.

If she hadn't been so frazzled during their hospital visit last night, Rey was almost certain she would have realised that Ben was Han Solo’s son. 

The subject of her reflections turned his attention to her now, giving her a strangely sympathetic look. Right - they were both annoyed by his uncle’s pretentiousness. Based on the resignation bordering on murderousness in Ben’s face, Rey guessed that he’d also suffered Master Skywalker’s lessons over the years. 

She waved a hand at him, conveying it’s fine in a feeble flop of her wrist. He arched a disbelieving eyebrow, but remained silent.

From his own armchair, Han Solo watched them interact suspiciously.

But before Han could say anything, his wife asked Rey a question. “How do you know my husband, that pain-in-the-ass, Han Solo?”

The jab provoked an exclamation of “Leia!”, but Rey could tell the insult was made in fondness. It turned out Ben Solo was like his kind-mean mother too. 

“I found his stolen car few years back,” Rey explained. 

 

 

What Rey didn’t say was that she had stolen Han’s car, not from Han himself but from Unkar Plutt. Emboldened by her acceptance to a college in Naboo, Rey had left her foster father and his band of dirty cronies with the biggest “fuck you” she could think of: the theft of his prized car, a Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible from 1957. 

Honestly, she didn’t see what was so great about the car. She thought it had to be that Plutt held onto it for nostalgic value and vintage aesthetic. There wasn’t anything else it could be good for. The classic chrome headlight pods were caked in layers of dirt, and the car’s sleek tail fins were dented like cratered moons. Even its painted body had been faded dully by time and neglect.

It was definitely garbage. But the treasure of your enemy is your treasure, right?

Rey was pretty sure that was how the saying went.

Motivated by petty triumph, Rey had fixed up the convertible and drove it around her college campus. She drove it in the fall, when the leaves were ablaze with changing color and spots of scarlet and gold lit up the dark asphalt; she drove it in the winter, when the frost and snow criss-crossed her windshields, rendering it a mosaic of painted glass; she drove it in the spring, when blossoms from magnolia trees collected in her cup holders along with dandelion seeds.

Somewhere in the time between the beginning and end, her freshman year car had taken on a new meaning. It was no longer garbage or even revenge. It had become freedom.

On the last night before the end of the term, Rey was escaping from a classmate's wildly drunken party when another car pulled up on the road alongside hers. She had been expecting a drag racing challenge or, worse, cat-calling. What she didn’t expect was an older fellow to roll down his side window and shout “That's my car! Where the hell did you get it?” 

They parked in a well-lit lot outside a local bar. Rey wouldn’t usually stop for strange men who approached her car. Even though he didn’t seem dangerous - for he had no tattoos that were sexist, no dashboard decorations that were racist, and no headwear that applauded the NRA - she knew you couldn’t judge a book by its cover. Still, what he said was strange enough to give her a moment’s pause. 

Also, she always had a can of pepper spray and a pocket knife tucked away inside her purse.

In the harsh lighting cast by the neon saxophone sign, the bar’s exterior took on a blue hue. Standing there against the glare, Rey and the man glowed like angels or misfits from a cyberpunk film. 

“I don’t want to cause no trouble,” the man said. He had a gruff way of talking more suited to cowboys than real people living outside the silver screen. But he didn’t seem like the scummy low-lives Rey had grown up around. The man maintained distance, respecting her boundaries.

A coexist sticker was pasted on his bumper. She didn’t know any assholes who put peace signs and flowers on their cars.

“Prove it,” Rey replied. She pointed to her vehicle. “Prove that this is your car. Tell me what’s written in the glove compartment.”

The man snorted, but it was a relieved sound. “‘The Millenium Falcon,’” he supplied. His drawl was amused and his mouth drew up in a grin. “It’s stupid, I know. But kids think they’ve got the coolest names for their shit. When I was still a teen, I even wrote ‘property of Han Solo’ beneath the steering wheel.” Then he asked, “is it still there?” 

Rey wasn’t sure if she was happy or disappointed; this man was Han Solo, the original owner of her car.

“Yes,” she replied truthfully. It had occurred to her that she could lie or simply play dumb. Who said she had to return her one chance at freedom? Yet, she had managed to grow up around the worst kinds of cheats without developing any of the callousness needed to fulfill her basest desires. 

Instead of getting used to the concept of taking things, Rey had gotten used to the concept of losing them. She had lost her parents.

Why shouldn’t she lose her car as well?

Han Solo was ignorant of the turmoil his words had caused. He said, “I used to have a pair of lucky dice on the mirror. Do you still have ‘em?”

Rey had a hazy memory of those golden dice. They glimmered in the past like the ghost of an old promise: enduringly bright but distant and unattainable.

“Not anymore,“ she said, shaking her head. “My foster dad must have kept them.”

“Is there any way that I can get them back from him?” 

“We’re not exactly on speaking terms.” Rey managed. She couldn’t keep the bitterness from creeping into her voice. “I stole your car from him, actually. I think he bought it from the guys who stole it from you.”

“Ducain,” Han Solo hissed. He kicked his shiny boot against the black pavement, probably picturing the asphalt as his enemy’s face. “That slimy mother-fucker…”

“I can give you his address,” Rey said. Just thinking about her foster dad brought back the smell of the junkyard grease. Or maybe it was the dumpster outside the little bar, bathed in pink and purple light. She thought that homesickness was supposed to be bittersweet - but the sight of broken bottles, moldy food, and grimy rats reminded her or home in a solely nauseating way.

“He runs a garbage dump in Jakku, Arizona,” she elaborated, swallowing the bile in her throat. “His name is Unkar Plutt. Don’t tell him you got it from me.”

 She tried to give him a wry smile, holding her breath as she did so. Smiling was very hard if you were breathing through your mouth; you couldn’t properly inhale and appear happy at the same time. “It won’t help your cause,” she clarified.

"Thank you, Miss Plutt.”

 Rey shuddered with violence, sending tremors down her spine. Han Solo gave her an uncertain look. “I’m not ‘Miss Plutt,’” she said with venom. “My name is Rey. Just Rey.”

Han put his hands up and backed away slowly, distancing himself from the landmine that was her hate.   

“Okay,” he said. “Just Rey. I’m Han Solo, by the way.”

“I guessed that,” she replied.

“Well, I’m just trying to be polite, ain’t I?” His grin had resurfaced. She couldn’t help but smile in return. As painful as it was to be pulled back into her childhood memories, the man was charming enough to hurt her and rob her and be soothing about it.

He looked at their car for a long time. The neon lights gleamed off its shiny exterior, brightening the hood with a galaxy of twinkling stars. She’d done her best to repair the damage to the vehicle; she had replaced the headlights with uncracked glass, and smoothed the dented tail fins with sanding equipment, and retouched the paint with vivid colors. It had been so broken, so bereft of working parts, that Rey had to lay pieces of her soul in its cracking heart.

“I’ll pay you for it,” Han said. He pulled a checkbook from his bag. “Thirty thousand. And I’ll give you the car I’ve got here for free.”

Rey’s eyes were bulging so wide that they almost hurt. His new car was much bigger than the Falcon. Also... 

“It’s not worth that much!” she said, waving her hands wildly. “Even the cost of the repairs don’t come close to that price!”

“It’s not about money,” Han said. He scratched the back of his neck with reluctant awkwardness. “I can see that the car is important to you - you don’t have to deny it. It looks like something that’s been treasured. Most people, I don’t think… I don’t think they’d have gone to the trouble.”

Was he going to cry? Oh god, Rey wasn’t good with tears. She wasn’t even good at comforting herself. 

Tears were just waves upon an endless ocean. Crying was the act of dipping her foot into the water and feeling hopelessness over its bottomless depth. That was the reason she hadn’t cried in years.

Thankfully, Han Solo merely cleared his throat. He said, “I’ve also got a lot of good memories of that car. In our younger days, my best friends and I would pull wild shit with it as our getaway vehicle. I drove my wife around in it, once upon a time. My son and I would stargaze lying on the hood.”

Now Rey was almost overcome by the urge to cry. Suddenly, it was almost unbearable to think she owned a family’s car. 

Every time she’d driven around her college town, she had unknowingly been getting high off the familial tenderness steeped in the upholstery. Was that history why she was so attached to the car - because she sensed it contained the family love she craved?

“Take it,” Rey choked out. She couldn’t get rid of the car soon enough. It wasn’t freedom, like she had thought - it was imprisonment. It was being bound to memories and regrets and wishes that would never be granted. 

“Hey, I don’t want to guilt you into giving it up,” Han said. He took an aborted step forward, torn between the urge to comfort her like an old friend and respect her like a stranger. But he wasn’t a stranger to her - he was the owner of her highest hopes, and the possessor of her lowest despair.

Why did she think it was a good idea to drive to that party? She wanted to turn back time and un-feel everything she was feeling right now.

“How about this?” Han asked. He pulled a phone out of his jacket pocket. “We’ll co-own it. Whenever you want to go for a joyride, just give me a call and come to my house. A simple heads up and I’ll keep the car available for you. I’ll still pay you for it. And toss in the new car.”

Rey tried to protest. “No, I couldn’t possibly…”

“You could,” Han insisted. “And more importantly, you should. My wife would kill me if she knew I’d robbed a college student. But I’m a sentimental old geezer, so I can’t let the car go.” Then he straightened his spine, reassembling himself with a parody of propriety. “This is a compromise. Like what the politicians do.”

“I know what a compromise is.”

“Good. My wife and her mother had to teach me that.” Han smiled a rogue-ish smile. Rey laughed aloud. Everything about the situation was ridiculous - sharing the stolen car, subjecting herself to its soft memories, taking Han’s money along with his new car. But Rey felt better about going along with the absurdity.

“Okay,” she relented. She couldn’t stop laughing. “Okay, you’ve talked me into it.”

“Who said I wasn’t a smooth-talker?” Han asked. He put his hand out to Rey, every inch the gentleman. Amused, Rey took his hand and shook it.

Over the next few years, Rey would stop by Han’s garage and borrow the Falcon every now and then. At first, she would take it for solo rides across the open roads, clearing her head of its usual funk. But the more familiar she became with Han, the more they would drive out together. Flying fast on the highways, he’d point out his favorite spots: bars he’d gotten kicked out on account of roughhousing, mansions he’d gotten invited to on account of his wife’s fancy work, and parks he’d gotten lured into on account of his son’s stargazing. 

It was almost like Rey had a father.

Han did try many times to invite her to meet his family. He said they’d have a proper meal together, play gin rummy afterwards, and watch silly films. Rey always rejected his offers. 

It would be awkward, she told him.

It would be painful, she didn’t say.

  

 
Yet, fate had contrived a way for her to meet Han’s family in spite of her resistance. After all those years of hiding from the happy Solo family, Rey had ended up scarring their only son by hitting him down a flight of stairs.

Fate had a terrible sense of humor.

Ben Solo, the injured son, looked at her now and said, “you’re dad’s mechanic friend, Rey.”

“The impossibly shy girl, Rey,” Leia added.

All three of them - Ben, Leia, and Rey - looked confused at this description. The notion of a wilting violet who hid behind broken machines didn’t exactly fit with Rey’s recent actions.

“What else could I say?” Han asked when they turned to stare at him. “You wouldn’t come to dinner! You wanted me to tell them you’re antisocial like Ben?”

“Hey!” was Ben and Rey’s dignified response.  

Master Skywalker smiled mystically and simply added, “fate.”

“Jesus Christ, Master Skywalker,” Rey couldn’t help muttering. 

She had to get out of this conversation. She didn’t want to talk about all the reasons she hadn’t attended a cosy family dinner. (Though, from what she’d seen of their family thus far, it might have been more sarcastic and dysfunctional than the idyllic family feasts on the Hallmark channel.)

Surprisingly enough, Ben Solo came to her rescue.

“The cookies,” Ben said, rising from his seat. “I want to eat them. Rey, would you…”

“Of course,” she replied, vacating her seat in a rush and following him into the kitchen. Han Solo called out behind them - “Cookies? Since when do you like cookies?” - but they pretended they hadn’t heard.

In the safety of the kitchen, Rey expelled a sigh of relief. That was the only kind of breathing she seemed to do nowadays. Exhaling after a disaster. 

Her lungs must be shaped like a warning sign.

“This is weird,” she said, leaning against Ben’s kitchen counter. His eyebrows arched at her choice of words. He too had exhaled upon closing the door. This situation wasn't simply weird - it was the definition of surreal.  

SOS! Rey’s brain pinged desperately, signally the guardian gods of reason. I have wandered into a Salvador Dali painting and am unable to get out!

She glanced at the kitchen clock suspiciously, daring it to start melting. It stayed obstinately and gloriously intact.

Staring at the clock and its elegant black numbers, Rey found she was able to ground herself a bit better in the present. So she began to take stock of the items in Ben Solo’s kitchen. 

Like his living room, the kitchen was dark and minimalist. It was as if a robot had moved into the apartment and decorated it with only functional objects before developing a soul necessary for specific tastes.

Apart from the clock that ticked along with calming regularity, a few silver pots and pans hung  on hooks in the walls. Several cabinets that hovered too high for Rey to reach - but which she supposed Ben could use with no problem - were laden with tea boxes and clear glass herb jars. A fridge stood in the corner, covered in various clippings: some of them were excerpts of poems, some of them were copies of news articles, and some of them were pictures of temples and mountains.

By far the most colorful thing in the kitchen was a bouquet of dandelions sitting in a tall red vase upon a little table. Rey approached the flowers, hoping to absorb the sunlight from the plants’ cells.

“Grandma Padme gave me those,” Ben said, running his finger along the velvety petals. “She got them from her garden.”

“Grandma Padme,” Rey repeated. Her mind was whirring at hyperspeed - fields of flowers bloomed and wilted in the rapid seasonal shifts in her brain. “Your uncle, Luke Skywalker’s mother. Padme Skywalker. Padme Amidala.”

He grimaced and then shrugged his shoulders, as if shirking off a great weight.

“Have you met her too?” he asked. It was hard to tell if he was joking - his voice was so flat, so deadpan.

“I used to watch her speeches,” Rey said. “And her gardening show.”

Somehow, the man she’d almost bludgeoned to death was related to most of her heroes. 

It was becoming harder to breath.

“Rey? Rey?” Ben asked, concerned. He put a steadying hand on her back, feeling the air travel from her diaphragm to her trachea. It must have felt like putting his palm to a sand storm as it raged across a desert.

“There’s no need to panic,” he said. His voice was deep and calm. “They’re my family, not yours.” 

“How is that supposed to help?” she gasped. “I nearly killed you!”

He looked offended by her statement. “It’ll take much more than a rolling pin to kill me,” he insisted.

“You are still not helping!”

“Right.” His throat was bobbing up and down in that fast-feeling and fast-thinking way. Rey had a strange vision of Ben Solo’s neck as a field of flowers rippling in the wind. His adam’s apple was practically a landscape.

 “I know my family can be… overwhelming,” he said. It was an understatement. “They’re all star politicians or ace pilots or celebrity gurus. That fame and status almost drove me crazy when I was a kid. That and neurochemicals. Remember how I joined a group of teenage fascists?”

“But you never held any fascist ideologies,” Rey pointed out.

They both laughed as the room expanded with air; she imagined the walls filling out like an inflating balloon. Unbidden, Rey remembered an evening several years ago, when she had talked to Han Solo in a bar parking lot. For all his anger and stubborn darkness, Ben Solo had a similar way of diffusing tense situations with humor. Whether he had inherited it or, like Han, had honed his levity as a survival mechanism, Rey was not sure.

“Do you know what dandelions mean?” she said, gesturing at the vase of bright yellow flowers with a new sense of calm. They were more familiar to her than Jakku - more home than home. She’d lived in Padme Amidala’s televised garden for a long time.

Ben shook his head. “My grandmother does,” he answered. “I’ve forgotten.”

“Rebirth,” Rey said. Even now, she could recite the flower symbolism in Padme’s show from memory. “Reincarnation. New beginnings. Among other things.”

The corners of his mouth hitched up in a dry smile. Nothing about him could be described as sunny, for he’d come the closest of anything she’d ever known to constituting a human-shaped shadow. Yet that tugging of his lips contained the glow of dandelions, not the darkness of an endless abyss.

“Are you suggesting there is hope for me?” he asked. He leaned against the kitchen table and the flowers brushed his elbows; their stigmas stained his shirtsleeves with gold. “That I might rise from the ashes of my fascist-esque past? That I might reincarnate from the corpse of Kylo Ren?”

“I’m saying there’s hope for us,” she replied, entranced by his golden elbows. 

Was sunlight contagious? Her lips were tingling with warmth, catching the light emitting from the flowers, his almost-smile, and his pollen-dusted forearms. “To form a new relationship with less blood and screaming.”

“But what if I liked the blood and screaming from our old relationship?” he asked. His spine was so loose that he was almost falling back into the flower vase. She wanted to see his casual lean dissolve into pollen and petals; she wanted to trace the pollen as it climbed up his back and shoulders. 

It was another crazy thought.

Instead of contemplating it further, Rey cupped a dandelion in her hand and relished in the pollen tickling her palm. “Then you’re out of luck, Ben Solo,” she said. “Should have stuck with being Kylo Ren.”

“Ugh, fuck Kylo Ren,” he groaned. Now his spine was snapping back, a rubber band returning to its hunched shape. “Just let the past die.”

“Weren’t you the one who told me history can’t be erased of rewritten?” she teased. She strolled around the kitchen counter, lightly tapping the bottles of basil and pepper flakes as she went. Even though she wanted to paint them with gold, she kept the pollen on her palm. “‘You fuck up and live with it’?”

“You weren’t supposed to remember that,” he said. “You were sleep-deprived. Panicked.”

“Those words changed my life forever,” she declared, crossing her fingers over her heart. “You can’t take them back now. You’ll have to fight me for them.”

“I thought you said we were beyond a relationship of blood and screaming.”

Perhaps it wasn’t just therapy-stress and exhaustion and vicious ghosts that compelled her to fight Ben Solo. Sparring with him was natural, as easy as breathing. It didn’t have to always end with scars. 

If she kept her distance and he didn’t drop his guard, neither of them would have to get hurt. Neither of them had to fall.

A knocking sound came from the kitchen door.

“Are you two okay?” Leia asked. Her query was sarcastic but also a little bit concerned. “No more rolling pin duels?”

“We’re fine, thanks, Mom,” Ben answered. He gave Rey a dry appraising look; she lifted the plastic covering off the tray of cookies. Steam filled the air as Ben put on a new tea kettle and directed Rey to the cabinets of plates and silverware. To her delight, she found a stack of plates laced in golden cracks.

“Kintsugi,” she said. Ben scratched his neck, a Solo sign of embarrassment.

“I like your cookies,” he said. “They’re beautiful.”

The world had gone mad and the clock still wasn’t dripping off the wall. Only in an insane universe could Rey and Ben Solo, one-time fascist blood-hound, current tabloid punching bag, victim of her unleashed anger, relative of her heroes, prepare tea and cookies peacefully in his kitchen. Rows of saccharine bulls and broken black-gold pottery winked at Rey. She decided she was okay with this delusion. It was kinder than she thought it would be.

“Thank you,” she told Ben. They balanced cookies, tea cups, and repaired plates on their two sets of arms. He gave her an inquisitive look before opening the kitchen door with his golden elbow.

He still hadn’t noticed the pollen.

Rey still hadn’t told him about it.  

Then she’d suffer the consequences later, she decided, as she walked past the golden print on his kitchen door.  

Chapter Text

The good fortune of the Skywalker family could be traced back to it possession of loyal and sane friends. Many of these friends were reasonable people who could temper the Skywalkers’ more destructive impulses, ensuring they stayed out of jail, out of the hospital, and out of the morgue. Indeed, most of the Skywalkers’ allies were logical and trustworthy characters who studiously avoided causing trouble. Unfortunately, Poe Dameron was not one of those friends.

Shara Dameron and Leia Organa had brought together their sons hoping they might share their better qualities and generally improve each other’s temperaments. By introducing Poe to Ben, the optimistic mothers had gambled on Poe’s charisma and friendliness making Ben more social with his peers. By introducing Ben to Poe, the cunning mothers had planned on Ben’s silence and thoughtfulness making Poe more careful about his actions.

Of course, the two boys affected each other in the worst possible ways. While Poe did indeed make Ben more active, it was mostly in the context of instigating screaming matches and fist fights. And while Ben did indeed make Poe more careful, it was mostly to consider what schemes would most annoy his enemies.

By the time Shara and Leia realized their mistake, it was too late to separate the children. Over the years, Poe and Ben had formed a brotherhood of schoolyard grudges and elaborate pranks and delightful mayhem. In other words, they were bound together inexorably, bearing the unbreakable links of suffering, blood, and pettiness.

 

Standing outside Poe’s apartment, eyeing the muddy doggy door with distaste, Ben considered, for the first time ever why concocting plans of revenge with Poe was perhaps a little bit foolish.

His afternoon visit to his brother-in-arms had been preceded by a startling phone call earlier that morning. In the rising sun’s light, Ben had hunched over his writing desk, thinking of the best way to translate one line about scarlet spider lilies. The pleasure and torment of poetry was that one word made all the difference. He had no fondness for long soliloquies or rambling speeches, one trait he begrudgingly shared with his hermit uncle (who was surprisingly quiet when he wasn’t making trouble). 

It was the best time of day to write - still in that receptive dreamy haze, before the mundanity and weariness of real-life set in. Ben didn’t like to write when he was tired. If everything else was already painful, why make his creative process needlessly difficult as well? Writing was an outlet for his crowded emotions and an escape from other people’s issues. It grounded him, making him a little less likely to explode or implode, both undesirable outcomes for the audience bearing his breakdown and the man interiorly collapsing. 

“Scarlet spider lilies’,” he murmured, scratching the words on a loose, ink-stained paper. “‘Scarlet spider lilies shaking… trembling… bowing in the breeze. Scarlet spider lilies…’”

He was on the verge of a breakthrough when his cellphone rang, effectively stabbing his muse to death. Watching her blood drip down his fountain pen, Ben felt it justified to answer the call with thinly veiled menace.

“What?” he snapped.

“Easy on the murder,” Poe Dameron drawled. Well-used to Ben’s constant ire, Poe enjoyed dissecting the different timbres of his friend’s threats. Cheerfully, he told Ben that this morning’s greeting ranked at “pissed off dark master.”

“I’m hanging up now,” Ben told him. Before he could end the call, Poe taunted him in a sing-song voice:

“Well, that’s too bad,” Poe said. “Guess you won’t find out my brilliant plan for fixing your problem.”

“My what problem?” Ben gritted out.

“You know, Armitage Hux? His article about you being a rich bastard man-whore?”

Ben was stunned; he had completely forgotten about the First Order libel. Granted, three days had passed since the garbage had hit newsstands, but Ben was known for holding onto a  grudge with unhealthy obsessiveness. Six months ago, Poe’s retriever had mauled one of Ben’s manuscripts and Ben still regarded the creature with contempt. In a drawn-out retaliatory strike, Ben had fed BB-8 the recent First Order magazine, hoping to simultaneously destroy the rag and possibly ruin the dog’s digestive tract. Like any proper hellspawn, BB-8 had devoured the poison and thrived.

“Ben?” Poe asked after a moment of waiting. There was a bark in the background, as if BB-8 could sense Ben’s frustrated thoughts and was basking in them. “You gonna speak first? Or am I gonna speak first?” 

Those two questions were part of a childhood routine for goading Ben out of brooding silence. A familiar flicker of annoyance perked up Ben just a little.

“Say it,” Ben replied. “Your plan.” He would worry about BB-8 and his forgetfulness later. Maybe Ben was getting old, possibly even forgiving. Neither thought was very pleasant.

“Okay, “ Poe relented. Then his voice took on a mischievously giddy tone. “So, what if I prank call Armitage Hux pretending to be his ma? I’ll put on my best old lady voice and nag him for bullying poor Ben Solo. Lay it on thick, even make it seem I’ve got a crush on you. Then I’ll send him one of your shirtless pics - if you don’t have any, we’ll take some - and ask ‘why don’t you have an eight pack like that? It’s because you’re such a snobby wimp that you’re still a virgin, and I don’t have any grandkids.’”

“That’s so stupid.” Ben muttered. He massaged his temples and willed his brain cells not to kill themselves out of pure exasperation.

“Oh right, no virgin jokes,” Poe said. “I forgot you don’t like those. And hey, I get it. There’s no reason to be ashamed if you’re not sexually active. There are plenty of meaningful things besides sex - like platonic relationships, and exploring the world, and pets. Besides, only real pricks make up for a lack of personality by waving around their dicks - ”

“No, Poe, the whole thing is stupid,” Ben interrupted. “I’m not sending my sworn nemesis pictures of me half-naked. That seems kinda suggestive.”

“You can be suggestive and mean at the same time,” Poe argued. “Also, if it makes you uncomfortable to take photos with your shirt off, we can send my shirtless pics. We’ll just photoshop your head on top.” The suggestion was pitched with alarming calm.

“That wouldn’t look right at all,” Ben said. “First, your skin is darker than mine.”

“Okay, racist. And Photoshop, buddy.” 

“Not racist. And don’t you hate whitewashing?”

“Ugh, you’ve got me there,” Poe groaned. There was a shifting sound as he scratched the back of his neck in thought. “But is it bad whitewashing if you’re harassing an evil white guy? Okay, new plan: we blow up Hux’s apartment. Make a dozen Molotov cocktails and throw them right through his window.”      

Only seventy-two hours earlier, Ben would have agreed to the insane plot. It was over-the-top, destructive, and positively petty - an apt description of a pissed off Ben Solo. Miraculously,his aggressive impulses must have been coshed out of his brain by Rey’s rolling pin. 

He wasn’t even angry at Rey for attacking him twice and scarring his face on the second encounter. Deep down, he was a bit thrilled by her darkness. Her strength and her messiness meshed so well with his. Bleeding freely in her banged up car and listening to her fucked up “fake it ‘til you make it” playlist, he had felt truly understood. Even his parents frequently misconstrued him, projecting their hopes and insecurities onto their only son. But Rey had spoken to him freely and listened to him without judgement. She made him feel less alone.

“Oh shit,” Ben said aloud. Then he cursed again once he remembered he was still on the phone.

“What? What is it?” Poe asked.

“Nothing. It’s nothing,” Ben replied. He was not going to discuss his stupidly fast-forming attachment to a girl who’d sent him flying down a flight of stairs. No matter how many guilty sweets she baked him or how many panicked revelations they shared, forming an attachment to Rey would be a bad idea. He didn’t even know why he was contemplating it. He’d spent a long time without making lasting connections outside of his family and their group of friends. Despite feeling a bit like a black sheep, Ben was fine on his own. 

“It’s something,” Poe said, as if he could hear Ben’s inner turmoil. “That’s your ‘I’ve fucked up bad and am in need of rescuing’ voice.”

“Since when am I ever in need of rescuing?” Ben asked, offended.

“Always. Now. But rescuing someone, like breaking up with someone, can’t be done over the phone,” Poe said. “You, my imperiled prince, are coming over to my apartment.”

“I am not an imperiled prince, and I am not coming over to your apartment.”

“If you don’t come over, I’m calling your mother to ask what’s wrong. And you know what happens after that.”

Ben knew very well what happened after that: his mother would ask his father what was wrong, his father would ask Uncle Luke what was wrong, Uncle Luke would ask Grandma Padme what was wrong, and then the whole chain of them fall upon Ben like a manacle. He had just seen his relatives - seeing them again would put him over his weekly quota.

So, without too much further protest, Ben drove his recently recovered car over to Poe’s place. 

 

Working up the nerve to knock on Poe’s front door was proving to be the difficult part. It was a perfectly harmless door: painted in Poe’s favorite color orange and sporting a muddy flap for his roaming dog. The little welcome mat blared “WELCOME!”, as if the prospect of visitors made it giddy with excitement. Even the doorbell was inviting, flanked by a note to “push repeatedly if I don’t come to the door. I’m either away, sleeping, wearing headphones, or in the bathroom. In the first case, you’re out of luck. Feel free to camp out here and wait for my return. In the other cases, I will come eventually if you ring the doorbell hard enough. So don’t give up!!” Ben had written the note himself following Poe’s dictation.

On the long list of Ben Solo’s most hated things, right under asinine annotations in secondhand books, were doorbells. Other people were annoying enough, but announcing their presence with a shrill, ceaseless bell was nothing short of divine punishment. Ben didn’t have a doorbell; Ben only reluctantly had a door. If he had his way, his house would be four walls with no openings sans artistic windows to let in moonlight. Some mystical teleportation powers would allow Ben to materialise in and out of his house, enabling him to enjoy his solitude without worry for interruptions or keys. In this scenario, Ben would be the only magic teleporting man alive.

He was so wrapped up in this fantasy, visualizing the ways he'd escape family outings by vanishing into his cosy abode, that he almost fell over in surprise when BB-8 brushed against his legs. The dog gave him a smug bark before disappearing behind the doggy door.

“Mangy cur,” Ben muttered. The devilish dog barked again, presumably at its owner, and Ben heard Poe’s brisk footfalls. Somehow, Poe’s footsteps sounded as cocky and disastrous as the man himself.

“What’s the situation?” Poe said as soon as he opened the door. It was like a stupid police drama - no polite “hello, how are you doing” but “what’s the situation, commissioner? Another dead girl? Another missing boy?”

Ben didn’t like crime dramas.

“The situation is you threatened me into coming over,” Ben replied, crossing his arms in displeasure. “So here I am.” 

Moving past the threshold, he glanced down at his feet, and the sight of fine golden fur clinging to his pants legs made him grimace. The same hairs dusted Poe’s living room couch, lying in such a great quantity upon the furniture that it could have been mistaken for another humongous dog. Poe didn’t seem to care about getting dirty, so he plopped down on one of the animal-like cushions. Ben hovered by the couch warily.

“Aww, come on, I won’t bite,” Poe said, mistaking the source of Ben’s hesitance for himself. He patted the furry upholstery, sending more golden hairs flying into the air. Beneath strong feelings of disgust, Ben was kind of enthralled by the appearance of the drifting golden hairs.

Golden hair was a trademark of fairy tales. They marked a hero for great adventure, or a heroine for terrible enchantment. Golden fibers were spun out of straw and traded by a sorcerer for the queen’s first born son. Gold was beautiful and terrible, real and unreal, freedom and enslavement - it bound the cosmos together and tore it apart. Without gold there would be no black; without black there would be no gold.

Rey had lifted one of his cracked plates and said, “kintsugi.”

Uncle Luke’s voice had harmonized with hers, melding with its pronouncement of “fate.”

Ben had seen the First Order article only three days ago and was quickly losing his mind.

“That’s the ‘rescue me’ face,” Poe pointed out. “Don’t deny it. You’re in trouble.”

Lounging on the gold dusted couch, Poe bit his lip and cast Ben an almost concerned glance. His hand was still atop the neighboring couch cushion, nestled in a pile of bright dog hairs. Ben had ruined two shirts in the past week - one was stained in blood, the other in pollen - but he still took a seat alongside his friend.

“Alright,” Ben exhaled. That was the only kind of breathing he seemed to do nowadays, the aftermath of an inhale. His lungs must be shaped thin as a dog hair. If he inhaled, they’d be filled with tiny golden threads. 

“Alright,” Ben repeated. “I’ll tell you what happened. But promise me you won’t laugh until the very end.”   

True to his word, Poe suppressed his amusement into occasional hiccups but didn’t break out in laughter until the end of Ben’s story. That’s why Ben kept Poe around, he supposed - they were honest with each other, even brutally so.

What delighted Poe the most about the lurid tale was Ben’s surprising connection to Rey.

“That’s classic Rey,” Poe chuckled, patting Ben on the shoulder. Ben just stared at him in astonishment.

“You know Rey too?” he asked. At this point, he should just expect everyone to somehow know Rey - it would save him a lot of surprises.

“Yeah, she’s a friend of Finn’s.” 

“Your friend Finn is the same Finn I knew from The Supremacy?” Ben interrupted. He was feeling a bit claustrophobic from the six degrees of separation collapsing between his social spheres. “The Finn I ordered around when I was” - here Ben wiggled his fingers, an embarrassed approximation of his youthful madness - “Kylo Ren?”

“See, he didn’t tell me the name of his specific fascist group,” Poe explained. It was a casual observation, curious but unconcerned. “He just said he was dragged into some fascist group. I assumed you belonged to different ones. Who’d have thought they’d be the same?” Then Poe broke out in renewed laughter. “Man, you’re the beefcake death god he always complains about!”

“‘Beefcake death god’?” Ben repeated, confounded.

“It’s a good thing I never introduced you,” Poe mused. “I know you hate meeting new people, so I wasn’t going to anyway.”

“Great, thanks,” Ben said, nodding in appreciation of Poe’s unobtrusiveness. 

But then Poe’s eyes twinkled, and Ben knew things were taking a turn for the worse. “Hey, we can get together now!” Poe exclaimed. “Since you’re friends with Rey. It wouldn’t be uncomfortable for you and it wouldn’t be uncomfortable for Finn. A friend of Rey’s is a friend of Finn’s.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works…”

But Poe was beyond listening. “Ben, the three of us have a roller skating thing planned tonight - you have to tag along!” he carried on, his words becoming faster with growing excitement. “We’ll have a blast. We can compete over who can skate the  fastest without crashing, and who can spin around the longest without throwing up, and who can topple the most asshole high schoolers without getting kicked out…”

All of those games sounded idiotic. But no matter how childish Poe’s plans sounded, Ben knew he was going with him, whether he wanted to or not. Growing up around Ben’s mother had exposed Poe to various tricks for getting what he wanted. One that never ceased to work was believing wholeheartedly that whatever he thought was right was universally right. With that condition fulfilled, it was incredibly easy to shore up the confidence and persuasiveness to wear down any ideological opponent. Ben hadn’t inherited this skill from his mother. Consequently, the person who lost a battle of wills often ended up being Ben.

 

It had been a long time since Ben had visited the roller skating rink, and the nostalgic unfamiliarity was the only reason he gave it any of his begrudging attention. The establishment had a distinctly nineties aesthetic, though it had been around for at least forty years. The walls were covered in cheap xeroxed posters, advertising the quirky charms of local bands, comic book stores, and pizza joints. Two space-themed pinball machines sat beside a ticket counter heaped with underwhelming prizes. The prizes couldn’t be worth the cost of the tickets; a few stuffed puffins with weird dog faces, teddy bears with blood red lips, and falcons with heavy square wings glared out from behind an apathetic cashier. Some of the threadbare stuffed animals were stained with nacho cheese sputtering from a clunky cheese dispenser. By some stroke of interior decorating genius - the kind that would send Luke into conniptions - the prize area had been placed right next to the greasy snack shack. Despite the plasticity of the smell wafting from the hot dogs, burgers, and fries, Ben noted that the overhead menu listed the price of the entrees at eight dollars each.

‘What a rip off,” Ben said, frowning in distaste. 

“I’ll say,” Rey replied. She was glaring at the numbers in offense, as if the ugly comic sans was insulting her personally. In defiance of the rink’s policies, she had snuck in a few snacks via her bottomless purse. Currently, she was going through a tupperware of pomegranate seeds. Even though she scarfed them down like a starving animal, she’d had the courtesy to offer a few to Ben. He’d declined.         

Her friend Finn had given her a disbelieving look, balking at her charity. He’d whispered not-so-quietly, “what are you doing? He’s Kylo Ren, the fascist, remember?”

In response, Rey had merely grinned and turned to look at Ben. Staring him straight in the eye, she had said, “I don’t think he’s a fascist after all. He merely had the misfortune to associate with a group of fascists in his youth.” 

Ben couldn’t help returning her grin while Finn sputtered like the broken cheese dispenser. Contrary to Poe’s reassurances, Finn had been quite unhappy to see Ben enter the skating rink. Predicting this unfriendly reaction, Ben had done his best to stay out of Finn’s orbit. He would have done so anyway, preferring to be on his own, but now he had a valid excuse for acting antisocial. He lingered on the outskirts of the skating area, keeping to his own loner sphere, only interacting with the happy trio when Rey approached him like an intersecting Venn diagram.

When Rey went off to lace up her skates, Finn approached Ben, stiffly telling him to meet up by the pinball machines. Dutifully, Ben went over to the buzzing torture devices, punishment for anyone with ears and good taste. The machines beeped with annoying warnings, proclaiming oncoming danger from painted asteroids. Ben tried to ignore them and give Finn his skeptical attention. Finn was more successful in ignoring Ben’s unimpressed scowl. He said: 

“Don’t...” 

But then Finn was interrupted by a beep from the pinball machine. You lose, you lose, you lose! exclaimed a gleeful alien invader. Ben and Finn waited a minute for the alien’s excitement to cool down.

“Don’t what?” Ben prompted.

“Don’t…” 

For a second time, Finn’s speech was cut short by the pinball machines. Every day is a new adventure! exclaimed the voice of a chipper young hero. Some rude little kid had snuck up behind Ben and resuscitated the rusty game. Several annoying whooshing sounds issued from tinny speakers, followed by an obnoxiously macho voice saying, It’s time to save the galaxy!   

“Do you want to move this somewhere else?” Ben asked. He watched the inconsiderate brat insert more coins into the pinball slot.

“Don’t tell me what to do!” Finn snapped at him.

“Is that what you wanted to tell me?” Ben quipped sarcastically. “Don’t tell you what to do?”

“No, what I wanted to say was don’t…”

For the third time, Finn was rendered mute by a terrible wail from the wretched pinball machine. Ben and Finn experienced a small moment of solidarity as they glared daggers at the blasted contraption, daring it to shriek one more time. If he had his kendo sword, Ben might have torn it to pieces. Ignorant of the onlookers’ anger, the pinball princess cried, save me! Oh, brave hero, please save me from the aliens!

“Hey, kid, we’re trying to have a conversation,” Finn told the young player. The midget gave him a lifeless look and merely picked at his nose. His look was so vacant that Ben started to suspect the nacho cheese was laced with a mind-altering drugs. Regardless of the kid’s maybe-stoner status, Finn shrugged and said, “can’t you hold off a few minutes?”

The kid just stared at him silently before recommencing his game.

“Hey, brat,” Ben broke in, slamming his palm against the pinball machine. “Weren’t you listening? The adults are trying to have a conversation. So keep it down, will you?”

Unfortunately, the kid started screaming then, and his big red-faced mother rounded the corner. Ben and Finn fled the scene, ducking into the nearby men’s bathroom. Pressed against the bathroom door, Ben could have sworn he’d heard the woman promise to lodge her foot in some very uncomfortable cavities.

“What the hell did you say that for, Kylo?” Finn wheezed. It wasn’t a long distance to run, but they were both panting. Their exhaustion was the result of sprinting recklessly, ridiculously terrified of a suburban soccer mom. Now that he had a moment to collect himself, Ben was quite ashamed of his reaction. He must have automatically connected Finn to running from The Supremacy’s enemies. Those were real threats that had included gun-toting policemen.

“How was any of that my fault?” Ben asked.

“You antagonized him!” Finn shouted. “You always do that - going all loud and violent whenever you don’t get your way!”

Truth be told, Ben was almost impressed by Finn’s gall. Back in their teenage fascist group, Finn had done his best to stay out of the way. It must have taken significant personal development for Finn to face him now without trembling. Ben felt a bit of respect for his accuser, but it was mostly overshadowed by annoyance.

“Excuse me, but you’re the one who confronted the kid first,” Ben interrupted. “So you’re partly to blame.” 

He and Finn might have continued their bickering, but a man holding a jumbo-sized soda burst through the door and rushed between them to get to the urinals. Reluctant to stick around as he relieved himself, Finn gritted his teeth and fixed Ben with a threatening glare. 

“What I wanted to say was don’t take advantage of Rey.”

His voice was serious, a strange contrast to the sound of urine falling in the background. Ben wasn’t sure if he wanted to sneer derisively or break out in laughter.

“I’m not planning to take advantage of her” Ben replied. He settled on a dismissive snort. “I thought you knew me better than that. I’m not as loose as the First Order garbage suggests.”

Finn’s outraged stammers drew an unflattering comparison to the other bathroom sounds. “I’m not talking about that!” he exclaimed. “I know you’re some weirdo dark monk. Your need for love and companionship is probably non-existent. Some guys aren’t born with functioning souls.”

Ben was flattered to be regarded as so vicious; one of his life goals was to perfect an emotionless mask. Not that Poe would say he was successful. Did Finn and Poe really talk about Ben? If so, how could they retain such wildly diverging views of his humanity?

“I mean, don’t take advantage of her goodness,” Finn clarified. “Rey sees the good in everyone, even if they don’t deserve it. I’ve witnessed enough of your shit to know you’re past redeeming” -  okay, that hurt - “but Rey has this idealistic vision that even the most broken things can be fixed.”

“You think I’m a broken pot that can’t be mended?” Ben suggested. The man who’d been peeing for the past five minutes gave Ben a pitying glance. Ben glared back at him, and the man rushed out, forgetting to wash his hands.

“Look, Rey’s sorry for your accident,” Finn said. “She even baked you cookies and agreed to go on this… whatever this is because she felt bad. But that’s enough. She doesn’t owe you anything. Don’t try to manipulate her, and don’t blame her for your bad karma.”

Now Finn was giving him too much credit; Ben couldn’t deceive a child into taking a piece of candy. His proficiency at lying trended southward on a bar graph.

“‘Bad karma’?” Ben repeated, choosing to focus on that detail, instead of revealing a weakness that might tarnish his overlord image. 

“You’re not the only one who can quote Buddhist mumbo jumbo,” Finn replied. Then he backed away slowly, making an I’m watching you gesture with two fingers as he disappeared behind the bathroom door. 

“That’s not how Buddhism works!” Ben called out after him. 

When Ben returned to the skating rink, he couldn’t help glancing over at Rey, weighing Finn’s words about her concern for fixing things on a mental scale. He wondered if Rey valued broken objects because she saw the world or herself as being damaged. It was probably both. Yet her dismal self-evaluation wasn’t easy to discern from her composure. Even just lacing up her roller skates, the efficient movement of nimble fingers spoke to a sense of self-possession. And the way she sat back when the knots were tightly threaded, and kicked her skates a bit, testing how they fit her feet, all painted a very practical picture. 

Ben had told Rey he always got blisters on his heel, the result of his mismatched skates rubbing against his skin. Rey had said her feet and hands were too calloused to be injured.

He was so preoccupied by the cracks in his own mental walls that he was unable to pay Rey any further attention as she glided away. 

This was becoming too close to a badly written sitcom or a cheesy romantic comedy for Ben’s liking. Disastrous first meeting followed by shovel talk from friends? No thanks. Ben was not going to engage with that. He had poetry and temples and his quiet writer’s desk. All the drama he could handle was the Skywalkers’ bullshit (and, if he was being completely honest, the grudges he forged between himself and assholes like Hux). He didn’t have the time or energy for anything else.   

No matter how interesting Rey was.

Resolving to nip this latest drama at the bud, Ben inched his way towards the exit.

Since he hadn’t been looking in front of him, focusing all his attention on evading Poe’s notice, he collided with Rey rather forcefully. On instinct, she grabbed his shirtfront to steady herself, but found it impossible to stay balanced on moving wheels. For his part, Ben was too surprised to react, and let gravity and Rey’s weight bring him down to the floor. 

In an act of perfect symmetry, Ben and Rey lay on the floor, their faces separated by barely six inches of air, a mirror image of their first meeting in Maz’s office.

They were so close that Ben could smell the pomegranates on her breath. It was a sweet and bitter scent.

“Do you ever look where you’re going?’ Rey joked after a moment of silence. Her levity was more effective than the heavy quiet at breaking Ben’s reverie. Ben quickly scrambled off her, apologising profusely as he did so. At least this time he had the presence of mind to offer her his hand. She had the goodness of heart to take it.

“You know, Finn always told me about how graceful you were,” Rey remarked. She brushed the dust off the back of her jeans. “Not that he was praising you - he said you glided around like a vengeful ghost.”

“And here I thought he didn’t like me,” Ben replied. Fortunately, he had recovered enough to attempt casual banter.

“In all the time I’ve known you, you’ve been an awful clutz,” Rey argued. “Falling over your two front feet and getting stained with pollen - that does not a stealthy spirit make. You’re more like a poor blind bat.”

“Hey,” Ben protested feebly.

Ignoring this, Rey handed him a pair of roller skates. They were sprinkled with silver glitter, augmenting the weird magical glow of the pearl-colored wheel frames and boots. They were also unmistakably a challenge. “Poe told me your shoe size,” she explained.

Helplessly, Ben took the skates from her and sat down on one of the small, grimy benches. Paint was chipping off in various places and ancient pieces of gum stuck the edges. Ben reasoned it couldn’t be worse than sitting on Poe’s hairy living room couch.

He still sported the residue of Poe’s furniture, and Rey spotted the golden fur on his pants legs and laughed. “BB-8?”

“I hate that dog,” Ben said, taking off his dark shoes and lacing up the new skates. It had been over a decade since he’d last skated, back when he was just a little boy. He couldn’t imitate Rey’s efficient lacing routine. 

“I love him,” Rey replied. Of course she did. “I found him after he got lost a few years back. That’s how I met Finn. He recognised BB-8 as Poe’s dog.”

“Finn thinks you’re a saint,” Ben added. It wasn’t a malicious statement intended to taint Rey’s view of her friend. Ben told her because keeping the conversation to himself felt oddly duplicitous. Poe liked to point out how strange it was for Ben to be okay with threats, vandalism, and beatdowns, but not with telling a lie.       

“He even warned me against taking advantage of you,” Ben elaborated. “Too bad for him, I don’t have the ability to feel shame. So he can tell me you’re a holy woman who’s too good for my heathen heart all he wants. It won’t make a difference.”

“Are you actually a poet? Because that analogy was awful,” she replied. The only sign of her agitation was expressed through her hands, which opened and closed compulsively, like she was gripping an invisible stress ball. “I am not some pure little girl who needs to be protected. I love Finn, but sometimes he…” 

Instead of finishing her statement, she crouched on the floor. Of all the things he’d been expecting, it hadn’t occurred to Ben that she’d start picking the golden dog hairs from his pants. His right leg was crossed over his left knee, so Rey didn’t have to stoop too far. Still, it was hard to see her face from this new angle. The things he could observe clearly were her fingers, methodically removing hairs like a mechanic with wires.  Once she’d plucked a hair from the fabric, she would examine it closely, before putting it into an empty tupperware container. 

“You don’t need to be protected from me,” Ben added, watching her in quiet fascination. “If anything, I need to be protected from you. You’re the deadly knight and I’m the doomed dragon, right?” 

The scavenging motions of her hands were efficient and assured. Maybe her busy-ness was a tic - something she’d picked up as a garbage dump baby.

“Gold is a fairy tale color, Ben Solo,” she replied. Waving one of the golden hairs in front of his dark eyes, she said, “gold is the color of the devil’s three hairs. Did you know the devil was imagined as an angel, a snake, and a dragon?”

“Yes.” It should probably concern him that talking about the devil was making his throat dry.

“It’s funny, isn’t it?” she mused. “Gold is the color of the villains and the heroes. Perhaps they aren’t so different. Perhaps they’re one and the same.”

His right pant leg was clean now, black where it once had been lined with gold. Rey looked at him inquisitively, grabbing his other skate.

“You forgot this,” she said, offering him the skate. It glimmered opalescent in the strobe lights.

Christ, if he didn’t get it together, they were going to end up a much less flattering fairy tale duo: him as Cinderella with the bare foot, and her as Prince Charming with the glass slipper.

Hurriedly, he took the skate from her, lacing it up with such embarrassed haste that he was sure it wouldn’t fit quite right. By the end of the night, he’d most certainly limp home with bloody heels.

Defying his manly pride, Rey grabbed his hands and led him to the skating rink. She held onto him as she skated backwards, like a watchful mother or a concerned nursemaid. When he expressed this impression, Rey rebuked him gently, explaining that she was only being mindful of his inactive skating routine. Guiding him among the other skaters would give him time to rediscover his rhythm. Properly scolded, Ben let go of his misgivings and quietly followed her lead. 

Under her patient tutelage, Ben remembered the steps quite quickly, surprising them both with the rapidity of his skating comeback.

In no time at all, Rey had let go of his hands, and the two of them were racing around the rink together. They traced elaborate figure eights as other skaters teetered in wobbly lines. Blue strobe lights followed Rey’s path, bathing her in a sapphire glow. Red strobe lights arced along Ben’s path, dowsing him in scarlet fire. When they passed each other in their ouroboros dance, the lights would merge in a violet hue, painting them both purple. Then the red light would follow Rey and the blue light would follow Ben as they embarked on their separate orbits.     

It disturbed Ben, how perfectly they flowed together. Testing the limits of their harmony, Ben would deviate from his course, bumping into Poe as he flirted with strangers. Rey would also break routine, taunting Finn with her speediness and taking sips from his blue raspberry slushie. Yet Rey and Ben’s paths would inevitably converge, impossibly entangled in a molecular bond.

She waved at him once in the red light, her fingers flexing like spider lilies. The gold furs that lined her palm were nearly plant filaments.  

“Do you like fairy tales?” Ben asked, circling her. Under the scarlet light, he was an insect hovering by a warm flower. “They were used by Nazis to brainwash children. It’s easy to turn stories that simplistic into propaganda.  Anyone can control who’s the monster-slayer and who’s the monster.”

It wasn’t exactly pleasant small-talk. No one died from subpar social skills, but Ben had sent colleagues and potential friends running from what his parents called, “his insane academic schtick.” Still he had faith Rey would stay - not because he was charming, but because she was just as weird. 

Like he had hoped, Rey responded to his questions by biting her lip in thought. He was impressed by the ease with which she mirrored Ben’s circular movements even as she directed her focus further inward. “Fairy tales aren’t great to women either,” she pointed out. “They’re always being kidnapped or raped or cursed.” 

“You’re right,” he agreed. The answer was unexpected and delightful and slightly dizzying. He ordered his feet to keep steady.

“I like them,” Rey stated. The shrugging motion of her shoulders was a wave of changing color, the blue and red strobe lights travelling across her back and spine. “They’re not perfect. Nothing is. But I like the symbols left open to interpretation; the deceptively flat illustrations of good and evil. Even though it doesn’t seem like it, fairy tales are about how nothing is inherently right or wrong. It’s all just empty - just nothingness.”

“Real cheery conversation,” Poe cut in. He must have completed another circle of flirting and crashing.  Lifting his fruit punch, he gave a mocking toast: “to new friends: who are inherently empty and no good.”

“Shut up, Poe,” Ben replied, knocking into his shoulder. The insufferable joker merely laughed and sipped from his plastic cup.

“That’s not what I meant,” Rey explained, smiling indulgently. “I meant nothing is set in stone. There are paths we can take, roads we can travel. But we don’t have to take them. The hero doesn’t have to kill the monster. The monster can revert to a human shape.”

“It’s open possibility,” Ben added. “A person can be anything.” He nudged at Poe again, hoping to make him spill his drink on his bomber jacket. Poe simply winked, his grip unerringly steady.

“In fact, it’s a bit idealistic,” Rey conceded. Was her face red from the neon light or was she embarrassed? No, she was definitely embarrassed, but for what reason Ben couldn’t divine. Everything she’d said had been inspired, tastefully light-hearted. What he wouldn’t give to think in such poetry. But Rey, unaware of his inner praises, simply said, “nothing’s that easy.”

“Does being free make change easy?’ Ben added. “Or does it make it hard?” He hated to see her downplay the complexity of her brief but eloquent thoughts. He caught her gaze and then her hand. She let him twirl her in elegant little circles, her hoodie billowing around her as a poor evening gown.

“The escape from freedom,” Poe said, nodding his head sagaciously. Ben and Rey halted their dance to stare at him in astonishment. ‘What?” Poe asked. He huffed in indignation. “I’ve read Erich Fromm. I’m a smart guy.”    

“Of course you are,” Rey said. Poe gave chase but she was too swift for him too catch. Laughing loudly, she added, “I didn’t know you read books!”

Ben was having difficulty keeping track of who was who; Rey and Poe passed back and forth as indistinguishable blue-red blobs. The conversation, the strobe lights, and the exposure to so many people was making him feel a bit heady. Contrary to the tabloids, Ben had never been high before, but he imagined it was something like this - a contented acceptance of the world bleeding scarlet and cerulean all around him. This was letting go of reality as it oozed with painted love.

Maybe he wasn’t quite recovered from his recent head wound.

“Are you okay, Ben?” Rey asked, hanging onto his arm. He was pretty sure he was okay, just floating a bit, but Rey looked him up and down in concern. “Oh, damn it, your heel is bleeding,” she exclaimed. “Your right sock is stained with blood.”

Excusing themselves from the rink, Rey and Ben hobbled over to the grimy benches. Just as Rey said, Ben’s right sock was wet with blood; a blister on his heel had burst. 

“Easy, easy!” Ben told Rey as she peeled the sock from his skin. He could feel his mangled flesh catch in the dark fibers. 

“Sorry, sorry!” she replied, removing the sock a little less roughly. “I’ve never done this before - I don’t get blisters!”

“You already told me that,” Ben pointed out.

“Why do I keep hurting you?” she exclaimed. If there was some all-knowing deity that knew the reasons behind Ben’s suffering, Ben would like to ask it a few questions too. But nobody answered; nobody heard. Only the cashier behind the prize counter was nosy enough to eavesdrop on their conversation, and he winced with sympathetic pain for Ben’s plight. The fact that a pathetic-looking man was pained by Ben’s injury made Ben a bit more resilient. He despised being as weak-hearted as the average joe.

So Ben assured Rey that she could just rip off the sock and, once she had done just that, he assured her that it didn’t hurt at all. However, the cashier had alerted the manager of Ben’s injury, and the big, pale-faced man told Ben and Rey that blood was an unhygienic fluid forbidden on their premises. Rey called him a wimp and a liar, but Ben was more than happy to have an excuse to leave. He’d fallen down a flight of stairs just three days earlier, and the skating and socializing reminded him of just how much blood he had lost.

“You’re looking a bit pale,” Rey said,    

"I’m told that’s my natural complexion,” Ben replied. They sat down on the barriers by the parking lot, giving Ben a chance to apply the antibiotics and bandages Rey had fished out of her purse.

“Is there anything you don’t carry around in there?” Ben asked, casting her purse a suspicious glance. At this point, a penguin could peer out of the patchwork tartan bag, and Ben wouldn’t be surprised.

“Equipment for blood transfusions,” she replied, righting the strap on her shoulder. “I fear you’ll need one if you don’t give yourself a chance to recover.” Then she gestured at the rows of stationary vehicles. “Poe drove you here, right? I’ll give you a ride back to your place.”

Proving to be just as adept as Leia and Poe in waging a battle of wills, Rey easily overruled Ben’s protests and ushered him into her passenger seat. The interior smelled of cleaning chemicals, the traces of a thorough blood stain removal. His exhaustion and the ammonia scent was making him dizzy, so Ben lowered his window and let the cool night air wash over his face. 

Beside him, Rey searched the center console for an appropriate CD.

“No more Judy Garland,” Ben told her. 

“You don’t like Judy Garland?” Rey asked.

“I don’t like your whole ‘fake it ‘til you make it playlist,’” he replied. They passed a few Wendy’s and McDonald’s billboards that mocked Ben’s statement with large artificial smiles. He stuck out his middle finger in return.

“My what?” Rey asked, surprised.

“That fucked up collection of songs you play to keep yourself together,” he explained, unable to tear his attention away from the giant advertisements and their menacing friendliness. Fatigue made his vision swim, so the paintings of happy red-headed girls and smiling yellow lips dripped like bloody victims in a horror movie. Dizzily, Ben thought fast food and gore was a rather poetic combination. “Like hypnotism with lyrics. I think you have the saddest soundtrack I’ve ever heard.”

“I don’t think you have the right to judge my life choices,” Rey replied, her voice striking a funny balance of offended and amused. When Ben merely shrugged his shoulders, still looking out at the nightmarish billboards, she gave an indignant snort. “I have good taste in music. I do! Han always compliments my selections for our road trips.”

In the car’s side mirrors, Ben watched his reflection channel Leia’s disbelieving expression. The billboards faded into the night, and Ben’s elitist sensibilities were too outraged for him to resist an argument.

“My dad likes Western music and 60’s rock. His favorite artists are Johnny Cash and the Rolling Stones,” he stated.

“Exactly!” Rey said. “They’re great. In fact, their songs describe you to a t.” Now she was removing a disk from a generously decorated plastic case and shoving it into her CD player. Ben looked at the CD insert skeptically, noting a recurring theme of travelling alone, losing everything, and smiling through the pain. 

“I hate to tell you this, Rey, but I passed through my emo stage more than ten years ago.” She shoved at him playfully for this remark. Re-reading her playlist, Ben felt an odd sense of camaraderie with her and her frequent road trip buddy, Han Solo. As much as other people labelled Ben dark, they really liked to indulge in masochistic music in the privacy of their own cars.

“Han said this song reminded him of you,” Rey said, hitting the play button.“I’m still undecided.”

The sound of strumming guitars started up, followed by a gravelly voice that crooned:

“I hurt myself today

To see if I still feel.

I focus on the pain,

The only thing that's real…”

“Thank, I hate it,” Ben exclaimed. He banged his skull against his headrest in an effort to traumatize his primary auditory cortex. Rey simply laughed at his distress, cranked the volume up, and sang along:

“Everyone I know goes away in the end…”

Ben’s cell phone buzzed with a message from Poe, asking if he and Rey had killed each other yet. Truthfully, he texted back, we’re getting there.

Then he draped his arms over the passenger side door, laid his cheek against his forearm, cool from the night breeze, and listened to Rey and Johnny Cash sing all the way home.