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A Gift of Hope

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Stupid, stupid, stupid. He’s going to get caught, get turned in. The old key is smoothed to a shine in places now, and it’s growing damp from his sweaty palm. He doesn’t need it, could easily unlock the locker with the Force, but having it, feeling it brings him a modicum of comfort — just like it always has.

When he was younger he delighted in this secret shared between him and Uncle Lando. They never talked about it, he kept it tucked away; in his precious books, rolled up in sheaves of parchment, buried deep in the cup he kept his calligraphy pens in. At one point he had sewed it into his robes at Luke’s academy when his paranoia started to build.

The relief he felt in the aftermath, huddled away in the corner of a cabin inside of Snoke’s ship, when he realized which set of robes he was wearing, that he still had it, cut through the thickness of grief and guilt and the taste of ash on his tongue. He took in great heaving breaths, listening to the chatter from somewhere nearby of the students who’d followed him. What had he done?

He stayed. He stayed and he stayed and broke and broke again, piecing himself back together over and over and still it wasn’t enough, never enough. He would never be enough. He wasn’t enough for his parents, wasn’t enough for Luke or Snoke. He was almost enough for her. He wants to be enough for her, wants to try, won’t ever be worth it.

He tried, broke free from the oppressive hold on his body, his mind. For a moment his future was filled with possibility. Then everything spiraled out of control.

And now he is attempting to travel through Cloud City and not draw attention. An impressive feat, considering Hux is now blasting his visage along with Rey’s as the galaxy’s most wanted pair of criminals all over the HoloNet.

Ben only has a vague idea of where he’s going. It’s been years since he’s been here, but beyond that he’s never explicitly seen the bank of lockers holding whatever this key leads to. Thankfully, there aren’t many. He has to wait a while, people keep coming and going, so he tries to blend in and not look as suspicious as possible.

Finally, he has an opening. He makes his way over, keeping his shoulders hunched and hood up. Finding the number that matches the one etched into the metal of the key, he kneels down and inserts it. He takes a deep breath before turning it and pulling the door open.

Inside are a blaster and a piece of paper. He frowns at it, he knows it’s been here since around the time he was born. A gift. He wonders who gifts a child a blaster. The paper is yellowed with age, but the ink has barely faded, revealing handwriting that is smooth, practiced, almost as nice as his own. ‘Hey, kid, it’s me, Uncle Lando, you ever need help and don’t wanna call your father, come find me, we’ll sort it out.

He grabs the blaster and slams the locker shut, pressing his forehead against the cool surface, eyes squeezed shut as the emotions swell and he struggles to breathe.

“Hey, kid.”

Ben jumps at the voice. Night has fallen. He doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting there like that, but his knees feel numb, and a headache is growing. He’s crumpled a corner of the note in his grip, ruined some of the ink with his tears. Slowly, he turns his head, not removing it from the locker.

He’s older now — though, they both are, but Ben knows it’s him, would probably recognize him anywhere. He’s still got a penchant for capes, and more wrinkles at the corner of his eyes. A mark of a life spent smiling. He isn’t smiling now.

“Uncle Lando,” he croaks, attempting to blink back more tears.

“You look like hell, kid.” They stare at one another for a few moments and finally, Lando sighs and offers his hand. “Come on, you can’t stay out here.”

Ben takes his hand, letting Lando pull him up and then falls into step behind him. Silent as a wraith back through the city. Lando greets multiple people along the way, which worries Ben, but none of them pay him any mind.

“Inside,” Lando says, jerking his head toward the door he’s opened. His home. Ben relaxes minutely hearing the door close and lock behind them both. “Now,” Lando sighs, stepping around him, “I’ll take these.” Blaster and note are yanked from his hands and Ben watches as they’re deliberately set in the center of the table in the dining area.

“Go clean yourself up, kid. Refresher is down the hall to the left. We’ll talk after you’re done.”

Ben leans back against the door and lets his pack fall to the floor. He feels off-balance, more so than usual. Methodically, he strips out of his dirty and worn clothes he’s been traveling in for weeks, kicking them out of the way as he makes his way to the shower. Lando has a standard sonic, but there’s an additional water feature to it. It’s the kind of luxury he expects from his uncle.

Ben turns on the water, sets it as hot as he can stand it and steps into the spray, letting it wash over him for several minutes. He can just make out the muffled voice of his uncle in the other room. Not enough to hear what he’s saying, but he’s talking to someone. The paranoia pulses through him, but Ben reigns it in. If he was really going to turn him back over to the First Order he would have made a scene outside.

He digs through his pack for something that doesn’t smell completely like bantha fur and takes his time getting dressed. For the first time since he escaped, he takes the time to inspect his reflection — he’s lost weight, and his hair is even longer now; it brings out the shadows of his sunken cheeks and the circles that lie like bruises beneath his eyes. Like traitors, his gaze traces the line of her mark, but he forces himself not to touch it.

Finally, he steps into the hall. Quiet music drifts from somewhere and he finds Lando seated on a low couch, blaster and note relocated. They’ve gained companions: two tumblers and what he would guess is Corellian whiskey.

“Have a seat,” Lando says, barely glancing up at him as he enters, gesturing to the couch beside him.

The silence is heavy. Lando fills it by pouring them each a generous glass, sliding Ben’s down the table.

“Drink up, I think we both need a little liquid courage.”

Ben, who spent his formative years with Luke and who was watched at all times by a power-hungry predator, has never had anything so strong. Maybe if he had stayed — if he had become a smuggler like his dad or followed his mother into politics, he’d have had a taste before now. It burns on the way down. He attempts to stifle a cough, but it only makes it worse. The second sip goes marginally better.

“I’ve got a lot I could say, Ben,” Lando starts. “None of it good.” Ben closes his eyes, accepts this with a nod. “But by the look of you, nothing I’m gonna say is gonna cut you deeper than you already have yourself.”

Ben falters, glass shaking in his hands. “I–” his mouth moves, searching for the right words, but the truth is he wants to be yelled at, screamed at, ripped apart and left to lie here until he’s taken into custody.

“You messed up, Ben. Big time.”

“I–yes.”

“But you’re here now. Can’t take back what’s been done, can only move forward. And I promised you a favor. I loved your dad, Ben. Drove me crazy at times, almost got me killed even more often, but he was there for me and I made a promise to be there for you, so I’m gonna follow through.”

It’s more than Ben deserves. More than he could hope to expect.

“I have questions and conditions.”

Ben licks his lips, takes another drink, and manages another nod.

“What happened?”

Two words. Innocuous to almost anyone else, in any other situation.

It’s been months since he killed Snoke, has gotten a tentative hold on merely the tip of how he had been manipulated, shaped. He had been so weak, wanting to prove himself to anyone who would pay attention. But it wasn’t Snoke who plunged Kylo Ren’s saber through the heart of Han Solo.

“Snoke,” Ben breathes out the name, lip curling in distaste and then he quickly slams back the rest of his drink. It’s a fitful start, but slowly Lando pries the whole story from him. Most of it at least. The bits that count.

And after, after he’s spilled his soul, the silence falls thick between them. Lando pours the last of the whiskey and doesn’t say anything when Ben starts crying again.

“I’ve got the guest bedroom all set up for you, Ben. Get some sleep. The rest can wait for morning.” A hand, heavy, warm, meant to comfort rests on Ben’s shoulder for the span of a heartbeat as Lando passes by.

Later, when Ben finally summons the strength to stand and wobbles down the hall to the spare room he can hear crying coming from behind Lando’s closed door.

In the morning, Ben wakes to light on his face and stumbles from his borrowed bed and across the hall to relieve his bladder. He lingers, splashing water on his face, willing the puffiness around his eyes to recede.

When he makes his way out, he follows the sounds Lando is making, loud in the quiet of his home.

“Have a seat,” Lando says, not turning to look at him, but gesturing to the table behind him. “Breakfast is almost ready.” Ben sinks into a chair and watches his uncle work. He can’t figure out if he always cooks like this, or is adding extra flare to his movements for Ben’s benefit.

Ben manages a quiet thank you as a heaping plate is pushed before him. For a while, the only sounds that fill the small space is cutlery scraping across china. Ben doesn’t know how to break the silence.

“So,” Lando drawls, dragging a fork across his plate, “you came here for something. Hope that whatever I stashed in that locker all those years ago would be the answer to all of your problems, maybe? Do you have a plan?”

Ben stares down at his food, barely eaten, and shakes his head. “I just needed out.”

Lando snorts because he knows, everyone knows he’s been run out.

“Did you now? Well, okay, better late than ever.” Ben watches him lean back in his chair and survey him before seeming to come to some decision. He stands.

“This is about a girl, isn’t it? That cute Jedi one? The one your old gang is hunting along with you? Your mom talks about her a lot.”

Ben falters, utensils clattering to the tabletop and coughs. “It’s not about–”

Lando laughs and ruffles Ben’s hair, “Little star fighter — it’s always about a girl with you Solo men.”

Ben swats his arm away, which only makes him laugh harder as Ben sinks into his chair and glares at his breakfast. And then he spins around, finally catching up to what he’s said. “My mother?”

“Yeah, sure. Don’t get a chance to talk frequently, but when we do–”

“She’s alive?” Ben asks, voice hard with urgency as he stands.

Lando snorts, “‘Course she is. Takes more than a broken heart and being jettisoned into space to knock your mom down, not when there’s still something to fight for.”

Ben feels the blackness of guilt sweep in, let’s it mingle with the relief he feels knowing she really is alive, that it’s not some propaganda from the Resistance.

“Can I– can you– Kriff.” Ben pushes a hand through his still sleep-mussed hair, tugging at the ends. “I need to speak with her.”

“That so?” Lando asks, and Ben tenses at the way the man's smile slowly emerges. It’s probably too late to remember he’s a scoundrel like his father had been.

There’s tension in the air and a week ago, a month ago, Kylo would have relished in restraining him with the Force, but Ben — he’s content to wait out the storm.

Lando lets him sweat; goes about the rest of his day with an ‘I’ll see what I can do’, leaving Ben at the kitchen table. Alone.

He meditates, locked up in the apartment Lando has allowed him in. He feels more restless than ever. He lays in bed after waking up from nightmares, trying to control his breathing and his tears. He cleans the blaster, he attempts to make food, because he feels he should try to be useful while he’s here. While Lando risks his life harboring a fugitive.

He’s glaring down at the datapad, tucked awkwardly in a corner of the sofa, knees pulled up towards his chest with the datapad settled on top so his hands stay free to cup his warm mug of caf while he reads. His hair is still damp from his shower and his feet are bare when the front door bursts open. It’s raining. He can hear it now that he’s not locked away in the plush soundproof home.

It’s a testament to his training that he doesn’t flinch, and dips his hand down to his hip where the blaster rests. He fits it into his palm and shifts his angle towards the door. They weren’t expecting company and he’ll be damned if he goes back to Hux without the fight of his life.

But when he lifts his eyes, his body falls slack in shock. The mug shatters on the floor.

Leia is standing there. His mom. She’s here. She stands there as Lando leans against the wall with a smirk. Behind them, Rey lingers next to Chewbacca, who has his arms crossed and is glowering at him.

“Mom,” he gasps. He barely has the wherewithal to avoid the slivers of ceramic, and then he’s in her arms, or she’s in his because she’s so small, and he doesn’t know when that happened. A sob catches in his throat, but she whispers his name, hand brushing his cheek and he falls apart.

His knees ache again, but his mother's hands are caressing his hair as he presses his face against her stomach and cries. He’s a mess of tears and snot and apologies that have come too late, but she’s there, grounding him, soothing him as he begs for forgiveness he doesn’t deserve. She eventually guides him back to the couch and sits down next to him, where she holds his face in her small hands and sheds a few tears of her own.

When he finally calms down he registers the subdued voices coming from the kitchen and he balances. Leia catches his chin.

“Ben.” They sit in that moment as it stretches. “You can still come home.”

“I want to come home,” he confesses, his voice barely a whisper and his eyes closed, more tears escaping as she leans forward and kisses his forehead.

She gets up then and leaves him there. He has so much more to say, so much to apologize for, but it can wait. For now, this is enough.

He staggers into the kitchen. Leia is settled at the table between Rey and Lando. Rey and Lando are playing sabaac while Chewie lingers behind Rey, grunting tips and tricks in clipped Shyriiwook. He wonders when she learned.

“Careful,” Ben rumbles, finding himself surprised at the fact that he’s the one speaking. “Lando cheats.”

“My house, my rules,” the man in question quips. Leia scoffs and Rey rolls her eyes, playing her hand with a straight face.

Later, he gives up his room for his mom and settles back on the couch, newly laid plans running through his mind. He glances up at Lando as he places another bottle of whiskey on the table.

“One drink tonight, kid.” He eases himself down and pours them each a glass. Ben doesn’t drink it, opting instead to watch the light catch on the amber liquid as he swirls it gently in its container.

“Thank you,” Ben says into the quiet, turning to catch Lando’s eye.

“Fight’s not over yet,” he replies after taking a drink, “but you’re welcome. Can’t ever really go home again, or back to the way it was. Too much has happened since then, but you’ve got a real chance to do something here, Ben.” He pauses to drain the rest of his glass. “See you in the morning.”

Ben gets the sense that this isn’t what he meant to close with but he watches Lando stand, squeezing his shoulder as he passes with a gruff goodnight and disappearing down the hall.

He relaxes back into the couch after placing his drink down on the table. He’s exhausted but isn’t tired. His body is in a weird state of existence and he doesn’t like it.

“Is this seat taken?” Her voice is quiet, gentle. It makes him jump.

He shakes his head before remembering he has a mouth, one that can communicate in multiple languages. “No, no it’s not, please,” he gestures at the seat to his left; tries not to remember the last time he said ‘please’ to her.

She sits, almost gingerly, a bit stiff. He doesn’t know how to make himself any smaller on the couch. He drums his fingers on his thighs, rubs them over his pant legs when they become damp with sweat.

“Rey,” he finally says, tone as quiet as hers had been. She shifts, turning slightly towards him, so he moves to match her. Her hair is down and still wet, enough for the ends to dampen the shoulders of the loose tunic she’s wearing. The scar on her arm is still an angry weal of red, and probably will be until she can get near some top-notch healing bots and not the second- and third-rate ones the Resistance uses. She flinches at his touch and he doesn’t even know when he moved. “I’m sorry.”

Her head turns; she catches his eye and shifts so she can also look at her arm.

“I should have–”

She cuts him off with a sharp look. “Protected me?” she asks, voice sharp and clear now. His tongue darts out to wet his bottom lip, bobbing his head slightly with a nod. “I’ve felt worse,” she sighs, turning to face him, the corner of her lip quirking up the slightest bit. “You did, though. Protected me. You killed Snoke, when you could have easily–”

“Don’t say it,” he interrupts, “don’t. I would never.”

“I know. I spent a lot of time being angry with you, Ben. I risked my life for you and you wanted to stay.” She reaches for his hand and squeezes it to keep him quiet. He tries to quell the shudder that runs through him at her touch. “I had convinced myself, as you did, that what I saw — that you would come with me, and when you didn’t...” He watches her sigh then shift closer. “I still mean what I said. I’ll help you, Ben.”

Ben manages to choke out a laugh before his face crumples and he’s crying again. “Out of all the idiots in the universe, I’m sure I’m the one that deserves all of this newfound help the least.” He lifts her hand to his face, presses against it. “I’m sorry.”

“You’ve torn yourself apart, Ben. I think it’s time you let yourself heal. And if that involves help, that’s okay.”

“You should hate me.”

“You forget we’re connected. I can feel you, your pain. It’s been hard to ignore. I would have come sooner, but I didn’t know where you were.” Gently, she maneuvers him until his head is on her lap and she’s combing her fingers through his hair. “You can’t kill the past, Ben. Part of who we all are is where we come from. I know your past isn’t great, mine isn’t great either, but without all of that I wouldn’t be me.”

“I could be better.”

“You still can. Come with me this time, Ben. We’ll get our faces off the HoloNet, we can help your mom. Bringing peace to the galaxy, if that’s something you really want, that seems like a real group effort. One group controlling everything will only breed further dissent.”

Ben snorts into her thigh. “How much time have you been spending with my mother?”

“Not like I have much choice. I almost got caught the last time I went out on a mission, so now I stay on base. Obviously, except for now. Lando promised I’d be safe, but I would have found a way to get here even if it wasn’t.”

He smiles again, knows it’s true. She jettisoned herself through space into the arms of the enemy once already.

“Rey.” Her hand stills in his hair and he reaches up for it. “Thank you.”

“Get some sleep, Ben.”

He drifts off to the feeling of her hands on him, gentle, soothing, and humming a disjointed tune. When he wakes up sometime in the middle of the night, his arms are wrapped around her, pressing her into the back of the couch, and a blanket has been draped over them. He shifts carefully, pulling her to lay on his chest and notices the whiskey and glasses have been cleaned up from the table. His cheeks warm with a blush at having been caught sleeping with a woman in his arms, a woman who whimpers quietly, fingers curling around his shirt before relaxing back into sleep. Tentatively, he runs his arm —mostly asleep from being trapped beneath her — up and down her back. He grits his teeth at the pins and needles feeling and continues touching her anyway.

“That feels nice,” her whisper surprises him and he grunts when she throws a leg over his thigh.

“We’re on a couch in my uncle’s living room.”

“I know. Everyone is dressed; nothing inappropriate is happening.”

“My mother is in the other room,” he tries, shifting beneath her. Rey only snorts in response and then shifts again so she isn’t quite so close.

“This feels like a dream.”

“It’s real, Ben. You get to come home in the morning — if you want.” It’s a sleepy slur that he barely makes out and then she’s gone, snoring against his neck.

“I do want that.” He says it to the ceiling. It isn’t going to be easy, he knows this. Has a pile of sins to atone for, but for the first time in a long time, since he had reached across the galaxy and touched Rey, he has hope. Feels the warmth of it in his chest. He probably won’t ever be able to convey the depth of his gratitude to Lando, but when it’s over, if they survive, he’s going to do his best to show him, to not squander this gift of a second chance.