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so a smuggler walks into an orphan's bar...

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The first time Ben Solo stumbles upon Jakku, he is a man on the run.

With his mother furious about his first solo smuggling run and his father too scared to defend his life choices, he’s left with no choice but to stay away until the whole mess dies down. It’s a tried and true tactic for dealing with Leia Organa, passed down from one Solo man to another, and Ben knows in a week or two some galactic emergency or another will successfully divert his mother’s attention from his not-so-legal activities.

Until then, he just needs to lay low – maybe spend a few days visiting his uncle until he gets sick of Luke lamenting the lost opportunity to pass on all he knows to his own flesh and blood, then pop by Takodana to pay old Maz a visit until she traumatizes him with her musings on Chewie’s… attributes, and finally cap it all off with a nice few days in Canto Bight to scout out some new opportunities before returning home just in time for his mother’s birthday.

First things first, though: he needs fuel, and urgently. It’s not an ideal situation to be in when one happens to be in the middle of kriffing nowhere, drifting dangerously close to the Unknown Regions, but the Appenza’s navigation system offers him a ray of hope just before Ben starts cursing his luck: a tiny, desolate system with only one planet to its name, the infamous Jakku.

There are two things Ben knows about Jakku: one, that this is where the dying Empire made its last stand; and two, that that was the only thing of any importance that ever happened on and to the planet.

Well, make that three things: three, it’s about to refuel his ship and save his ass.

With no other viable options, he charts a course for the desert planet and soon finds himself landing near Niima Outpost, his best bet to refuel according to the HoloNet. His ship draws a few looks, new as it is, but Ben would take this scrutiny over all the trouble and danger he’d gotten himself into while flying the Falcon any day, every day.

It doesn’t take long to find the right people and strike the right deal; just ten minutes after making planetfall, Ben finds himself with a refueling ship and an hour to kill. There doesn’t seem to be much going on in this tiny ramshackle outpost, but a familiar flag catches his eye before he resigns himself to spending the next hour in his ship.

“It can’t be,” Ben mutters even as he chuckles under his breath and shakes his head in disbelief at the image of Maz Kanata so far from home. The flag bears an exact replica of the statue that welcomes all wayward travelers to her castle in Takodana, along with the name Maz’s Castle in stylized Basic. Why she would choose to set up a location here of all places is a mystery, but then again no one’s ever claimed to understand any of Maz’s choices.

He follows the flag to one of the very few solid-looking structures in the outpost, and a sign hanging above the double doors assures him that this is, indeed, a location of the popular galaxy-wide chain. Inside, the bar is smaller than most of the locations he’s been to, but the set-up is comfortingly familiar. He spots less than a handful of locals, easily identifiable by their worn-out and climate-appropriate clothing, along with a dozen or so traders and smugglers and passers-by scattered around the place. But none of them manage to capture – and hold – his attention the way the girl behind the bar does.

“Welcome to Maz’s!” she calls out with a grin, waving at him with the rag she’d been using to polish the bar. Hers is the first friendly face he’s seen since his arrival, and Ben can’t help but gravitate toward her, planting himself in the seat closest to where she stands. “Not often we get new faces around here,” the girl tells him as she sets down her rag, and something about the way she speaks doesn’t quite sit right with him until he realizes–

“Your accent,” Ben hears himself blurt out to his horror, and immediately shuts his mouth. “Shit, I’m sorry, I– I was just surprised to hear a Core World accent so far from home, that’s all.”

She laughs, and the sound is even more of a revelation than placing her accent, a little giggle all light and airy and brighter than the scorching Jakku sun. “It’s a long story,” she says as her laugh fades into a smile, and leaves it at that. “So, what can I get you?”

He’d reconsider his order if this were any other bar so far from the Core, but Ben can’t imagine any establishment of Maz’s without some top-shelf stuff, even one so far out in the Western Reaches. “Corellian whiskey please, if you’ve got it.”

The girl raises an eyebrow at him, but turns around to pluck a bottle off the shelf anyway. “Fancy,” she quips as she pours him a glass and Ben roots around his pockets. “You really are from the Core, aren’t you?”

“Chandrila,” he tells her as he slides a few credits across the bar, and accepts his drink with a murmured thanks as he takes a sip. “I’m Ben, by the way.”

“Rey,” she offers in return, and Ben can’t quite hide the way he smiles at how perfect her name is for her. It only grows wider when she says his name in that proper accent and cheery voice of hers. “So, Ben – like I said, it’s not often we get new faces around here. What brings you to Jakku?”

“Huh,” Ben says to buy himself some time, weighing exactly how much to reveal. Rey’s given him no reason to distrust her, but he’s spent far too long bearing the names Organa and Solo to just throw caution to the wind whenever he sees a pretty face. Never mind that her smile makes him want to do exactly that, that her laugh puts him at ease in a way nothing else can. “Really? Place like this, I figured just about everyone passes through.”

She scoffs, though her smile remains. “No one passes through Jakku, not unless you’re on a one-way trip to the Unknown Regions.”

Ben tilts his head. “Can’t imagine why,” he deadpans, looking at her with a completely straight face. “Seems like a charming place, if you ask me.”

Rey bursts into laughter – a proper, full laugh this time – and he takes in every single detail even as he joins her. She laughs with abandon, lips parted and head thrown back and eyes bright, and he can’t imagine a more beautiful sight. Her eyes are not quite brown and not quite green, a kaleidoscope of gold and olive shimmering in the sunlight pouring in from the windows on either end of the bar.

And in the Force… he closes his eyes for a brief moment, and feels nothing but warmth in the Force, set ablaze by her presence. She’s not quite Force-sensitive, not as far as he can tell, but her energy is so vibrant he’d easily believe otherwise.

That, above all else, convinces Ben to finally let his guard down. He’s no Jedi, but he knows the Force, has known it since the day he was born and will walk with it until the day he dies – and the Force has never led him astray.

“I’m on the run from my mother,” Ben says, and relishes the way Rey instantly rests her elbows on the bar and leans in closer, giving him her full attention. “She’s… let’s just say she doesn’t fully approve of my life choices.”

“So you are a smuggler,” Rey grins, sounding pleased with herself.

Ben, ever the victim of terrible timing, nearly chokes on his drink. “What– wait– how did you…?”

She reaches out as if to take his hand, only to stop herself at the last second and rest her hand next to his instead, almost but not quite touching. “Calm down,” she murmurs gently, though the proximity of their hands has the opposite effect. “You won’t get into any trouble for that here. It’s just– news spreads fast, here in Niima. News about a brand new ship and a well-dressed man who refuses to give out his name? That spreads even faster. But, like I said,” Rey shrugs, “there’s no trouble here, not unless you’re looking for it. We’ve got smugglers coming and going all the time – you leave us in peace, and so will we.”

His instincts, honed from nearly a decade with his father and Chewie, are at war with the Force. No smuggler is ever really safe anywhere, especially not a Solo, but… but if Rey says so…

“I thought you said you don’t get many new faces passing by,” Ben reminds her, relaxing despite himself as he downs the rest of his whiskey.

“Jakku’s not a particularly exciting place, not even for smugglers,” she tells him as she slowly inches her hand away. “We just get regulars, and even those are dwindling in numbers now that most everything from the big battle has been picked cleaned.”

It’s almost jarring, hearing her refer to the Battle of Jakku so casually; flying past the hollowed-out carcasses of downed Star Destroyers and AT-ATs on his way to the outpost had been equally surreal, after a childhood filled with history classes on the Empire’s doomed final stand.

“So you see why a new face around these parts has us all curious,” Rey continues, resting her chin in one hand as she looks at him. “Why Jakku, anyway? Core World smuggler like you, you could probably go anywhere else in the galaxy to wait out your mother’s wrath.”

Ben winces at the reminder, even though Rey had meant it teasingly. “You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But there are surprisingly few places you can hide from your mother when she’s a senator like mine is. And anyway,” he hurriedly adds, hoping to gloss past that little bit of information, “I’m not actually here to stay. Just needed to refuel so that I can make the jump to my next destination.”

The smile on Rey’s face is gone now, as she shifts away from him just the slightest bit. It’s the senator thing, it has to be. Realistically, Ben knows not everyone is a huge fan of the New Republic, not even those who’d suffered the most under the Empire’s rule. Here on Jakku, one of the struggling planets the new government has been accused of forgetting and turning its back on… well, he really should’ve thought twice before mentioning his mother’s affiliation with the government.

In his haste to change the topic, Ben completely forgets his earlier blunder and takes it even further. “What about you? How’d a young lady from the Core end up bartending here in Jakku, anyway?”

He’s got to be the luckiest bastard in the galaxy, because thankfully Rey doesn’t react to his rude prying by throwing his drink in his face the way he’d been expecting. “I’m no lady,” she says instead, with a little laugh, “and I’m not just the bartender, for the record. You’re looking at the sole proprietor of the finest – all right, only – bar in the whole Jakku system.”

It’s adorable, the little note of pride that enters her voice and the way she straightens up a bit, the way she gestures at their surroundings with a little flourish. “Probably the youngest one too,” Ben adds, playing along. “You can’t be… what, more than twenty?”

Rey gives him a knowing look, but subtlety has never been a Solo trait anyway.

“Less than, actually,” she tells him anyway. “I’ll be nineteen soon.”

Ten years. She’s a whole ten years younger than him, and Ben can’t really bear to focus on that right now. “Wow, you’ve got your whole life ahead of you.” And then, after a moment’s consideration of that life and all the possibilities it holds and the vast nothingness that surrounds her in this desert, he adds, “Are you… are you planning to stay here? It’s just– like you said, things are dying down around this part of the galaxy, and if people stop visiting then… well…” he trails off with a shrug, coming to the belated realization that he’s being rude and invasive yet again.

It’s like something inside of him is clamoring for every single bit about her, of her, that he can get his hands on, for the opportunity to get to know her even though he’s set to leave in… less than an hour.

The reminder feels like ice running through his veins.

Rey seems oblivious to his internal panicking. “This is all I’ve ever known,” she says, as if that’s all there is to it.

“But–” A desperate idea occurs to him then. “But is it all you want? Because if you want more– if you want to leave…” Ben takes a deep breath, tries to play it cool. “I mean,” he says with a shrug, “I do happen to have a brand new ship waiting for me just outside.”

She smiles at him, but Ben’s heart drops because he’s seen that smile, he knows that smile, his mother might not have been around for much of his childhood but she’d been around just long enough to drill that smile and what it means when a woman flashes it at him into his head.

It’s a polite smile, it’s a thanks but no thanks smile, it’s a no means no, Ben, even if she can’t find the voice to say so to someone with your size and your name and your power smile.

“And you probably shouldn’t keep it waiting much longer,” Rey says softly, and after a moment’s hesitation she does reach for him this time, rests her small palm on top of his hand and gives it an almost apologetic pat. As far as consolation prizes go… well, he’ll take it.

Slowly, ever so slowly, he turns his hand around to lace their fingers together, keeping his grip loose enough for Rey to pull her hand away at any time.

She gives him a little squeeze instead. “It was nice meeting you, Ben. Stay safe, yeah?”

“You’re acting as if we’ll never see each other again,” he says with a forced little laugh, trying to keep his voice light and teasing even as his heart grows heavy at the thought.

Rey shrugs, and takes her hand away, wraps it around herself instead. “You were never here to stay,” she reminds him, sounding almost… almost disappointed by the thought. “And no one comes back to Jakku. Can’t blame them, really,” Rey adds, throwing in a hollow laugh of her own.

And he knows she gave him the smile, knows and understands and respects what it means, but… but surely all of this – the hand-holding and the dim eyes and the hollow laugh – means something too.

The Force tells him it does, reminds him once again how warm and vibrant and familiar she feels to him. And because it’s never led him astray, because he desperately wants to believe in it, because Rey should be a stranger but stars, that couldn’t be further from the truth–

“Well, I guess I’ll be the first,” Ben says as he reluctantly gets up, and knows in that moment that nothing will keep him from fulfilling this promise. “I’ll see you soon, Rey.”

“See you soon, Ben,” she echoes weakly, with the mere ghost of a smile. She’s clearly not convinced, but there’s something in her eyes as she watches him walk away, something that he recognizes in himself.

Hope, Ben thinks as he walks back out into the desert, and prays it’ll be enough for the both of them until they meet again. 

 


 

The second time Ben Solo lands on Jakku, he is a man on a mission.

News spreads fast, he remembers Rey telling him two weeks ago, remembers every single word and look and smile she shared with him. Still, he hurries over to the bar anyway, hoping to beat Jakku’s gossips to the punch and surprise her.

Judging by the look on her face when she glances up from the bar and sees him in her doorway, by the audible gasp that escapes her parted lips and the barely visible sheen of emotion in her eyes and the slight tremor in her hands as she sets down a glass, he’s somehow pulled it off.

“You came back,” Rey whispers as he comes to a stop just two feet away, separated by the bar between them.

“I came back,” Ben says with a nod as he slides into the seat he already thinks of as his, and rests his hands palms-up on the bar in a silent offering. Rey takes them in her own with a shaky smile, her touch warm and comforting and familiar even though it shouldn’t be.

In the past two weeks, he’s realized there are a lot of things about him and her and them that shouldn’t be – but over his dead body is he going to question any of them. Instead, he holds her hands until she pulls away, and watches her reach for the bottle of Corellian whiskey without prompting.

The bar is slightly busier today, with patrons calling Rey away from him more often than not. “They brought in a good haul this morning,” Rey tells him as she assembles another round for a band of scavengers in the far corner, “so it’s time to celebrate.”

“Good for them,” Ben says, though he wonders what exactly is left to qualify as a good haul in picked-apart wreckages older than him.

Rey smiles as she begins to load the drinks onto a tray. “And good for me,” she points out. “Between their endless celebrations and my favorite customer coming back for the good stuff, business is booming.”

It’s a good thing she heads off to deliver the drinks then, because Ben’s pretty sure she wouldn’t have believed him if he’d tried to dismiss the pink in his cheeks as sunburn.

Eventually, the scavengers grudgingly agree with Rey when she cuts them off after four rounds and suggests they keep their precious credits for more responsible uses. The place is left half empty after they leave, and a relieved Rey chooses to slump into the seat next to his rather than return to her spot behind the bar.

“Hello, stranger,” she grins as she moves her chair closer to his, playfully bumping his shoulder before she spins around in her chair so that she can keep an eye on the remaining patrons.

Ben takes a moment to adjust to the fact that she’s right next to him, closer than she’s ever been, and then turns around as well. This way, facing the door and the windows on either side of it, he can see the blinding Jakku sky slowly fade into a beautiful swirl of pinks and oranges as the sun begins its gradual descent.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Rey asks after a moment, and he turns to find her observing him with a little smile on her lips. “I know it isn’t much, this desert wasteland of ours, but even in a place like this… there’s beauty to be found, if you care to look.”

I wasn’t even looking when I found you, Ben thinks to himself, and nearly says so out loud.

Instead, he shrugs and smiles and says, “I guess it’s not so bad, after all.”

Rey laughs out loud, attracting curious looks from the handful of others surrounding them. “Oh no, it’s a hellhole, trust me. The view’s nice and all, but everything else?” She pauses for a moment, seems to weigh her words before she speaks again. “I wonder sometimes, what my life would’ve been like if I didn’t have the bar. I’ve seen how it is out there, how everyone else struggles day in and day out only to get the bare minimum, just enough to carry them through the next day of scavenging. I… I honestly don’t know if I could’ve made it through that,” she admits quietly.

Ben reaches for her hand without thought. “Rey… I probably don’t know enough about you for this to mean anything, but… I think you’re stronger than you know. I think there’s nothing out there you can’t do, if you put your mind to it.”

He doesn’t explain himself, can’t quite put into words how vivid and brilliant she is in the Force, but he doesn’t need to. Rey curls her hand around his, and her lips curve into a soft smile.

“And I think you’re probably the nicest person I’ve ever met,” she says, only to ruin the moment by adding, “Oh, except maybe Maz. Probably wouldn’t be alive without her, so I can’t forget good old Maz.”

Rey lets go of his hand and spins around, gestures for him to do the same before she points out a little statue of Maz sitting on the highest shelf of the bar. “Have you ever met her? They say all smugglers have, at some point or another.”

Ben can’t help but laugh. “Maz? I’ve known her my whole life,” he tells a stunned Rey. “No, really – she’s an old friend of my dad’s. And funny story, she’s actually why I decided to come check out this place the first time I was here. I saw the flag and I just had to drop by.”

“Small galaxy, I suppose,” Rey shrugs, her eyes dancing with mirth. “I’ll have to tell her about this the next time she drops by; you know she loves these little coincidences.”

“Coincidence, or fate?” Ben says before his brain can catch up to his heart, and instantly regrets it. He could play it off as a joke, could even spin it into something Maz would say, but… but it’s not a joke, not to him. Sure, Ben believes in coincidences – even with the Force flowing around and through every living being, sometimes things just… happen, and that’s that. But for him to have ended up in this system of all the stars in the galaxy, to have chosen Niima Outpost of all the settlements, to have caught a glimpse of Maz’s flag and then made the uncharacteristic decision to leave his ship unguarded in a strange place just to check it out…

He knows, with a certainty that his father would laugh at and his uncle would approve of, that nothing about him and Rey is coincidental. But maybe their second meeting isn’t the right time to tell her that, and so Ben settles for a change of topic instead. “How do you know Maz, anyway? I mean, apart from the obvious, of course.” He waves his hand around, gesturing vaguely at the establishment they’re in. “How’d you come to run and own the place?”

Somehow, Rey had seemed less unsettled by his suggestion of them being brought together by fate than she is by his seemingly innocuous question. He’s about to backtrack and tell her she doesn’t need to tell him anything she doesn’t want to when Rey lets out a little sigh and then squares her shoulders as if bracing herself for battle, fixing her eyes on the window beyond his shoulder as she begins to speak.

“When I was four, my parents heard that Maz was hiring, looking for people interested in exciting business opportunities. I guess there’s no business opportunity more exciting than running a bar for a couple of alcoholics,” she says casually, too casually, and throws in a bitter little laugh. “They got their shit together just long enough to pass the interview, and then uprooted our family from Coruscant and moved all the way here. And then… well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how that equation would work out, does it? Alcoholics surrounded by a free flow of alcohol every single minute of their lives.”

For some reason, it doesn’t quite surprise him that Rey’s an orphan. Maybe it’s just based on his perception of Jakku in general, and its reputation in the galaxy as the place where the lost and the lonely go when there is nowhere and no one left for them to call home. But her next words… her next words shake him to his core.

“I was eight, when it finally happened. And I… I didn’t even cry, Ben,” she whispers, her eyes finally meeting his with a glassy, faraway look. “I found my parents dead in a puddle of their own sick, and I didn’t even cry. I just… I knew it’d been coming, I suppose, so I just did what I had to do. I figured Maz would come eventually, if she realized something was wrong, so I boarded up the place and waited. And sure enough, she arrived a week later to find my parents barely hidden away in the shallow graves I’d dug out back and me surviving off bar snacks and water.”

Ben can’t help the way he flinches then, at the thought of little Rey trying her best to dig graves for her parents in the shifting sands of Jakku. He wants to hold her close and promise her nothing bad will ever happen to her again, he wants to rip apart the fabric of time and space to make sure nothing bad ever happened to her in the first place, he wants so badly to be able to do something, anything–

But Rey doesn’t seem to be in search of comfort. “I thought of leaving – I mean, I was just a child, I couldn’t fathom going on like this completely on my own, especially here of all places – but Maz stayed around long enough to set things up for me, arranged for people to come help and train and take care of me until I could take care of myself. And I’ve been running this place ever since,” she concludes with a shrug. “So um, to answer your question without the tragic backstory,” Rey adds with a touch of self-consciousness, dropping her gaze down to the bar top as she bites into her lower lip, “I inherited the place, plain and simple.”

That finally spurs him into action, the sight of her retreating from him. Ben reaches out for her hand, and waits until she turns to look at him to say, “You really are stronger than you know, Rey. Strongest person I’ve ever met, and I think my mother would kill me for saying that,” he adds in an attempt to lighten the mood.

It works, because Rey laughs and fully turns her body to him as she rests her elbow on the bar and uses her free hand to prop her head up. “You know, that’s only the second time you’ve mentioned your mother and I’m already terrified of her. Which senator are we talking about, here?”

And it’s stupid, it’s so, so stupid what he’s about to do, but how could he possibly lie to Rey after all she’s shared with him, after all she’s trusted him with? Ben takes a deep breath, and makes a choice.

“Have you heard about the senator from Chandrila?”

Rey lets go of his hand and nearly falls out of her chair as the arm holding her up fails her.  “Shut up. Your mother is Leia Organa?”

In light of the obvious awe in her voice and her eyes, Ben is forced to reconsider his assessment of her political opinions from the last time he’d broached the subject. But if her reaction that day hadn’t been about the senate, then what…?

Before he can ponder it much further though, Rey’s punching his arm. “You’re Leia Organa and Han Solo’s son! You’re Luke Skywalker’s nephew!” she whisper-hisses, careful not to broadcast his identity to the rest of the bar. “Ben, you– you’re unbelievable! You let me think you were just some random guy!”

“I am just some random guy,” he insists, rubbing at his arm. Unsurprisingly for someone who’s had to fend for herself in the desert, Rey packs quite a punch. “My family are who they are, but that doesn’t mean or say anything about me. I’m not some war hero or Jedi knight or royalty–”

Rey, however, seems to think otherwise. “Oh my kriff, you’re a prince,” she gasps, though he appreciates the fact that she looks more irritated than starry-eyed by the realization.

“Only in name,” Ben tells her – and then, a thought occurs to him. A thought that is, as much as it pains him to say it, probably exactly the kind of thing his father would’ve come up with. “Though I do have a palace I can whisk you away to, if you want.”

To his eternal mortification, Rey does not laugh. She smiles, but just barely as she quietly notes, “That’s the second time you’ve offered to take me away.”

Ben gulps, and can only hope it was not audible. “No pressure,” he quickly assures her, not quite sure what to make of her reaction and the little smile that’s still playing on her lips. “Just, um… just letting you know that the offer still stands, if you ever change your mind.”

She’s quiet for the longest time, but the wait is worth it when Rey says, “Someday. Someday I’ll leave this place and go explore the galaxy, see for myself what oceans and forests and mountains look like.”

His heart aches for her, for the obvious longing in her voice and all the things she’s been deprived of and everything she deserves but isn’t ready for. “When you do…” Ben says softly, carefully. “I’ll be right by your side – if you want me to, that is, I’m not saying you’ll be stuck with me or that a ride off the planet comes with terms and conditions or–”

It’s worth the humiliation, the slight laugh Rey gives him as she reaches out and slowly, hesitantly curves her hand around his cheek. If he leans into her touch with a sigh… well, that’s between the two of them, and Rey has the good grace not to comment on it. “I’d like that,” she says instead, with a smile it physically hurts him not to kiss. “I’d like that very much.”

“Okay,” he whispers, his lips perhaps a touch too close to her hand, and they lapse into a warm, comfortable silence as the sun dips beneath the horizon. When it’s finally time for him to leave, to get back to his ship while he still has one, Rey stares at him with a look of intense concentration on her face until she suddenly throws herself into his arms and burrows into his chest.

“I’ll see you soon, Ben,” she murmurs against his racing heart, which skips a beat when he senses the hidden question in her tone.

“See you soon, Rey,” he promises, and leaves with the knowledge that this time, she believes him.

 


 

The third time Ben Solo visits Jakku, he is a man following his heart.

It’s barely been two weeks this time, but he can’t help himself. None of the jobs his father contacts him about seem worth his time, none of the sights he normally marvels at measure up to Rey, none of his family’s many properties across the galaxy feel like home anymore.

Jakku calls to him like a beacon, with Rey at the very heart of it all.

When he finally has her in his arms again, a part of Ben wishes he didn’t have to leave. It’s wishful thinking though, and he shoves the thought aside to focus on the present, on Rey and the way her eyes light up when she sees him again and the way her touches have grown bolder and more comfortable. The longer he stays, the harder it is to even consider leaving – and then, nature makes the decision for him.

Rey’s laughing as he regales her with the tale of a childhood dance lesson gone wrong, her setting aside clean glasses for the night and him stacking chairs up onto the tables, when they first hear it. Ben’s heard the wind wail before, but this is a shriek, a painful sound accompanied by the harsh grating of sand relentlessly battering the walls and windows of the bar.

“Oh no,” Rey says as she looks out the window into the darkened desert. “Ben, I think you’re stuck here for the night.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” he teases even as he comes to stand next to her, their concerned faces reflected in the window. “Is the bar going to be okay?”

“It’s survived far worse,” she tells him with a shrug. “Your ship should be fine too; the storm doesn’t look too bad, just bad enough to keep everyone indoors.”

Ben casts a look around the empty bar. “I’ll be fine,” he assures Rey. “A blanket would be nice if you could spare one, but I’ve slept in worse.”

When he turns back to her, she’s looking at him with a barely suppressed smile. “Did you really think I was going to make you sleep here? On the floor?”

“Well, I’m pretty sure the bar’s not wide enough for me–”

Ben,” Rey laughs with a shake of her head, and then reaches for his hand. “Come on, there’s plenty of room downstairs.”

He supposes it makes sense, building underground rather than upward in a place so susceptible to volatile winds, but Ben’s still a little too puzzled by the developments of the last five minutes to really pay attention or react as Rey leads him behind the bar and turns off the lights in the main area before she guides him down a staircase ordinarily kept out of view by the shelves.

“I turned my old room into a storeroom,” Rey tells him as the basement comes into view, a closed door ahead and another to their left. “And the cot was built for a child, so it’s not like you’d fit anyway.” He doesn’t quite realize what she’s getting at until she reaches for the door in front of them, and opens it to reveal a decently-sized room that has to be hers, clothes stacked in semi-neat piles on a threadbare couch and hardy little desert plants lining the walls and…

And one bed, just about big enough for two.

Rey shuts the door behind them. “’Fresher’s through there,” she says, letting go of his hand to point out a door next to her couch. “I’ve got an actual shower, so hopefully my humble abode will live up to your smuggler standards at least, if not your princely ones,” she adds teasingly.

Ben gives her a slight laugh as he curiously heads toward the ‘fresher and opens the door to find that she was serious about the shower. “How?” he asks in bewilderment as he twists a creaky knob that prompts water, actual water, to flow out of the showerhead. It’s nothing to brag about, not even by smuggler standards, but he imagines this has to be the height of luxury for a desert dweller.

“Not bad, is it?” Rey asks, coming to lean against the ‘fresher door with a smile. “What a lot of people don’t know is that this bar stands on the exact spot of Niima the Hutt’s original temple, and she spared no expense when she had that constructed. This is probably the only structure on all of Jakku with running water, courtesy of a pipe that runs deep into the planet, all the way down to whatever source of water’s left from before the Calamity.”

“I’m guessing Maz knew that when she decided to set up shop here?” Ben asks as they make their way out of the cramped ‘fresher and back into the daunting sight of her bedroom and its single bed. It’s not that he doesn’t welcome the opportunity to lie next to her, of course he does, but he doesn’t want Rey to feel like she has to invite him into her space.

But then again, he’d made it clear that he was perfectly content to stay upstairs and she’d been the one to bring him down here…

Rey turns her back to him and starts digging through her piles of clothing and sheets and towels. “Probably,” she says, carefully retrieving a small bundle of clothing from the precarious stacks. “I wish I had something for you to change into, but…”

Right. Clothes to change into, so that they can get to sleep. Together. In the same bed. “I, um,” Ben clears his throat. “I’ll be fine.”

“Right. Good,” Rey nods, suddenly bashful. “Do you mind if I shower first?”

“Go ahead,” he says, and waits until the ‘fresher door closes behind Rey before he closes his eyes, pinches the bridge of his nose, and takes several deep breaths.

“She wouldn’t have volunteered if she wasn’t comfortable with this,” Ben reminds himself, and a cursory sweep of the Force reveals that Rey is comfortable, her presence warm and soothing and electrified by the slightest bit of excitement.

Sufficiently comforted, he makes it through the rest of the evening with little trouble. In fact, it’s all a little… domestic, Ben decides as he comes out of the ‘fresher to find the lights off and Rey already in bed, arranging two pillows next to each other and folding back the blanket on what he assumes is his side of the bed in invitation. She blinks at the sight of him stripped down to his boxers and undershirt, but invites him into bed with a pat on his pillow anyway. He switches off the light in the ‘fresher, plunging them into complete darkness, and waits until his eyesight has adjusted before crossing the room.

“It gets cold at night,” Rey explains as he holds up the blanket in a silent question, and promptly shuffles into his arms when he finally lies down next to her. “You’re much better than a blanket,” is all she offers up as explanation, along with a contented little sigh.

He takes that as permission to properly wrap his arms around her, and closes his eyes when Rey happily swings an arm around his waist in return. She’s so small and warm and soft in his arms, so comfortable and at home this way that he can’t help but relax into their shared embrace as well. Sleep is already beckoning when Rey suddenly whispers into the night.

“Ben?”

“Hmm?” he hums, lips brushing her forehead.

“The first time we met… why did you offer to take me off this planet, even back when we were complete strangers?” Rey asks, and suddenly every single part of him is wide awake and tense with nerves. He won’t, can’t lie to her, but there’s very little he can say to a woman he’s only met three times while holding her in his arms in her bed without scaring her off.

But first– “You’ve never felt like a stranger to me, not even that first day,” he admits, figuring that’s safe enough for now. “There’s just… there’s something about you, Rey.”

He can feel her smile against his chest. “I feel it too,” she murmurs, and presses a kiss to his neck.

And that’s when Ben begins to stammer. “I’m not… it’s just… I’m not saying you can’t look after yourself, I know you can, but… I was just worried, I guess. Is it safe for you here? And okay, I guess it is since you’ve been on your own since you were eight–” He cuts himself off with a wince then, wondering how his attempt to evade the true depth of his feelings for her had ended up with him reminding her of her painful loss.

For the first time in his life, Ben finds himself empathizing with the way his father always, always finds a way to make things worse when he tries to talk himself out of some mess with Ben’s mom.

Thankfully, Rey doesn’t pull away from him, doesn’t even tense up in his arms. “I wasn’t alone, not really,” she mumbles, lips warm against his skin. “I had Maz’s people, remember? They stayed with me for a bit, and then they’d come check up on me every once in a while. Besides, I wasn’t in any real danger. None of the locals would have hurt me, not back then.”

Ben shifts to get a proper look at Rey, careful not to jostle her in the process. “Why’s that?”

She lifts her head from his chest to return his gaze. “This is your third time here. Have you ever seen any kids around?”

He considers the question for a moment, runs through his brief time here on Jakku… and realizes that he has never seen anyone younger than Rey. “I… I never noticed.”

“Children are precious here,” she says. “Jakku is no place to raise a child, so barely anyone tries to. The kids we do have, we all take care of. So in a way, everyone you see here kind of played a part in raising me.”

It’s an odd concept, but one he’s certainly familiar with on a certain level. “They do say it takes a village,” Ben finally says.

“Especially when you don’t have parents,” Rey adds quietly, and it’s perhaps the first and only time he’s heard her actually sound forlorn by the fact.

His first instinct is to comfort her, and he rolls with it before he can overthink the execution. “Sometimes even when you do,” Ben says, and waits for Rey’s reaction to determine what comes next.

She turns on her stomach and props herself up with one hand, staring expectantly at him in the dark. Ben sighs and rolls onto his back, closing his eyes as he slowly gathers his thoughts and weaves them into words. “Turns out, growing up with a princess and a smuggler for parents isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be.”

He can’t believe he’s telling her his pitiful sob story about his parents when she grew up with none, but Rey reaches out and runs a hand through his hair and… and for the very first time, Ben feels like this story he’s kept close to his chest all his life might actually be worth sharing, and sharing with her.

“I’m not… I’m not saying they’re bad people. They’re amazing people, who’ve done amazing things, but… doing amazing things takes up a lot of time – time that normal people might have spent on comforting their kid after a nightmare or explaining the Force to him when he started lashing out or sticking around for a bit after dropping a bombshell revelation about his grandfather instead of running off to the senate to protect your reputation–”

Rey’s hand is still carding through his hair, soothing and grounding him before he can get lost in his own memories.

“They… they tried their best,” Ben says, more for his own benefit than Rey’s. “Eventually, my mother decided to send me to my uncle for training. She’s strong with the Force, always has been, but she’s spent her whole life trying to suppress it. So when my abilities started growing out of control, she thought maybe I needed Luke more than I needed her.”

She’d thought wrong, but Ben tries not to focus on that, on what could have been. “My dad… he agreed, at first. He still thinks all this Force stuff is mumbo-jumbo, but he just wanted the best for me. So I packed my things, said goodbye to my mom, and got on his ship. I don’t know if it was something in my eyes, or my voice, or maybe just paternal intuition kicking in eighteen years too late, but my dad, he just… he kept looking at me, and then just as we were about to arrive he turned the ship around. And then he said…” He turns to Rey, finds her hand in the darkness and allows himself a smile at the memory. “I’ll never forget it. He said Force mumbo-jumbo or not, you’re still my son. And I’m still your father, dammit, and it’s about time I start acting that way.

Rey squeezes his hand, and smiles back at him as the hand in his hair slides down to cup his cheek. “And that’s how you became a smuggler instead of a Jedi?”

“And that’s how I became a smuggler instead of a Jedi,” Ben echoes with a nod, curling his free arm around her to pull her closer.

“Are you… are you happy?” she asks, still looking up at him. “With how life turned out?”

He shrugs. “If you’re asking if I’d rather be a smuggler or a Jedi, the answer is definitely, one hundred percent smuggler. I admire my uncle and all, but the life he lives, the life he’s chosen… it’s not for me,” Ben says, a realization he’s long since made his peace with. “Besides, growing up I always wanted to be a pilot just like my dad, and I guess this is about as close as it gets.”

Rey hums in acknowledgement, burrows closer to him to rest her head on his chest. “How about you?” he asks, resting their joined hands on her hip. “Are you happy with how your life turned out?”

She’s quiet for so long Ben begins to think that maybe she’s fallen asleep, or maybe she doesn’t want to answer the question. Just as he’s about to give up and close his eyes though, Rey speaks.

“I mean… most days, I’m okay with it,” she says, and he looks down to find her eyes open but fixed someplace else. “These days, I’m especially okay with it, now that… now that I’m not alone anymore.”

Ben holds her tighter, presses a kiss to her forehead. Rey sighs and looks up at him, gives him a smile. “I’ve got a better life than most people here, so at least there’s that. And… and really, this is all I’ve ever known, Ben. If I leave… when I leave… I won’t even know where to start.”

He pulls them both into a sitting position, looks her in the eyes when he promises, “I’ll be right there with you, every step of the way.”

Rey shuffles closer and reaches up, wraps her arms around his neck and slides her fingers into his hair. She looks at him, just… looks at him, for a short eternity. And then–

“I know,” Rey whispers, and kisses him, and kisses him, and kisses him like she can’t stop herself, like her life depends on it, like the floodgates have finally been opened and there will be no closing them ever again.

The storm rages for three days, but by the end of it Ben is sure they’ve barely gotten three hours of sleep combined. When they finally step out into the sun on the third day, they sport matching swollen lips and dark circles as Rey walks him to his ship, unashamedly strolling hand-in-hand with him in full view of the entire outpost.

When the Appenza finally comes into view, Ben can’t resist the urge to ask. Deep in his heart he already knows her answer, but everything else has changed, everything, so why not this?

“Sure you still don’t want to come with me?”

It comes as no surprise when Rey shakes her head with a small smile. “Not yet,” she whispers, but at least this time she softens the blow with a goodbye kiss.

 


 

The fourth, fifth, sixth, tenth, twentieth, thirtieth time Ben Solo comes back to Jakku, he is a man in love.

He starts taking jobs almost exclusively in the Western Reaches, so that he can visit more frequently and stay longer. After a while, her regulars don’t even blink at the sight of him behind the bar with her anymore, the two of them huddled close in near-constant conversation, almost always holding hands or brushing shoulders or trading playful kisses.

Rey’s bed becomes as familiar to him as his own, a little sanctuary where all their worries disappear. They share secrets under the cover of darkness, paint futures in the golden light of dawn, grasp at each other with all the desperation and want and joy of young lovers every spare moment in between.

Over bar snacks one afternoon, they laugh and bond over the fact that Maz had been the one to give both of them The Talk. In Rey’s case she’d simply had no one else to do it, and one day Maz just sat her down and told her everything there was to know before offering her a contraceptive implant. In Ben’s case, his mother had tasked his father with the responsibility, and his father had predictably pushed it to Chewie, and Chewie had promptly recruited the help of Maz.

Two months after their first kiss, a case of Jogan fruit on his ship opens up a whole new world of possibilities for Ben, and a whole new world period for Rey. He brings her fruit and flowers and all sorts of things she’s never had the chance to see or touch or taste, and tells her each time that her happiness is all the payment he needs. Well, a few kisses wouldn’t hurt either.

One morning, when Ben awakes with the sudden and terrifying realization that he’s overdue for a check-in with his mother as part of her very strict terms for allowing him to continue smuggling, Rey hands him an ancient, patched-together datapad and tells him the story of how she’d hacked into Unkar Plutt’s network one day just for fun, and continues to make use of the highly-encrypted channel for her own purposes.

Another day, when a sandstorm much like the one that had brought them together rolls in, Rey plops herself on top of him to keep him in bed, and asks him to tell her about everything that’s out there, every single world he’s ever visited. He tells her about the lakes of Naboo, the forests of Takodana, the beaches of Chandrila, even the lost mountains of Alderaan, and she promises him that someday, someday he’ll have the chance to show her all of it.

Eventually, her cajoling and pleading finally pay off and Ben acquiesces to a little after-hours display of his skills, using the Force to move bottles around on her shelf and even call some over to the bar, Rey asks him if he ever regrets it, not being a Jedi. And Ben… Ben tells her everything: about how brightly he’d burned even before he’d come into this world, about the tendrils of darkness that had started reaching for him then and hadn’t stopped until years later, about how ultimately love had been just what he’d needed to banish the voices once and for all, the love of his family and for his family. But love, he tells her, is not for the Jedi, not even in this new age – and what he holds in his heart, what he feels for her… he wouldn’t give it up for all the secrets of the Force, for all the power in the galaxy.

A few months later, nearly a standard year since they first met, he arrives to find Rey laughing her head off before she shoos a band of older women away. The people of Jakku, she tells him later, have a tendency to exaggerate; how else does one keep oneself entertained in the desert, after all? The latest story to take Niima Outpost by storm is the sordid tale of one Rey of Jakku and her revolving door of handsome, rich lovers, all of whom keep her business alive with their drink preferences and court her with priceless artifacts sourced from all over the galaxy and fall to their knees begging for her hand. It’s almost impressive, how much they got right aside from the lovers, plural bit.

“You are all there has ever been for me,” Rey assures him when he pretends to be put out by the thought, “and all there will ever be.”

And so life goes on around them while they settle into a new normal, parting every so often only to always, always come back together, finding love and acceptance and belonging with each other for the very first time in their lives.

Everything is perfect… until it almost isn’t.

 


 

The last time Ben Solo arrives on Jakku, he is a man trembling in concern and anger and fear.

He’s four days early for his next scheduled visit, but somehow still too late. By the time he makes planetfall, a full day has passed since the message first interrupted his monthly check-in call with Luke. His uncle had been blathering on as usual, something about an awakening in the Force, when the feed of Luke probably bragging about a new student had been briefly interrupted by a single word: HELP.

And somehow Ben had known, even before he’d traced the anonymous message back to Jakku and Plutt’s network, exactly who it had come from.

He’d made preparations to rush to Rey’s side immediately, but an unexpected run-in with the Kanjiklub had delayed him by entire hours until he’d finally given in to the swell of fear and anger inside him and knocked them all out with a pulse of dark energy.

That’s probably going to get him an earful from Luke but frankly, Ben doesn’t really give a single flying kriff right now. Right now, he’s trying not to let his fear cripple him as he lands in an eerily empty Niima Outpost. The streets are deserted and so is the marketplace, even though by now it should be filled with scavengers cleaning up their finds of the day and getting in line to present them to the revolting Crolute. Even more worrying is the absence of said Crolute and his thugs, and the sight of Plutt’s beloved concession stand torn apart and thoroughly emptied of his precious rations.

A rising wave of panic threatens to swallow him whole, until Ben forces himself to close his eyes and reach out.

What he finds nearly knocks him to the ground.

If Rey had been brilliant before, now she is blinding. Even with fear and anxiety and anger clouding her energy, her presence in the Force burns brighter than a star, blotting out everything and everyone else. And with this transformation comes an undeniable truth, one Ben cannot believe it’s taken him this long to realize.

Rey,” he murmurs, and breaks into a run.

Ben, she whispers back, in some secret corner of his mind that less than a handful of people have ever been able to find, let alone reach.

Ben Ben Ben, she chants – cries – pleads in the space between them until he comes upon the bar, doors and windows completely boarded up. But Rey’s already moving, already prying blocks of wood and sheets of metal off the door with a raw strength that cannot possibly be just her own, until finally there’s nothing standing in between them, until finally she’s in his arms again.

“Are you okay?” Ben asks, hands roaming up and down to check for injury even as Rey clutches him tight and sobs into his chest. “Rey, sweetheart, I’m so sorry it took me so long, are you hurt, what happened, I’m here now, I’m here,” he babbles in relief, his and hers and theirs, inseparable in the Force.

She’s quiet in his arms except for the wet sound of sobs and harsh, ragged inhales, and he holds her until her tears run dry and her breathing returns to normal. “Help me,” Rey croaks, her first words in Force knows how long, and pulls away from him to begin the arduous process of boarding the door up again. It’s a flimsy layer of protection, one that won’t actually do anything, but if this is what she needs to feel safe then this is what he’ll do for her. Together they replace all the layers of wood and metal, and then create an additional barricade using every single chair and table in the bar.

When it’s done, Rey wordlessly takes his hand and leads him downstairs, and she doesn’t bother turning the lights on before she pulls him into bed and curls up in his arms, her exaggerated breaths the only sound in the darkness that curls around them.

In, out, in, out, in, out – and with every repetition, the beacon that is her energy in the Force pulses like a gentle heartbeat, dimming and then flaring back to life in the most extraordinary, beautiful light show Ben has ever seen. He’s content to just stay that way, to hold her and mimic her breathing and marvel at her presence, until Rey finally speaks.

“I killed him,” she whispers, her voice painfully raspy; it’s only then that he wonders when she last drank, when she last ate. “I killed all of them,” Rey adds, her voice thick with regret and pain and fear as hot tears drip down his chest.

“Shh,” Ben whispers soothingly, pulls her closer and starts to rock her the way he vaguely remembers his mother doing once, a long time ago. “Shh, it’s okay, I’ve got you, you’re safe now, I’m here, Rey, I’m here–”

“He– he–” It’s painful, the way she gasps for breath with each word, the way guilt threatens to snuff out her light. He can only hold her close and pray she’s as attuned to him in the Force as he is to her, pray she can feel all the comfort and love and protection he has to offer. Maybe, just maybe, it works, because soon enough Rey calms down enough to fill him in without sounding on the brink of a panic attack.

“It was Plutt,” she whispers, a loose fist curling into the front of his shirt for comfort. “He’d heard about all the gossip the others were spreading, all the lies about my new smuggler regulars and all the business I was getting and the expensive gifts I was hiding in my place. That kriffing blobfish got it into his head that he deserved a cut of my profits, so he rounded up his goons and stormed the place two days ago.”

She’s shaken by the memory, just as Ben is shaken by the timestamp. Two days ago, two whole days ago and she’s been alone ever since, while he was in Naboo with his mother and rolling his eyes at his uncle and wasting time with the karking Kanjiklub.

Rey pauses, burrows impossibly closer to him. “When the fight broke out… it was me against twelve of them. Even with my blaster, I could only take down so many of them before they outnumbered me. They… they knocked it out of my hands, and then Plutt reached out, for my neck, and…”

Just hearing about it makes his blood boil, makes his heart bleed. But Rey is here, he reminds himself, here and safe and alive in his arms, and she needs him to focus on the present, not the past.

“And then… he was choking on thin air. They all were.” Her voice sounds so small, so scared.

“The Force,” Ben finally murmurs, willing her to feel the way his presence curls around hers, the way his soul instinctively reaches out for hers.

Judging by her quiet acceptance, Rey had come to the realization on her own at some point in the last two days. “I never knew, never even thought…” she whispers, sounding half-awed and half-terrified. “But Ben, I… I killed them all. I’m… Maker, Ben, I’m a monster.”

No.” His response is immediate and forceful as he pulls away and wills Rey to look at him. “No, never. Listen to me, Rey, listen–” he all but begs when she begins to shake her head in denial. “You were scared, and in danger, and the Force chose to come to you in that exact moment, sweetheart, chose to save you no matter the cost. That wasn’t you, no, it wasn’t–”

“I could feel them,” she chokes out, eyes clouding over with tears once more. “Ben, I could feel them slipping away and I didn’t– I didn’t stop, didn’t know how, didn’t want to–”

He leans down and presses their foreheads together, wills her to breathe with him until she stops shaking. "Listen to me,” Ben says sharply, leaving no room for argument. “You were in danger, you had no other choice, and you did nothing wrong. Those men deserved it, and you know that, Rey.”

She’s quiet for so long, and even with their newfound closeness he can’t tell what she’s feeling, refuses to barge into her mind to see what she’s thinking. He can only hold her until finally, she continues her story.

“I buried them,” Rey tells him, her voice eerily flat and detached and steady. “I buried them out back, right next to my parents, in even shallower graves. I locked up the bar and hid down here, but it wasn’t enough. That night I heard the ripper-raptors tear their bodies apart for meat and I thought… I thought to myself finally. Finally they were of some use to this kriffing desert.”

And for a moment, for the most fleeting of seconds, Ben can see how the blinding warmth of her light could easily turn into something else, something that sends a chill down his spine.

But he of all people knows better than to let those possibilities cloud his perception. “When was the last time you ate something?” Ben asks quietly, brushing those thoughts aside before Rey can sense them and focusing only on her warmth, her light.

“I’m fine,” she claims unconvincingly.

“Rey, please, let me–”

She curls her arms around him tighter, trapping him like a vise. “I’m fine. I just…” She softens, voice and grip both, and relaxes into him with a sigh. “I’m just so tired, Ben, I haven’t slept in days.”

He thinks of the boarded-up windows, of the barricade, of the tendrils of fear that continue to stain her Force signature.

“Hold me?” Rey asks, with a voice like the scared child she never got to be.

Ben kisses her forehead. “All night,” he promises, and stands guard over her while she drifts in and out of uneasy sleep and dark nightmares and the prison of her own mind. They spend the rest of the night in silence, save for a few soothing whispers on his part when he slowly draws her out of her nightmares, Rey feigning sleep even when she’s clearly awake and Ben letting her as he draws soothing circles into her back.

Eventually, the chrono mounted above the ‘fresher door displays a dimly-lit 0500, the only source of light in the room. The sun has risen in Jakku, and with it so has Rey, finally giving up her act to roll onto her back and stare at the ceiling instead.

“The second time Maz visited after… after my parents,” she says slowly, quietly, her voice scratchy in that intimate, first-thing-in-the-morning way he’s come to cherish, “I begged her to take me back to Takodana with her. I was so lonely, and sad, and scared, and I just… I wanted to not be all of those things, any of those things, anymore.”

It doesn’t matter how many times Rey talks about her childhood – his heart breaks for her every single time.

“And she said… she said she’d like nothing more in the entire universe, but it wasn’t my time to leave yet,” Rey tells him with a little scoff. “Worst thing to tell a child who’s desperate to get off a planet, but you know how Maz is. She wouldn’t change her mind, no matter how much I cried and begged. All she told me was that I’d know when it was time… and I’ve been waiting ever since.”

And finally, finally all of the pieces fall into place. “So that’s why every time I asked…”

Rey rolls onto her side to look at him. “It wasn’t time. I thought it was at first, I hoped it was. I mean, stars,” she breathes, the faintest hint of a laugh in her voice, and relief crashes into him like a tidal wave. “A handsome smuggler shows up out of the blue and offers to show me the galaxy? That’s the stuff holodramas are made of. But even then, even with you… it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like it was time yet.”

The words are out of his mouth before he’s even consciously aware of forming them, a desperate man’s attempt to hold onto the first sign of light at the end of the tunnel that has been this endless night. “Handsome, huh?”

Ben regrets them instantly, chides himself for making light of her confession and teasing her when she’s clearly not ready for it yet, when this isn’t the time for jokes–

But then, in the darkness his eyes adjusted to hours ago, he sees Rey roll her eyes at him and feels her little hand shove at his shoulder in retaliation. He smiles in relief, and slowly, ever so slowly, so does Rey, a soft little curve of her lips that shines brighter than the desert sunlight breaking through the horizon.

They stare at each other like that, two smiling people appreciating a rare moment of calm, until Ben gathers his thoughts and his nerve. “You said it wasn’t time then,” he says carefully. “What about now?”

Rey’s smile fades, but she slips one hand into his as she slowly considers her words. “Now something… now there’s this thing inside of me–”

“The Force,” Ben reminds her and him both, still marveling at the truth, still berating himself for not realizing it that very first day. No one, no one, burns that brightly in the Force without having the kind of connection to it that he has, that she has.

“Yeah, that,” Rey murmurs, sounding worlds away as she considers her new reality. “I feel… I feel like it’s telling me to leave, to get the hell away from Jakku and never look back.” She pauses, squeezes his hand before she looks up at him with a dozen questions in her eyes. “Can the Force do that?”

“The Force works in mysterious ways,” he tells her, echoing the same bantha fodder he’s been told his whole life and finally knows to be true. How else would he explain ending up on Jakku of all the planets in the galaxy, finding Rey of all the Force-sensitives in existence? He’s always suspected that the Force must have played some part in leading him to Rey all those months ago, but now there’s no denying it.

She laughs, and it’s not quite the sound he’s come to love but it’s close enough, Ben supposes, given the circumstances. “Maz used to say that all the time. Maker, I’d get so irritated at her.”

“Everyone says it,” Ben shrugs. “Trust me, it never gets any less irritating. But… but it’s true,” he reluctantly admits.

Rey hums in acknowledgement, and busies herself by smoothing out his crumpled shirt for a while until she’s ready to speak again. “Ben… Ben, what do I do?” she whispers, and he doesn’t think he’s ever heard her sound so helpless, doesn’t want her to ever feel this way again.

And for that to happen… there’s really only one way, isn’t there? For the very first time in his life, Ben regrets not taking his heritage seriously, not knowing enough to help Rey now. There’s only one person out there who can help her… and he’s probably already waiting, Ben realizes, finally connecting the dots between Rey’s incident and the awakening Luke had spoken of.

Slowly, reluctantly, he resigns himself to the idea. “Luke… Luke felt it, your awakening,” he tells Rey, the words heavy on his tongue and his heart. “He can help you. I can… I can take you to him.”

Her reaction is instantaneous, Rey tensing in his arms and then pulling herself away to stare down at him. “No,” she says firmly. “No, I don’t want to be a Jedi.”

He can’t deny the relief that brings him, can’t deny that he wants nothing more than to go along with her wishes. But Rey deserves a proper teacher, deserves someone who’ll know what to do with her brilliance rather than just blindly worship it the way he has since the day they met. “Sweetheart, just because it wasn’t for me–”

No,” Rey insists, and kisses him all hard and desperate and bruising before he can go on. “After everything you’ve told me,” she pants harshly against his lips, “do you really think I could ever live that life? To give up everything, to give up you–” Her voice cracks, and a strangled sob follows.

Ben quickly pulls her back in, his heart overflowing with love and awe for this woman. “Okay,” he murmurs between soft kisses, “okay, we won’t go to Luke.”

That leaves him with approximately zero other ideas, but Rey seems to have one. “Take me with you,” she says suddenly, lips barely parted from his.

“What?” Ben asks a little too sharply as he rears back in shock, in surprise, in hope.

“Take me with you,” Rey repeats with a shrug. “You could teach me, right?”

He wants, more than anything in the galaxy, for that to be true. But… “Rey, I barely have any training myself, I wouldn’t even know where to start–”

She silences his doubts by reaching out to curve her hands around his face, her thumbs gently caressing his cheeks. “Ben. I don’t need training. I don’t want to be a Jedi, I just want to be in control. You know that much, right?”

And… he does. Ben might not know much, not as much as he would’ve had his father decided to drop him off at Luke’s that fateful day, but he does know enough to stay in control, to stay away from the darkness, to let love and light and life balance everything out.

Most of the time, anyway.

“Ben, take me with you,” Rey says for the third time, and whatever objections he’d had before disappear into thin air. “Unless…” she adds before he can say yes, pulling her hands away from him, “unless the offer is off the table?”

“No, never,” he rushes to assure her, reaching out to wrap his arms around her waist and keep her close. “I want you with me, Rey, always. But are you sure about this? About leaving, for good, with me?”

Rey has a whole collection of smiles for him, but one of his favorites might be the one she flashes him when she thinks he’s acting like the stupidest creature in all the galaxy. “Ben, my heart breaks every single time I have to watch you leave without me. Do you really think I’m going to put myself through that again now that I can finally get off this godforsaken rock?”

This is happening. This is really, finally, actually happening. “I’ll never leave you again,” he swears, and pulls her closer to scatter kisses everywhere his lips can reach as Rey laughs and squirms away from him. “Never again, Rey. I love you, I love you, I love you.”

She reaches for his head and holds him still, pulls him in for a long, lingering kiss. “I love you too. So get me the hell off this planet and show me the galaxy, Ben Solo.”

And so he does.

It takes them a while to actually get out of bed and pack up Rey’s things and make all the necessary arrangements, but later that day, as the sun sets upon Jakku, a smuggler and an orphan walk out of a bar hand-in-hand… and they never come back.

.

.

.

Some years later, Luke Skywalker receives an invitation to the grand opening of a new Force academy, one that exists in between – or maybe outside of – the Jedi and Sith ways.

The invitation is signed by none other than Ben and Rey Solo, retired smugglers and galactic adventurers looking to finally settle down and build a home.