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that's home enough for me

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Ben.”

The last, sad remnants of the Sith and Palpatine and the darkness blurred at the edges of Rey’s vision as she took a moment to gaze at him, looking at Ben Solo for what felt like the first time, his eyes so full of light and love as they were. In that moment, she knew for a fact that anything was possible. She could feel it.

This was what she had seen, she realized. A year – a lifetime – ago, when they first touched hands, as the warm fires licked the walls of her hut on Ach-To. In that one fleeting, eternal moment, she’d seen a vision of the man he could be if he let go of what restrained him. If he were able to shake the voices that poisoned his mind and weakened his resolve. She had not seen the specific image, but the shape of it was clear in her mind, and now it had come to fruition.

He’d done it for her – crawled himself up from the pits that loomed under Exegol by sheer force of will and brute strength and determined resolve. He had come back to fight. For her.

Her hands cradled his face, thumbs rubbing against the tips of his cheeks, as though by touching him – connecting herself to him even further – she could convince herself that this was real. Everything about them, this moment, felt right. Whole. Balanced. 

Her eyes dropped down to his lips, admiring the way they framed his face, finally allowing herself to acknowledge what she had spent a year and a half trying to ignore. 

And then she kissed him. 

She’d never done this before. She knew the basics, of course, understood the pure mechanics of it all, but this act, in and of itself, was new to her and unfamiliar. How, then, could she explain the sweeping sense of right, yes, this is what it’s supposed to be, that soft sense of wholeness that unfurled in her chest and bloomed the moment their lips met? His strong arms -- she’d finally let herself acknowledge them, too – wrapped around her, pressing their bodies flush against each other in a moment of pure bliss amongst the sad, dark remnants of war and destruction. If just pressing fingertips across their Force bond had opened up entire worlds, there were no words for how this felt. The rightness of it all made her heart sing. 

When they pulled apart, the smile that erupted on his face could move mountains. So new and unlike the mask he’d worn before. This was Ben. She smiled back, instinctively, finding ecstasy in the way his eyes skirted across her face, too, as if he were just as unsure that this moment was real and happening as she certainly was. 

They sat there, nestled in each other amongst the darkness of Exegol, as if by not moving they could prevent what would come next – the inevitable pain of confronting the rest of the world. It was then that his smile began to falter, his force signature at last unmasking the pain he was hiding from her. He had become too weak to shield her from it. She straightened, not yet having realized how exactly he had brought her back from death. 

"You’re getting weaker,” her mind moved at what felt like dozens of lightyears a minute, drawing conclusions from the information that she could scrounge in his head. “You… you used your life force to bring me back.” 

She went to heal him, instinctively preparing to draw from the Force just as she did when they battled on the remnants of the Death Star, but his hand stopped hers before she could attempt anything. 

"No,” he groaned, shifting his weight and adjusting Rey on top of him. His mind opened for her like a dam, finally, his memories reaching out to Rey for her perusal. She could see her limp body, felt the pain and hopelessness radiating off of Ben as if it were her own. The desperation as he pressed a warm hand to her cold stomach, eyes closed in deep meditation as he called on every ounce of wisdom he had picked up over the course of his life. Her hand grabbed at his, life pouring into her – in that moment she could feel the subsequent weakness emanating from his body, conflicting with the unadulterated joy of seeing her alive. Alive and breathing and in his arms at last.

Understanding dawned on her. A deep, fierce understanding that what he had done was a favor that could not be returned – not right now, at least. Even the Force had its limits. Rey didn’t quite know what it was that allowed Ben to use his life force to revive her, nor how he survived it, but neither of them were too eager to lose the other again to test the boundaries of this… whatever this was, really. All that she knew was that it had taken more out of him than he was letting on, and he needed help. Quickly. “Okay. Then we need to go back to the Resistance base.” 

His body froze, wincing despite himself at the pain that wracked it. He had defied all logic and common sense in climbing out of that pit, had put his life force at risk and in doing so brought her back from death, but he couldn’t go to the Resistance. Not now – perhaps not ever. 

“Rey, I…” he started, his voice hoarse. “I can’t go there. That’s not my place.” Nowhere is my place, were the words he left unspoken.

“Ben,” she didn’t raise her voice, but she was firm. “You’re not leaving me. We… we’re not leaving each other.” 

She strengthened her grip, taking one of his hands in two of hers and pressing it to her heart, her pulse strong and stable because of him and what he had done for her. “Ever.

“Rey…” he tried to protest again, eliciting a frustrated growl out of the last Jedi, her patience reaching its limit. 

“Your place is with me, Ben Solo. We are going to go back to the Resistance, finding you the help you need, and that is final.Or are you planning to reject me now?”

She didn’t give him a chance to answer. 

The healing had worked well – her body felt nimble and strong, not at all like she’d been thrown around by the Force and left to die by Palpatine. Your grandfather, she internally amended, still unsure at how to grapple with that bit of information. Part of her was unsure she’d ever be able to. Rey found she had more questions than ever before, and no idea where to start.

They walked to the ships, Ben’s body practically limp in Rey’s arms. His Force signature was weak, only growing dimmer, and yet she felt him drawing as much strength as possible to stay upright. Still, she clasped onto him for dear life, and he did the same.

When they eventually reached the clearing where the X-Wing and TIE Fighter sat, a heavy silence settled between them. The X-Wing was clearly older, practically archaic, all dingy corners and chipped paint. A faded remnant of the past. The TIE Fighter, on the other hand, was as sleek and shiny as ever – and it’d be shot out of the sky just as quickly if they tried escaping on it. 

“We should –” 

“Let’s take –” 

They looked at each other then, an amused smirk catching on Ben’s lips as Rey looked down and chuckled awkwardly. Everything still felt so new and raw, as if all that connected them were pieces of live wire, waiting to detonate at the simplest nudge. She took a mental picture of that smirk and put it away in her mind, filing it for later. She still had so much to learn about him, and the opportunity and bounty of it all excited her. For now, though, they needed to focus on business. And he was clearly weak under that roguish smirk of his. 

“It’s going to be a tight squeeze, but we’re taking Luke’s ship.” 

Again, no room for argument. In all honesty, his exhaustion had officially taken him past the point of arguing about anything. Rey led him into the X-Wing and settled him on the seat, taking a moment of quiet to grab his jaw and examine the injuries there, nudging his face to the side and pressing where she thought it might hurt. Her pulse sped up just a bit at their forced proximity on the ship – it was really only made for one person, and the control panel sat squarely against her backside. Ben’s hand reached towards her waist as if by instinct, cavalier even in his obvious weakness, drawing her closer. Despite the severity of the situation, heat pooled in her belly, and she found herself unable to move – staring blankly like a lovestruck teenager. 

Before she could think about it, Rey moved her hand to cup his jaw and kissed him again. This kiss was not as passionate and sweeping as their first – it was softer, more tender, a promise of what was to come -- but it left her equally as soft and pliant in his arms, which once again curled around her protectively as he smiled into the kiss. She couldn’t help the desire that bubbled in her to live in this feeling for the rest of her days – deciding then and there that she would make sure she does. When she pulled away, she only gave herself a second to appreciate the softness in his eyes before turning to sit on his lap, firmly ignoring how good it felt to be surrounded by him. Back to business again, she prepared the ship for take-off.

“Alright, Solo. Let’s get you home.” 

The flight to Ajan Kloss was smooth if not uneventful. Ben had slumped over, alive and breathing but growing weaker by the minute. Still, he’d somehow found the energy to wrap his arms around her waist in lieu of a seatbelt to keep her positioned. She was smirking under her helmet at that

As they inched closer to the lush and green-filled world, the tension in Rey’s shoulders intensified. 

She was bringing the former Supreme Leader of the First Order, after all. 

She eyed the panel to her left, gaining a closer look at other ships registered around Ajan Kloss. It took her a moment to find it, but she was able to locate the Falcon and began to engage her comms panel. 

It only took a moment for Finn to respond, as though he’d been waiting for her to reach out. She could sense somehow in the Force that he was. 

“Rey!” he yelped, excited. “I knew you were alive; I could feel it. But for a second there…”

“Yeah. It’s a long story,” Rey sighed, turning quickly to look over at the figure slumped behind her. Despite the evident weakness and resolution in his eyes she could feel his anxiety spiking at the sound of Finn’s voice. “I’ll tell you all about it when I land,” she added. “I just needed to let you know I’m on my way.” 

“Roger that, Rey,” he said. She could practically hear the smile on his face, and pangs of gratitude itched at Rey’s chest as she thought of her friend – inked with dread at what was to come next. She could only hope that it would go smoothly. 

“Oh, and Finn?” 

"Yeah?” 

“Just… be prepared,” she focused on the feeling of Ben’s strong hands snug around her even in the throes of pain, harnessing his energy and doing her best to flood him with comfort in the meantime. 

“I have company.” 

By the time they reached Ajan Kloss’ atmosphere, Rey was a bundle of nerves. In the year since killing Snoke, she’d kept more secrets than she could count. Kriff, she’d never even told Leia about her and Ben’s bond. Regret pooled deep within her – the Princess turned Senator turned General would have wanted to know. She believed in her son when no one else did.

How was she going to explain this to Poe, Rose… Finn? Would they understand something she barely understood herself – a bond forged in the Force, only strengthened by the very real, raw connection they shared? The topic of Kylo Ren had been easy when he was a faceless villain in a mask. A target, a figurehead for the elusive enemy. Would they understand the boy that had been beneath it all along? He had put his life at risk to save her, just as she would have for him. Was that enough?

His fingers twitched around her waist, sensing her nerves. “Rey…” he groaned. “You don’t have to do this.”

She started to answer, a sarcastic quip ready on her tongue, only to feel his insecurity and regret flooding into her. Softening, she took one hand and placed it over the one holding her left hip.

“Yes. I do.” He would do the same for her. Hell, he already had. There was so much to explore between them, and she didn’t want to waste a second more. Her friends would have to accept it.

Rey made sure to land far enough from the base so as not to arouse curiosity from her fellow Resistance members, but close enough that she and Ben could make their way there. He hadn’t gotten any stronger over the course of their flight, eyes hooded and sweat collecting on his forehead. His protective hold on her never wavered, though.

Once they had officially landed, she turned to inspect him again. She knew it was overkill – she’d done the same check-up half an hour ago, after all – but the anxiety in her chest had only worsened and she needed to make sure he was still there with her. She pressed the back of her hand onto his forehead, expecting to feel him growing colder – instead, she found him to be hot under her touch, a shiver passing through him as though he were freezing. That helped answer some of her questions, at least. There were still many more that needed answers.

She saw Finn first, his head bowed in deep conversation with Poe. Behind them, the Resistance cheered and laughed and celebrated a battle well-won, the end of a war. She watched with trepidation, her arm slung around Ben’s waist as he limped alongside her. He had only managed to speak in groans or grumbles as he had deteriorated, and had now taken to silence. They needed to get to a medic, and quickly.

As though Finn could sense her approaching – and perhaps he could – he turned to Rey as she drew nearer, eyes wide and ready to tackle her in a celebratory embrace. That is, until he took notice of the half-dead body attached to her. Though the former Supreme Leader had operated without his mask during his year-long tenure, it was still rare to catch glimpses of him outside of intercepted First Order holos, usually only shared in confidence during exclusive meetings. That explained why recognition bloomed in Finn and Poe’s eyes while the rest of their comrades continued to celebrate blindly in the foreground.

Recognition which bled into confusion, anger, fear.

"Rey, is that…?”

“I did mention I had company, didn’t I?” Rey smiled weakly, a sad attempt at comedy, tightening her grip around him. There was a beat of confused silence, no one quite sure of how to proceed with the predicament that had presented itself.

“He needs help, quickly. I promise I will explain everything , but…” Rey could hear herself becoming frantic, feeling absently for his pulse with his wrist around one hand (it was there, but faint).

She was losing the carefully composed mask of strength and passivity that had gotten her through the past year as the Last Jedi – a title she neither desired nor felt she could live up to. She had been chosen as the face of the Resistance, mythologized in the wake of Snoke’s death as the last hope of the galaxy. She grew used to their blind faith in her, noticing the way they squealed amongst themselves as they passed her during training, the glimmer in their eyes when they watched her from across the dining hall – to them, she was untouchable. And so she made herself untouchable. A fearless warrior. A dedicated comrade.

Among her friends, though, that visage cracked slightly. With Rose, she gossiped at night and shared sweet rations. With Finn, she napped under the shade of the largest tree they could find on rest days. With Poe, well… her and Poe were a different story. A tenuous friendship at best that was softened by the presence of the others. Together, though, they’d become something of a group among the base. These were her closest friends – a rarity in and of itself for the lonely scavenger from Jakku, she knew that. And yet, she never let them in close enough to truly see her. None of them could possibly understand the things she was holding, the secrets she couldn’t share.

And in her arms she held the biggest of them all.

She hardened, finding herself angry. Did they not trust her?

“I’ll take him myself, if I have to,” she growled, hoisting his large (absurdly large, much too large ) body once more, only to feel him fall from her hands.

That was the moment Ben Solo, formerly known as Kylo Ren, Supreme Leader of the First Order and the infamous Jedi Killer, sank into the mossy green ground on the Resistance base in Ajan Kloss.

Chapter Text

When Ben’s eyes opened into pure, blinding darkness, he knew for a fact he was dead. His heart sank traitorously at the thought – he might have deserved it, but that didn’t mean he wanted it. Not when he’d finally seen what that smile looked like when it was meant for him, could appreciate those fingers as they grazed his face, felt her soft lips on his (twice, which was quite the achievement in the small pocket of time they’d shared, actually -- more than he could have bargained for). 

They had been so close to reaching the medic, too – he had fully heard that last argument between Rey and her friends before he dropped to the floor, even if he hadn’t been coherent enough to participate – but perhaps the fate that met him was sealed the moment he brought a hand to Rey’s lifeless body, willing light back into her eyes and movement into her limbs. Perhaps his attempt to bring her back to life had been at the cost of his own.

If that was the case, he decided, it was well worth it. He could still feel her, the snug contours of her body as she used him as a seat in Luke’s X-Wing (though not at all due to his planning, he couldn’t help the air of smugness he felt at that). Even in this state, he would have been a fool not to appreciate that small mercy for what it was – those thirty minutes were more than he had ever deserved. 

She’d forget him in time, he supposed, though the thought did tighten his chest and bring a scowl to his lips. 

If it made her happy, something he hoped he’d at least be able to sense from here – wherever he had apparated to – he would learn to accept it. For her sake.

It was then that he felt some sort of presence approach him. He felt blinded by this darkness, had no awareness of his body beyond a vague understanding that he was somewhere. He couldn’t place it until a bright light shone to his left. Turning towards it, he bit back the instinct to defend himself from danger. There could be no danger anymore – he was dead, after all. So he turned towards the light.

The moment Ben Solo looked upon Leia Organa’s face for the first time since he’d run from the Jedi Temple straight into Snoke’s arms, he crumpled. There was no other word for the overwhelming wave of emotion that surged into him at the sight of his mother, the way his eyes filled with tears and his nose began to prickle. He had no desire to hide the emotions that bubbled inside him, no patience or energy to don the mask that had suffocated him for years. His mind was clearer now -- he knew the voices that had poisoned his mind were just that. Voices. 

For a long moment, neither of them could say anything. He fisted his hand, a shuddering sigh escaping him. “Mom…”  

Though it had been some time since he’d seen her physically, she hadn’t aged all that much, resilient as she was. She’d been well-known for her ability to maintain appearances at all costs – even in the midst of war. He supposed they had that in common. They had a lot of things in common. 

She shushed him, her eyes twinkling with a light he had fully convinced himself he’d never see again. A light that resurrected the ghosts of his past, visions of Leia with long, dark hair free against her back, her slender hand clasped in his smaller one. Visions of his childhood home in Hanna City, the bright Chandrilan sun reflecting off of shiny buildings, surrounded by rolling landscapes that had awed him as a young, defenseless boy, so much green and sun and life. Visions of his mother and father when they were all together — rare as those moments had been as he grew older, he cherished them. 

The darkness had always been there, sure, but he can see the light much better now. The resentment and anger that had been manipulated and crafted into a dagger pointed at his own heart faded as he looked into his mother’s eyes. 

“I just want to take a good look at you,” she half-whispered. 

Instinctively, he tried to move closer, the boyish obsession with his mother that he’d always harbored - and tried to quell as he matured - ignited once again. There was so much he wanted to say, and yet he found himself unable to form any words at all.

“My little angel…” her voice broke, tears falling freely from her cheeks. He stiffened at the pet name, until he was flooded with memories that weren't his own. A pregnant Leia, hand protectively cradled against her stomach, cheeks flushed. Himself as an infant, asleep after having been fed in her arms, the soft hues of dawn painting his mother’s face in an orange and purple glow. She’d called him this as a baby. This did nothing to quell the emotion that clogged his throat. 

She extended her arms toward him, and that was all the urging he needed to find himself wrapped in her embrace. There was no pretense to it -- only a sad sense of mourning for what had been lost. For the first time in his adult life, he held his mother and, to his own sad surprise, found himself held in return. 

They stayed there for what felt like an eternity — and it was, he figured, however time might work in the afterlife he’d found himself in. Naturally, his inquisitive nature began to raise multiple questions about his state. Would he be awake in this purgatory forever? Was this because of the Force, and if so, would he have the capability to become a Force Ghost? Thoughts of returning to see a pretty Jedi with dark hair came to him. He’d learned vaguely about Force Ghosts long ago and chastised himself now for not paying closer attention to that particular lesson. 

Leia straightened, moving her arms to his elbows and regarding him curiously, the ghost of a smile on her lips. He looked down at her, marveling at how imposing she was even as he towered above her. A boy again.

“Ben,” she breathed, caressing his hair — still as impossibly dark as it had been the day he was born — with one hand. “Honey, you aren’t dead.” 

He straightened, shock and confusion and hope, despite everything, harboring in his chest. “I’m not?” 

She quirked an eyebrow at that, her trademark sass returning slowly. “I’d hope not, otherwise I disappeared into the Force for no good reason.” A moment passed between them while the meaning of her words — and her last sacrifice in life — settled over them. 

“I…” he took her in fully, this bright ghost that wore her elegant updo, spoke in her familiar voice. “I don’t know what to say.” 

She sighed, rubbing a hand protectively over his. “We’ll have time for all of that soon, I suppose. You might not be dead, but I sure am.” 

He knew that was true. Her sudden absence in the Force had cut as quick and clean as a dagger through his heart, despite his attempts over the years to will the wound away, pretend his attachments to his family had disappeared the moment he took up the name Kylo Ren. He’d failed, every step of the way. And what a waste of time that was, he thought bitterly. 

Leia eyed her son knowingly. “Ben, I can’t say I’m happy with how things ended up. With you, with us… there’s a lot I’m sorry for. I wasn’t always the mother you needed me to be.” Ben felt the weight of her hand, bringing it to his chest and holding it there. 

“I’m sorry, too,” he started, unsure of what he could possibly say that would somehow erase the things he’d done. There was nothing that would do that. “For everything.” 

Leia nodded, eyes shining. She glanced at their hands, clasped together. “I hope you know I never stopped loving you, Ben. Not for a second.” 

Ben felt the prickle between his nose again, his face reddening. He felt the wetness on his cheeks before he was able to register the fact that he was fully crying, but it was too late by then. 

“Me either,” he managed to cough out, his voice hoarse. 

“I know, son. I know.” They looked at each other then, a moment passing between them where they both thought of Han. Leia sniffed, bringing a hand to Ben’s face to wipe the tears that had fallen.

“Well. That’s enough sentimentality for now, I think,” Leia remarked, ever the pragmatist. He chuckled lowly, sniffling like a child, and found himself imagining all of the ways things could have turned out differently. If he’d been better, stronger, less susceptible to the thoughts that poisoned him. If he had come home earlier. 

Would his mother be alive? Would they be wrapped up in all of this if not for him? 

It’s not worth it, Ben,” his mother’s voice woke him from his reverie. It was as if she could sense his thoughts, and given the ambiguous nature of wherever they were, that didn’t surprise him. He welcomed it. 

“We can’t go back. We can only move forward,” she said. 

It reminded him of words he’d once told someone else, his mind recalling dark eyes and the bright shine of moonlight. Let the past die, he’d said. But he never did let the past die, did he? It had always followed him. It consumed him, this desire to escape who he was — to the point of burning everything and everyone around him. 

Until he’d met her. Just the thought of her now filled him with a peace he‘d believed himself incapable of, something sweet and warm and right that loosened his stiff shoulders and unclenched his fists. It had soldiered its way into his heart, and made itself home — softening the edges and showing him who he could be, if he let others in. If he let light in. 

Leia’s smile quickly turned mischievous as she crossed her arms. 

“So… Rey, huh?” 

He wasn’t expecting that.

He didn’t know what he could have expected from a postmortem conversation with the ghost of his estranged mother, but it wasn’t that. This was not a conversation he could have ever prepared for. The tips of his ears burned pink as he looked down, sheepish and shy and a child all over again. Except this was much, much worse.

“The Force connected us. While she was on Ach-To with Luke, maybe even before that...”

“Oh, is that what they’re calling it these days?” she chuckled.

He cleared his throat, his cheeks hot. “She…” He wondered what the right words were, racked his brain for a way to make sense of what he felt in his chest, his heart, his soul.  

“She sees me,” he said, finally. “The person I want to be, anyways. She believes in it. She makes me want to try to be that person. Makes me think I can.” 

Leia’s eyes grazed her son then with a pride and understanding that made his heart soar. 

“That year after Crait, I wondered,” Leia reflected curiously. “The pressure. I could feel her leaning into it, losing herself. Even with her friends, she was absent. Too focused on being… perfect. It felt like she was hiding something. She had closed herself off from me… and now I know why.” 

Leia seemed pleased. Happy, even. Could it really have been this easy? He supposed that was a question that would never get an answer. “Take care of her, Ben.”

“She doesn’t need taking care of,” he smiled, eyes wet. Anchored by her, even here. “But I will.” 

Leia’s eyes were far away now, adrift in the sands of time and memory and all that had happened. She smiled at her son suggestively. “I always did want a granddaughter, you know.”

Ben’s blush burned deeper and stronger at the mere implication of what she’d suggested, nodding roughly. He couldn’t possibly meet her eyes. Another silence stretched between them, gaps in thought they couldn’t fill if they tried. There was still a lot of work to do — between them, and with the rest of the galaxy. This was only the beginning. 

“This isn’t going to be easy. I thought I would be there if— when this happened.” 

He’d spent so many years believing he could never come home, and the truth was she had believed in him all this time. Even as she’d resigned herself to his path, knew he had to be the one to make that choice. She’d believed him to be capable of it. 

Ben nodded, feeling like a soldier taking orders from a general. That was probably more or less what was happening at this point, he figured. 

“I know. I’m willing to work for it.” For her, was the thought he didn’t vocalize. Looking into his mother’s eyes, he knew she understood perfectly well. He’d put up with anything they threw his way for her. 

Leia looked up at the black void around them, something inexplicable crossing her features. She moved towards Ben again, enveloping him in another hug before he could do anything about it either which way. After years of his only contact with another human lying in that split second of raw energy with Rey through the Force bond, he’d forgotten what regularly feeling other people was like. Between what he and Rey had shared in Exegol and this fateful reunion, he felt lighter than he had in a long time. It settled all around him and loosened his defenses. He quite liked it.

“Okay, Ben,” she mumbled against his shoulder. “It’s time for you to go back.” He pressed her tighter, mourning the loss of the years he’d let stretch between them.

Behave. I’ll be watching,” she sighed against him. This goodbye felt eerily similar to the day he’d been shipped off to train with Luke, a strong hug and a kiss on the forehead in his last moment with his mother before the rest of his life unfolded before him. He hoped this new beginning would be better than the last — no, he didn’t just hope; he vowed to himself that it would. 

“If Dameron gives you trouble, you tell him I know exactly where he can shove it,” she joked. “Feel free to bribe him with the Corellian whiskey I keep hidden if you need to. You’ll find it,” she winked. 

He stepped back to look at her one last time, the bittersweet tang of their conversation heavy in his chest, but light, too. It felt good. 

The last thing he saw before everything went black again was the face of his mother, smiling at him.

Chapter Text

The four friends stood at the foot of the bed where Ben Solo currently laid unconscious, huddled in a debate that could only be described as passionate. And that was being generous. 

Ben had been quickly taken to the medbay as soon as he fell, the hesitation on Finn and Poe’s face lost in Rey’s visible anguish. The two generals hadn’t known what to make of Rey’s blood stained face when she’d first arrived on Ajan Kloss, but they were much less equipped to handle Kylo Ren limping at her side. Him being taken out of the equation, at least at first, made the discussion easier to manage. So, they grabbed his arms, and helped carry him across the base. Rose had joined them as they walked to the medbay, walking by Rey’s side and eyeing her cautiously. 

The medic on duty had blanched, moving quickly to bring him to the bed and hook him up to the scrappy equipment they had on them. The medbay itself was mostly empty, thankfully, giving them as much privacy as they could possibly afford on a base as makeshift as theirs. This was an incredibly unique situation, and it would be dealt with accordingly.

Leia’s death had been harrowing for a number of reasons — she had not only been a beacon of hope for the Resistance and a whip-smart General that kept them all in line, but also one of their last ties to the New Republic. The question of how to move forward and develop a new democracy for the galaxy was one that no one on base was quite prepared to answer, far too eager instead to drown out the uncertainty of the future in cheap liquor and impromptu celebration. They had won against the First Order in a tumultuous battle. For the very immediate future, they would enjoy the high of their victory and the promise of a future. The rest could wait.

This left the two Generals and the Commander alone to answer to the crimes of Kylo Ren as he was pricked and prodded by a medic, the last Jedi standing at his side and chewing anxiously on her nail beds, looking more human and raw than she had in months.

Rey had spent so many years accustomed to loneliness. It had hardened her resolve against the world and made her resilient. But suddenly, she had this, and the thought of losing it was inconceivable. She wouldn’t allow it.

She watched, eyes glued to the spot where he laid. Her arms ached, desperate as she was to use her own life force to heal him, but she stepped back to give the overworked medic the space she needed. Willing her anxiety away as best she could, she focused her energy on his stable presence in the Force. It hummed, soft and slow but there. Stable. She had that, at least. 

The silence in the room was charged, but no one made a move to fill it. As if by speaking they would rupture the tentative peace they’d found themselves in. 

After a few moments of fiddling around and studying the numbers and figures that appeared on the screen, the medic turned to Rey. 

“He has two broken ribs and a sprained ankle, which might have triggered the fever,” she said. “He should be awake soon, and he’ll probably heal fully within the next hour or so. I’ll come back to check then.” 

“Thank you,” Rey said, eyes brimming with tears. The medic stared at the four friends — two high ranking generals, a commander, and a Jedi — only to awkwardly bow out after a few moments of charged silence, sensing the tension in the room. 

Rey turned to her friends at last, comforted in the thought that Ben was being taken care of. Harboring his presence in the Force with her and holding onto it. 

Okay, she thought. Now or never.  

“I don’t expect you to understand all of... this,” Rey started, gesturing vaguely at the air.  “I barely understand it myself. But just now on Exegol—” goosebumps pinched at her arms, the memory of their battle against the emperor still fresh, “—we fought alongside each other. Against Palpatine. And for a moment, Palpatine won. He killed me and threw Ben— Kylo —down into a pit. He almost died, too.”

Poe and Finn looked at each other with equal amounts of confusion. Whether it was at her slip of the tongue or the story itself she couldn’t tell. Rose said nothing, but watched Rey closely as she spoke. 

“He climbed out of that pit and healed me with the Force, similar to what I did in Pasaana,” she added. “It brought me back to life. It’s the only reason I’m standing in front of you now.” 

Finn was visibly flustered. “But... Rey, he’s.. He was the Supreme Leader!” His voice was raised, urging Rose to shush him. “We’ve spent the past year fighting against everything he represents!” he hissed. “All of our hard work, the lives we’ve lost…” 

“Do you really expect us to just take him in with open arms?” Poe’s eyes were alight, arms crossed against his chest. “Just because he helped you out at the last minute?”

Rey’s heart sank. It had been naive of her to believe they would just take him in. They didn’t know him — not like she did. How could she be so foolish to think she’d be able to waltz back to base, hand in hand with Kylo Ren of all people, and pretend everything was fine? He was Leia’s son, yes, but he had renounced that identity in the eyes of the galaxy. She couldn’t blame them for their lack of warmth — but knowing this did nothing to quell the lump growing in her throat. 

“I think it should be put to a vote,” Rose said, speaking up finally. She eyed Rey with deep empathy, a quality she had always respected and admired in the Commander. A rebellious bit of hope flared in Rey’s chest. 

Rey had to admit even she was shocked at her friend’s proposal. They had gotten close enough over the past year, and Rose had confided with her about her childhood on Hays Minor and how the loss of her sister was one she was still having trouble getting over. The First Order had been ruthless in its desire to strip the mining planet of its resources, and in doing so Rose had lost almost everything. She had every right to denounce Ben by mere association to the First Order. 

As much as she’d heard of her friend's tragic past, though, Rey also knew Rose firmly believed the best in people. She supposed it was this very instinct that led her to give Ben a fighting chance — either way, Rey’s heart swelled with emotion.

“We’re in a position to make this kind of decision, right?” Her tone held more authority than usual. 

Poe and Finn looked at each other, nodding warily. 

“So, we vote. Democracy, and all that.” 

Poe’s jaw tightened. “Fine. We vote. I vote no.” 

Rose’s chin ticked upward, her presence strong and imposing despite their height difference. “Well, I vote yes.” 

Finn flinched, eyes widening into saucers. “Yes?! Rose, this is Kylo Ren we’re talking about.” 

“I know exactly who we’re talking about, Finn. I’m not going to pretend I’m overjoyed, here.” She pursed her lips, stray hairs falling out of the two buns behind her head. Her face still bore smudges from the battle, and her blaster was clipped to her belt, dingy and beat up. It had been a long day for everyone. 

“But we’ve lost enough. All of us have lost too much, and…” she fingered the crescent-shaped necklace that had once had its own twin, her eyes misty. “If I can prevent another loss, I will. I can see what he means to Rey, and I can only imagine what he meant to Leia. So, my vote is yes. He stays.”

Rey ached to wrap her arms around her friend, overcome with an emotion she didn’t know how to name. Still, she read the room and stayed put, choosing instead to mouth a discrete thank you while Poe and Finn weren’t looking. Rose smiled softly in return, nodding slightly. 

That left Finn. Rey’s oldest friend — perhaps the person in that room, besides Ben, who knew her best. 

“I understand where you’re coming from, Rose… but I’m still not sure how I feel about this.” Between Poe and Rose, his vote would be the dealbreaker. The tension in the room could be cut with a knife. He seemed conflicted, and Rey sensed that he wasn’t altogether too sure of his decision, but eventually he spoke up. “I just don’t know if I can get past it. I’m voting no.” 

Rey stiffened, feeling the blow of Finn’s disapproval. She should have opened up to them about Ben earlier, told them more. Why had she been so afraid of letting them in? 

Poe didn’t need anymore urging to end the conversation. “Alright, Rey. I’m sorry — but that’s final. We’ll wait until he wakes up and is healed. I'll grant him that as Leia’s son,”  He turned to leave the medbay, eyes hollow. “But unless he wants to stare down the barrel of my blaster, I don’t want to see him around here. That’s an order.”

Rey flinched, stung by Poe’s callous tone as much as she was by Finn’s betrayal. She burned with humiliation: she’d brought them her biggest secret only to have it thrown back in her face. Ben didn’t deserve that, and neither did she.

She steeled herself, working up the courage to do what she knew was the only option left. 

“Say your goodbyes, then.” 

They looked at her, these three friends of hers — Rose in a shared sadness, Poe in his barely concealed anger, and Finn in disappointment. 

Finn was the one who spoke up first. “Goodbyes? Rey, what do you mean?”

“Did you really think I was going to leave him on his own? Have you listened to a single word I’ve said, Finn?” Rey couldn’t hide the hurt in her tone as she looked at her friends.

“There are things you all don’t know. Things I would have loved to explain to you in time. Either way, I’m all he has. And, though I care for you all, he is all I have, too.”

She hoped they’d understand the meaning of her words — the finality in the nature of her and Ben’s relationship. They had much to learn about each other, yes, but the truth was that they were bound by something deeper than anyone else could understand. It was a sense of rightness and belonging in her gut that transcended anything she’d ever felt before. It may have started with the Force bringing them together, but it was theirs now.

“You’re going to choose him over us?” Finn was growing upset, his eyes wide as saucers, the hurt visible and raw. Rey hated knowing she was the cause of it — it gnawed at her, but she stood her ground.

“You’re the ones making me choose . I’ve vouched for him, is that not enough? He saved my life. I had sensed the light in him before, but it was still muddled by darkness. It isn’t anymore.” She recalled the way he fought on Exegol — through their Force bond she could feel his movies synchronized with hers, even though they were separated. They were unstoppable together.

Finn and Poe grappled with Rey’s argument. She knew she was valuable to them — both as an asset and as a friend. If it became necessary to wield that to her advantage, she’d do so.

“Where would you even go?” Finn asked.

Huh. She hadn’t thought that far ahead. Rey racked her brain to think of somewhere they’d be safe, out of sight and out of mind. Somewhere they could plant the seed of whatever this was and watch it sprout, bloom, grow. She recalled conversations she’d had with Luke and Leia and considered the different worlds she’d studied on her datapad. 

“I’ll take him to Tatooine,” she declared finally, chin raised. “If you’re going to make him leave, I’ll go with him there.” 

They looked at her as though she’d spoken in Bocce). Even Rose’s face was painted with utter confusion. 

A deep voice husked from behind them, groaning as though exhausted from the mere effort of speaking. “Please… don’t take me… to… Tatooine.”  

Rey practically leapt, running to his side. “Ben!” 

She kneeled near him on the bed, taking the hand closest to her pressing a long kiss to it. There was no room for pretense or shame in front of her friends, not when she was this happy to see him alive and breathing and awake. Affection came easily to her when it was meant for him. Tears slipped down her cheeks with reckless abandon. 

She hadn’t doubted it, but that hadn’t exactly eased her worry — especially as she’d been tasked with defending him to her friends while he laid there.

She laughed softly through her tears. “What’s so wrong with Tatooine?” 

Ben’s thumb grazed her cheek softly. He gathered the strength to talk, clearing his throat. “Tatooine is a graveyard. Who put that place in your head?” His thumb kept rubbing soothing circles on her cheek, as though she were the one in a sickbed.

Rey shrugged, happy to drink him in. “Just an idea.”

He looked well enough — his rib and ankle had been healed by the medic, and he didn’t look feverish anymore. She put a hand to his forehead just to be sure, finding it warm but not overly hot. She lost track of the minutes passing, could focus only on that lovely face of his, unmarred by his inner demons. Even better, now, because they were free from it all. In their own world. 

Meanwhile, Finn, Poe, and Rose watched them. Rose had a knowing look in her eyes as she turned over to Finn and Poe, eyebrows quirked. She tilted her head in the young couple’s direction, as if to say, so? What are you going to do now?

Finn and Poe were not amused. They had not been sure of what to anticipate once Kylo Ren woke up, but neither of them felt compelled to draw their weapons seeing him now. He looked defenseless, doe eyes gazing lovingly at the young Jedi. It was clear Rey felt passionate about him in her speech, but seeing them together was… something else entirely.

Poe cleared his throat, commanding attention. The two lovers looked over at him, both of them turning red in the cheeks, remembering now that they were not, in fact, alone.

Ben straightened, still weak but cognizant enough that he figured it was his moment to state his case. He was still reeling from the conversation with his mother, head slightly aching at the energy he’d exerted while unconscious. He looked to Rey, who nodded slightly, sensing exactly what he was about to do. Just be yourself, she prodded through the Force, flooding him with warmth. That’s more than enough.

“I don’t expect to be forgiven, if that’s what you think,” he said, staring at Poe with an intensity that he hoped communicated resolve. “Treat me like a prisoner or your typical defector, if that’s what you need to do.” He wasn’t nervous, but he was… subdued, loose. Nothing like the masked tyrant that had slipped into Poe’s mind during his interrogation on Jakku, or the ruthless fighter that charged at Luke Skywalker with blind rage on Crait.

It was odd, watching the former Supreme Leader look so… disarmed about the whole thing. One would assume a former ruler of the galaxy would want to hold onto that sort of power. It was as if he’d never cared about being Supreme Leader of the First Order at all. 

Rey watched a series of emotions play themselves out on Poe’s face, ever the expressionist. She could see him wrestling with this — weighing the options, playing the part of General, until finally he loosened. “You good with a blaster, Solo? What about your… lightsaber thing” 

If the casual slip of his birth surname struck Ben, he didn’t show it. The question was more a way for Poe to maintain control over the situation than it was for Ben to prove his worth. That much was obvious. Still, Ben bit back the urge to roll his eyes, stamping down what he wanted to say — I have perfect aim with my eyes closed — and choosing diplomacy instead. He nodded. 

Rey watched Ben, felt the tug of annoyance — so arrogant, she chided through their bond, who knew you were such a flyboy? — and bit her lip, trying not to chuckle. She had a feeling these two would end up getting along. “He’s also a fantastic pilot. Impeccable aim. He trained as a Jedi and wields a lightsaber as I do. We could use someone like him on our side, and you know it.”

Poe eyed them for a moment, looking to Rey, then back at Ben, then once again back to Rey. 

“Fine,” he groaned, removing his hands from his hips dramatically. 

“Ben-Kylo-Whatever-you-wanna-call-yourself can stay. I’ll vote yes. I… I need a drink.” He turned to leave and join the festivities, shaking his head.

Rose had pulled Finn to the side, the two of them conversing in hushed voices. Rey made her way over to her best friend as Poe left.

“Finn…”

He sighed, resigned. Whatever it was Rose had told him had softened his resolve — Rey made a note to thank her later.

“I just don’t get it, Rey. Him?”

She knew it wasn’t jealousy that motivated Finn’s reaction. He was her best and first true friend, and they would always be protective of one another. 

Finn’s heart was good and kind, and if he held a grudge against the First Order for being held captive as a Stormtrooper, that was his right. It certainly was a lot to process to bring him here so suddenly with the claim of their bond and his turn to the light — but with time, they’d come around to Ben. They would understand that his path had not been as clear-cut as it seemed. That unfortunate circumstance had taken him prisoner in this life, too. They would understand, and perhaps even befriend him themselves. She felt it. 

“Finn, I need you to trust me.”

“You know I do, Rey. This is just so—” 

“Sudden? Unexpected? Crazy?” Rey finished for him, the stress of the day starting to catch up to her. “I know, Finn. It is.”

Finn seemed conflicted, still, but there was a moment of thoughtfulness that passed his features. He looked over at Ben, now at the receiving end of a conversation with Rose. Rey prodded his Force signature quickly, only to glean that Rose was setting down a list of ground rules for Ben, starting with an assignment for janitorial duty. 

Rey smiled at them, her heart full once more. “You really think he’ll get away with anything with Commander Tico watching over him?” 

Finn smiled begrudgingly, sighing even as he nodded. “If this is really what you want, Rey…” 

“It is.” She knew this for a fact. She also desperately wanted her friend’s blessing. 

“Okay. We’ll make it work. I’ll... try my best to understand.” 

Rey practically jumped into her friend’s arms, hugging him fiercely. “Thank you, Finn.” 

Glancing over at Ben and Rose, Rey prodded his Force signature quickly, only to glean that Rose was setting down a list of ground rules, starting with an assignment for janitorial duty. 

Rey buzzed with energy, her heart full once more. “Do you really think he’ll get away with anything with Commander Tico watching over him?” 

Finn managed a smile. “Knowing our Rose… no, I don’t think so.” 

Rey returned it in full, grinning wide as she  squeezed Finn’s arm. This was really happening, wasn’t it? Her chest fluttered with a renewed sense of optimism.

“I heard that!” Rose called over from Ben’s side, patting him on the shoulder playfully. He looked deferential, but there was a soft amusement in his eyes, too. Trust a woman more than a foot shorter than him to be the one to take him to task. “Finn, let’s get out there and give these lovebirds some alone time.” 

She hugged Rey on the way out, with Finn at her side. 

And then they were alone once more.

Rey let out a sigh, impressed with herself at having gotten through that entire ordeal. “Well, that happened.” Ben’s fingers circled around her wrist, pulling her closer to his side. This time he brought her hand to his, placing a kiss there.

“How’d I do?” 

She brought her other hand to his hair, letting herself enjoy this quiet moment. It was soft, just as she’d anticipated. She ran her fingers back and forth across it. As scruffed up as they both were by the battle, he looked as princely as ever. “You were great. Your mother… she’d be so proud of you.” 

His eyes shone, and she felt his heart pick up speed in his chest through the bond. It was nice, being able to understand him in a language no one else spoke. Their own secret form of communication, impenetrable to the rest of the world.

“I saw her, you know. When I was unconscious.” 

Rey straightened, surprised. “What? But… how?” She knew the Force worked in mysterious ways, but this was something new altogether. 

He pursed his lips, confused. He looked like he was trying to solve some sort of equation — it was adorable. 

“I’m not sure. When I healed you, it almost took me with it in return. That’s why I was so weak afterwards. She chose that moment to truly let go, which is how I might have  managed to live.”

In the year that Leia and Rey had gotten closer, the general had been a great mentor to her. The mother she’d never had. Still, Rey had been cautious never to ask too much of Ben’s past or their history — it was clear that it was a sensitive subject, and she was still too unsure of her own feelings toward him to risk revealing them to Leia. It was just… easier to detach entirely. 

Now, she wished she could have seen a world where the two were reunited. It would have been nice. Nicer, though, was having him alive and healthy at all. She now knew she had Leia to thank for that. 

Rey leaned down to press a soft kiss to Ben’s lips, her heart fluttering as she did so. She was quickly learning that kissing was a lovely thing to do. 

He returned the kiss in kind, cupping her jaw and pulling her closer. The festivities were still in full swing just outside, the sound of laughter and merriment filtering its way into the small medbay. Rey would bring Ben out there at one point, if only to get everyone used to the sight of him while they were happy and floating on the cheap alcohol. For now, she had other plans.

She pulled away to nudge him over, taking a bit of the medical bed and scooting herself onto it. His arm came around her shoulders and she nuzzled into his chest, sighing dreamily. For a moment she thought of the picture they must make, caked in dirt and blood and yet tangled in each other as though they were lovers in a holodrama.

Rey didn’t have a good explanation for how all of this came so naturally to them, but she didn’t care to find one. It was simply right. The Force sung around them the closer they were to one another. Who was she to deny the will of the Force?

Yes, they’d join the rest of the world later. For now, they contented themselves in the feeling of body against body, soul against soul. 

Her friends had let him stay, and he had healed, and he’d spoken to his mother, and the entire galaxy was waiting just outside the doors to the medbay. She figured a moment of peace and tranquility — and yes, some more kissing, probably — was a small thing to scavenge.

Chapter Text

The medical cots on the Resistance base were cheap, flimsy things made for single person use. Strapped for credits and resources as they had been in the year leading up to the Battle of Exegol, it was no surprise that their current headquarters reflected this. 

The cots weren’t very large or wide, and were made for regular-sized individuals, a classification which Ben Solo veered dangerously close towards not fitting on his own. He and Rey, therefore, definitely did not fit on the medical bed, their limbs awkwardly tangled — one leg dangling off of the edge here, a knee crooked upwards against the side there. His arm ached from where it attempted to rest against her torso, hers bent at an odd angle with her hand curled over his heart. 

He woke to find the sky outside dark, the base lit only by campfires that had popped up around the lush green, surrounded by groups of Resistance soldiers. His eyes roamed Rey’s peaceful face as she slept — roved her full lips, high cheekbones, the soft tendrils of hair that accentuated her jaw. He was sore, his limbs begged to stretch and, despite the healing of his injuries, he still felt like absolute hell.

It had been the best sleep of his life. 

He didn’t remember having fallen asleep, exactly. Rey had climbed into the cot and curled herself into him, gazing up with the same wonder in her eyes as when she’d awoken on Exegol. In the moments alone after her friends left them, they spoke of nothing and everything, caught in a time and place that felt removed from the rest of the world somehow, shockingly intimate in its newness.

She had, at one point, fiddled with the soft fabric of his sweater, toying at the hole she’d left in it.

“I quite like this new look on you,” she said while his fingers skimmed up and down her back. 

“Good to know,” he’d murmured against her ear.  

As he regained full consciousness, he registered his surroundings, taking full stock of the Resistance base for the first time since their arrival. The datapad nearest to him signaled an elapsed time difference of two hours, during which he supposed the party had started to dwindle outside. The chorus of excited cheers had given way to the softer sounds of conversation and laughter, the celebration not so much over as much as it was different, now that the immediate elation had passed. He straightened, panic sinking his chest as the weight of the past few hours — days? — settled.

Rey sighed placidly against him, scrunching her nose as she nuzzled closer. Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeply, anchoring himself in her light as well as his own. What was left of it in the end, anyways. If he let his mind stray too far, he’d find nothing but the vestiges of poison left behind, thought patterns that ran on muscle memory alone. The voices in his head might have been extinguished, but he could feel the echoes nonetheless. It would take active work to keep them at bay, a task that felt substantially more manageable with Rey at his side.

Holding her against him now felt miraculous, like a gift that had been given to him — one he staunchly believed he didn’t deserve, but would cherish all the same. He’d been given something to live for, rather than something to run away from.

Rey stirred against him. Her eyes fluttered open slowly, staring up into his with what he recognized to be a lot like love, despite his disbelief. 

“Hi,” she smiled lazily.

 Instinctively, his hold around her tightened. “Hi,” was all he could think to respond with. 

It was easy to imagine another lifetime, another universe, where they were just a man and a woman waking up together as though it were the easiest thing in the world. As though they hadn’t had to fight, tooth and nail, for the privilege of being alive. As though they were in a comfortable bed made for two overlooking some grand and majestic landscape and not cramped on a single-use, shabby cot where he was, for all intents and purposes, a political prisoner. 

Despite the what ifs and the maybes — and there were many — none of them mattered. Not now. Not anymore.

“How are you feeling?” Rey asked, sleep heavy in her voice. She looked almost angelic in the warm light that filtered in from the campfires outside. 

“I…” He didn’t think he could ever get used to her looking at him like that. Those eyes and that smile. 

“I think I need to stretch my legs.” He winced. 

Smooth. 

She chuckled softly, her breath tickling his chest. Every move, every word, every touch felt heightened. Stifling a yawn, she started to move over, legs dangling over the edge of the cot. 

“So,” she started, stretching as she began to fully wake up. Her eyes wandered to the groups of people out in the field, roaming the crowd as though finally calculating what the Resistance had been left with, now that they’d won. 

“Ready to go introduce the world to Ben Solo?” Her tone was playful, but the hand that gripped his was protective. She gave one firm squeeze for good measure.

“I’ll admit that the prospect of joining in on the fun isn’t the most appealing right now.” 

Rey hopped off of the cot, seeming to take that into consideration. “What about freshening up a bit? We look like death .” She raised her hands away from herself, eyeing the blood caked around her knuckles with a grimace. A soft, disbelieving chuckle escaped her as realization hit. “Well, I guess I did die, so…” 

“Don’t remind me.” The memory of her limp, lifeless body was still too fresh. He wasn’t faring much better; his sweater was grey with dust and his body had grown a new layer of skin that looked a bit like dirt. Getting thrown off of a cliff into dead space would do that to you, he figured. Rey grabbed his hands and pulled, helping him off of the cot. His legs thanked him for the extra space, cracking appreciatively after having been cramped for hours. 

“The ‘freshers are probably empty with everyone outside, too. It’ll just be us.” 

That got a smile out of him as he let her lead him away towards the shower stalls. 

Ben’s lifestyle within the First Order had not been luxurious, per se, but the technology had at least been state-of-the-art. In comparison, the ‘freshers on Ajan Kloss were a lot like the medbay, which was a lot like the rest of the Resistance base — that is to say, not very sophisticated. The makeshift bathing area that featured rows of simple showers separated by flimsy curtains was primitive at best. 

Still, he’d take a shabby, standard-use ‘fresher with Rey in it than all the luxury in the galaxy without her. 

She pulled him into the nearest stall, locking the door behind them. Without missing a beat, she began to unwrap her arm bands, revealing  bare skin. 

He felt his face get hot, and he figured the rest of him wasn’t far behind. 

“Wait.” He grabbed  her arms, effectively stopping her from going any further. “I—what are you doing?”

“We’re showering… you need to take off your clothes to shower, you know that right?” She was teasing him, which he would have gladly returned in kind if the image of her taking off anything else — revealing smooth, tanned skin that he had fantasized about too many times in dark moments alone — hadn’t threatened to burn his face off. 

He released his hold on her, clearing his throat. “I suppose you’re right.” He didn’t realize how quickly this would move. He’d never been around any undressed women. 

“There isn’t much room for modesty on a war base, you know.” She was taking this quite in stride, as though they were about to do something that didn’t involve them baring their bodies to each other. “Not that I’ve showered with anyone before, of course. Just… that things are a bit freer here. They have to be.” 

He reddened, a  string of jealousy shooting through him at the thought of anyone else seeing her undressed, though he figured it wasn’t unusual for the lifestyle of a fringe militia to be much more liberal than that of the cold, repressive First Order. And yet, it was hard to process the sudden change — and the thoughts that accompanied images of her naked body. 

“I’d much rather the first time we fully undress in front of each other be under… different circumstances.” His eyes darkened, letting images of those fantasies just barely grazing against her mind. Not enough to bombard her, but just enough to make sure she understood what he had planned — in a world where he could have planned for something like this, anyways.

Her blush rivaled his now, a shy smile gracing her features. She was pensive for a moment, her eyes roaming the large, sterile room. 

She grabbed a stool from the corner and placed it underneath the showerhead closest to them. “Sit.”

“Why?”

“Just sit, Ben.” She grabbed his shoulders, tipping her toes to do so, and pulled him down, placing him on the chair. “I want to do something for you.” 

He obeyed her orders, a sheepish smile gracing his lips. “What exactly do you have planned?” 

She ignored the question, her hands traveling to his large sweater, fingertips gingerly pulling on the bottom. “Arms up, please.” 

He raised his arms obediently as she pulled the dirty, broken sweater up and over his head. His heart was thundering in his chest at the close contact to his skin — something he hoped she wouldn’t be able to pick up on. He’d at least like to try to feign experience. 

“The sight of my bare chest flustered you once. It doesn’t anymore?” 

She reflected on the memory with a mischievous smirk. “Well, after a year in a cramped military base… your chest isn’t the only one I’ve seen.”

Another pulse of jealousy shot through him. She laughed, out loud this time, sensing his boyish discomfort. Leaning closer to place her hands on his neck, she pressed a kiss to his lips. 

“Don’t worry, it was still the first.” Another kiss, slower this time. She leaned back to appreciate him as she discarded the sweater with a toss behind her. “And the best.” 

 It was so easy to speak freely with her, it made him wonder how he lasted all of this time without another person to truly confide in — someone with whom he could laugh, tease, flirt. 

Then again, of course it was her. Who else could it possibly be? 

She pointed at his pants. “Take those off too, please. Unless you don’t mind them getting wet.” 

He reddened at the command. Before he could protest once again about the circumstances under which they were undressing and how he’d really rather do this another, more special time, Rey spoke, anticipating his train of thought. “You’ll stay in your underthings. Just... relax and take off your pants, please. Unless you’d like me to?” 

Once again he found himself resigned to doing as he was told, realizing quickly that this was just the way things were going to be now. Yesterday, he might have been Supreme Leader of the galaxy, but now he was just a man, completely at the mercy of the feral scavenger from the desert he fell in love with. Nothing about that sentence displeased him, necessarily. 

Still, he wasn’t quite ready for her hands to go… well, anywhere near his pants quite yet — so he ambled them off while sitting, pulling off his boots in the process. He was down to his boxers and absolutely mortified at the thought of being seen at his most vulnerable

Despite her faux bravado, tendrils of shyness inched their way over to him. It was indeed a comfort to know he wasn’t the only one flustered. “Now what?” 

Her gaze was locked squarely on his thighs, then his legs, only to roam back up to his face after a few minutes. She cleared her throat for good measure, but he could have sworn there was a darkness in her stare that hadn’t been there moments ago. “Just relax, like I said. I don’t want to drench my clothes and need to clean up too, so I’m going to take off my wraps. No funny business, I promise.” 

Before he could answer, she set to work again on the cloth around her chest, before his arms stopped hers. “Let… let me return the favor, then.” He was tall enough — and she was short enough — that he could reach the clasps on her tunic from his position on the chair. She was soft and pliant under his touch as he unraveled her clothes to reveal a long band of cloth over her chest. She shimmied out of her boots and pants, revealing a similar cloth over the bottom. He did his best not to look, but she was a sight to behold even when covered in dirt and dust. 

Here they were, once mortal enemies, bared down to their most vulnerable state in front of each other, without any pretense or expectations. It felt raw, and a bit uncomfortable, but also exactly right. The moment was so quiet, so intimate, it made his eyes water with something akin to adoration.

“Can I…” 

She turned to face him, eyeing him curiously. “Can you…?” 

He pointed at her signature three buns. Her hands flew up towards them self-consciously. A sudden shy smile took over her face. “Oh. Um, yes.”

He had to lean up to do it, but his fingers softly grazed each of the three buns, twisting them out and removing the elastic bands connecting them, her hair tumbling freely around her shoulders. It was soft, just as he’d somehow expected it to be. Longer, too, than it had been a year ago. 

He was shocked at how gentle his hands were capable of being, how easy it was to find tenderness for her. He had to consciously remind himself that these were his hands giving her goosebumps, his touch ricocheting waves of soft pleasure back at him through the Force as he gently grazed her shoulders, unable to stop himself. His hands dwarfed her shoulder blades as he rubbed them softly. 

She turned to face him, cheeks pink. 

“I like your hair like this,” he murmured, twirling one lock around his fingers. 

She pursed her lips. “Good to know.” 

The water was warm when it touched their skin, the floor turning dark with the dirt and blood washing off of their bodies. Rey grabbed the shampoo and poured some of the liquid in her hands, bringing it to a lather. “Okay. Just… ease up a bit,” she nudged at his shoulders, mimicking his tense posture with an exaggerated pose that brought her own shoulders to her ears. She moved to stand behind him and began to run her fingers through his hair, spreading the shampoo evenly, using the tips of her fingers to massage his scalp. 

Ben’s eyes closed on their own, and it took everything in him not to groan audibly. Her touch was soothing in a way that made him want to drown in her. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been touched like this, couldn’t pinpoint a moment in time where he craved someone’s hands on him more than he felt repulsed by it. 

For so long, he’d eschewed companionship. Now, he couldn’t — didn’t want to —  imagine a world where Rey’s hands weren’t on him as often as possible. Each time his mind began to wander, he remembered that he was here and she was washing his hair for him and it felt like heaven on earth. She took her time with it while the water poured over them, gently scrubbing the tips of his ears as well. He felt a surge of affection overtake him and his heart threatened to burst out of his chest. 

It was one thing to love Rey. That came easy. 

It was another thing entirely to feel loved by her in return.  

When she was done, grabbing his hair to wring out the cleaning solution, she rubbed her hand over his forehead in a soothing back-and-forth. 

“How was that?” 

His eyes opened to her face upside-down, directly above his. He answered with a wet kiss, her mouth slanted awkwardly against his from the angle above him, a kiss salty with tears he pretended weren’t falling from his eyes. A kiss that tasted of new beginnings and freedom and hope above all else. 

They made quick work of their shower after that, taking turns helping each other as they stood together in the shower stall. She grabbed soap and repeated her earlier ministrations on his chest, taking her time as she rubbed soap along his body, looking up at him shyly under her lids — despite her bravado, this was all new to her, too. 

He couldn’t help himself, leaning down to kiss her, wrapping her up in his arms and getting her full of soap. It was quite efficient, the way her arms snaked around his neck, their bodies flush against each other. Made it easier for him to return the favor afterwards, his hands full of soap and skimming her curves to help her get clean. He enjoyed the gentle notion of being useful to her, relished the way their bodies seemed to fit around each other when they were in the same space, each movement graceful and lithe. 

Turning off the water, Rey grabbed two towels from the bin in the corner, gingerly handing one to Ben. As they dried off, there was no sound other than that of the soft fabric moving across their skin, the bright lights of the ‘fresher bringing him back down to reality. 

The towel was draped across her chest, held together by fingers pinching it at her side. He could see the freckles dotting her cheeks, and her hair was wet around her shoulders. She was beautiful . It would have been easy to let his mind wander, to imagine a scenario closer to what he had originally thought would happen when they first undressed around each other, but the innocence of the moment — the pure love in her act for him and the moment they had shared — was so captivating that it was hard to focus on anything else. 

“Rey…”

“Yes, Ben?” She was preoccupied now with finding spare clothes for them to wear, sorting through bins with spare Resistance-issue tunics and trousers that weren’t sorted by size. 

He chewed the walls of his mouth, contemplating how to articulate the question that possessed him — why? 

She chucked a white t-shirt his way, eyeing him curiously. 

“I just want to make sure you realize what you’re doing. With me, with us. I know I’m not what you expected, and I’m grateful that you’re giving me a chance, but…” 

Ben .” She moved towards him, grabbing his face with both of her hands. “Don’t you see? I am choosing  you. I threatened to flee to Tatooine — a graveyard, in your words — for you. We are in this together. Or do you think I undress and shower with any pair of pretty eyes that comes my way?” 

He had the sudden urge to tear himself from her determined gaze, settling instead for closing his eyes and shifting to let his lips meet her hand, smiling against it. He stayed there for a few moments until he found the strength to speak again. “You think I have pretty eyes?”

She hummed agreeably. “The prettiest.” 

A knock on the door shook them out of the moment, the two of them jumping at the reminder that there was an entire world waiting for them out there. “Anyone in there? We want to use the ‘freshers too!”

“Just a minute!” Rey shouted, biting her lip to keep from giggling, hiding her blushing face in the crook of Ben’s neck. He couldn’t help it — the moment was so absurd, so far beyond the realm of his carefully constructed sense of reality — he started laughing . The sound felt foreign to him, like it was coming from someone else, and he realized with a start that he didn’t remember the last time he’d laughed at all. The bond immediately lit up with Rey’s amusement, drenched in shock and a soft admiration at this side of him. 

She likes it when you laugh.

She tore herself away from him, finding the clothes she had tucked away and throwing them on. The short-sleeved shirt and dark pants fit him as well as he could hope, and he looked up to see her in a similar outfit. The clothes were mismatched, generic garments that gave no indication of who or what they were — simple pieces of fabric that just about anyone could wear. They were just another man and woman on the Resistance base, working towards a common goal. Nobodies, the two of them.

Before she opened the door, she looked up at him, prodding him gently with the Force. Gauging him.  

“How are you feeling? Ready now?”

Honestly, he wasn’t. He’d never be ready to face the world he’d helped wreak havoc upon. He would much rather spend the rest of eternity alone with Rey, with no one to bother them and all the time in the world to explore each other

He leaned down to kiss her once more, her lips soft and tender after the shower. Her hair was still wet and her new outfit was slightly big on her and she was perfect. 

Life had decided on other plans for him. This was Rey’s place — his mother’s, too — and she wanted him there, alongside her. He’d muster up the strength somehow.  

Chapter Text

It was surreal, Ben thought to himself, to walk so casually amongst the very people he’d been fighting against just a day ago. Though he had ultimately decided to walk away from it all, it was a different matter altogether to pretend to understand them, to suddenly be brought into the fold. If that is what this new life of his could be considered, anyways. He still wasn’t quite sure.

The past year had been a confusing time. He’d exercised his duties as Supreme Leader with a firm but distant grip. Surely a better “leader” than Snoke had been, he supposed. His rule had been as fair as possible, if not muddled by the politics of a regime that, admittedly, meant little to him.

It had always been the call to the Dark, the overwhelming urge to forget, ignore, run, that stoked him.

He’d been running away from the moment he awoke to see his Uncle’s face staring down at him in unbridled fear, the green glow of the Jedi’s lightsaber clashing against the blue of his own. Hadn’t stopped running, in fact, until the moment he’d thrown his crossguard into the sea.

Rey’s rejection after their battle on Supremacy had stung more than he’d ever wanted to admit — and  who was he to start a new order on his own? So, he retaliated the only way he knew how: doubling down what he was supposed to believe, rather than looking inwards to find himself. In the process, he’d let his mother fully slip away, believing himself to be too far gone, though he knew now that her love had never wavered. 

Still. It was hard to reconcile who he was with who he wanted to be. He’d always loathed meditation, his mind far too loud and chaotic to find peace and quiet, but maybe it was time to start.

He was weary of asking for reassurance —  his pride still a stubborn, angry thing at the end of the day — but he was also unable to calm the doubt in his head.

Rey squeezed his hand gently, pulling him out of his reverie. 

They slowly  approached the field, where Rey’s friends were clustered amongst other soldiers as they laughed and drank. The air was warm but not too humid, and the breeze that filtered it's way through the treetops felt nice. Alive. 

“Rey! Over here!” he heard the Stormtrooper —  Finn —  shout from across the field, all the anger and frustration that had been reserved for him just hours ago now gone. The energy surrounding the camp was light and dizzy, blurred around the edges.

Poe, Finn and Rose were sharing a glass that held a dark liquid, the three of them in a much happier mood than they had been a few hours ago. They were joined by a group of young soldiers, none of whom he recognized. 

“Everyone,” Rey announced, just a sliver of anxiety in her tone, so tight you could almost miss it if you weren’t paying attention. “This is Ben. Ben Solo.”

The name Solo sent sparks of awareness throughout the group. General Organa had not been too public about the tragedy of her family, but rumors were cheap currency in a place like this. Most people knew of a young Solo son that had run away — to what dark fate, exactly, was mostly left to their collective imagination. 

A blonde woman with plaits spoke up first. “Solo? As in—”

“Yes, Kaydel. Leia Organa’s son.” 

“But wasn’t he… well, you know…?” 

Rey looked to Poe, Finn, and Rose, as if in a silent question. Poe nodded, however begrudgingly, taking the lead. 

“Listen, guys… I need you to stay calm as I say this,” he huddled closer, gathering their attention. “We’ll make a formal announcement about this tomorrow, but Ben Solo is Kylo Ren.”

Ben winced at the sharp gasps that arose around him as they slowly backed away from him in fear, gripping their blasters. Poe rolled his eyes, just as annoyed about having to give this information as he was to defend him. He raised his arms in front of him before they were able to make any hasty moves. 

“At ease, soldiers. He isn’t a threat, and he’s not Kylo Ren anymore. At least, that’s what Rey has promised us.”

They all looked to her then, eyes as wide as saucers, taking note of their clasped hands. Rey gave Ben’s hand another gentle squeeze before starting up again. 

“I hope you’ll give him the chance to tell you the full story on his own eventually,” she said, sparing a glance his way. He stood taller in an effort to communicate resoluteness. He wasn’t shy — no space left in him for that — but it was disconcerting to be spoken about like… this

“What I can tell you,” Rey began again, “is that he saved my life. He didn’t have to renounce the name Kylo Ren. He didn’t have to storm into Exegol to help me against Palpatine. He chose to do those things on his own because he is well and truly good. I’d be dead were it not for him.” 

Ben suddenly felt much too big in his own body, uncomfortable with the way she'd consistently defended him. He’d never understand what she saw in him. 

Thank you, he offered through the bond with all of the affection he could muster, knowing it was nowhere near enough. For believing in him, for caring about him, for seeing him. 

What is there to thank me for? Nothing I’ve said is a lie. She maintained a passive expression, but he noticed the pink that had graced her freckled cheeks. He rubbed soothing circles against her wrist with his thumb in response.

There was an uncomfortable silence that settled among the small crowd. How many times had they been engaged in high-stakes battles, happily bombing ships he was commanding? 

The blonde — Kaydel — crossed her arms. “So, that’s it? Supreme Leader Kylo Ren is just… a part of us now? We get no choice in this?” She’d barely tried to hide the poison that had dipped into her tone. 

Ben cleared his throat. "I—"

"Forgive us if we don't exactly feel like hearing from you, Supreme Leader. How are we supposed to trust anything you say?" 

"Hey, come on. We—we're all trying our best here." Finn's arms were clenched at his sides, as though the effort of defending him was physically painful. 

“What’s the procedure for defected First Order officials, Kaydel?” Rose asked, glaring up at her. She drew closer, her tone increasing in severity when the young officer didn’t answer. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re starting at ground zero here. We can’t afford to lose anything more. If he saved Rey’s life, he helped us win. That means he gets to stay. Got it?” 

Kaydel blanched but nodded. Arguing against Rose Tico was generally frowned upon — it was universally acknowledged that one rarely stood a chance against her.

“Besides,” she shrugged, catching Rey and Ben’s thankful eyes. There it was again: that glimmer of understanding in her eyes. “He’s on janitorial duty for now. Should take him down a few notches as we gain any valuable intel he might have. So, any questions? Or can we all go back to celebrating?”

Kaydel nodded, along with her fellow comrades, muttering a guess not as they walked away, immersing themselves in the crowd again. Maybe word would spread, maybe it wouldn’t. They’d prepare the official briefing for tomorrow, either way. The four friends released a collective, relieved sigh as the soldiers trailed off. 

“So. Leia’s son has finally come home.” A wise, old voice spoke from behind them.

Maz Kanata. 

He’d known of her since he was a boy, though they had never met face to face. Except, of course, for the unfortunate incident at Takodana Castle. She looked up at him with an old curiosity, as though she could know everything about him through a simple look. He was a good two feet taller than her, which gave him the impulse to lean down.

Maz Kanata used the proximity to land a slap on his face, eliciting shocked gasps from everyone surrounding them. He flinched, holding his cheek. Ow! ” 

That is for ruining my castle, young Solo.” The pain was sharp — she was stronger than she looked — but he was almost grateful for it. It reminded him that this was not going to be easy. Not by a long shot.

“Maz!” Rey scolded the woman, leaning over to check on him. “Are you okay, Ben?” 

“I’m fine. But how did she—” he turned to address Maz. “How did you know?” 

“I know many things. I have been around far longer than any of you — and will be around long after you’re all gone,” she said, an air of self-importance all around her. After a few moments of silence, she sighed. “I was with Leia in her final moments, and I know she used all her strength to bring you back from death.” 

Her eyes caught the treetops behind Ben, distant and all-knowing. “It has been a long journey for us all.”

“Well… thank you for the homecoming gift,” he rubbed his jaw. “And I’m sorry about your castle. Really, I am.” 

She nodded, at last noticing Rey, then their clasped hands, pausing for a moment. “It seems you have found that belonging you sought, child, yes?” 

Rey blushed, her eyes meeting Ben’s over the orange light of the campfire. She cleared her throat. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, I’ve found it.” 

Maz tsked , shaking her head. “A… unique choice, to be sure, but I am no judge. All is as the Force wills it. Ah, and look who it is now!” 

Ben heard a familiar roar from behind, his heart turning cold. 

“Chewie!” Rey called out behind him. She ran to hug the Wookiee, her arms barely able to encircle his massive frame. He growled affectionately, patting her on the head as he set Rey down. 

Ben turned around to find himself facing none other than Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian. His two remaining uncles. 

He remembered, suddenly, the visions that came to him when he bled his kyber crystal. The pain and anger had torn him wide open, and in the process he’d been laid bare with what he considered the truth — those who loved him would soon happily forget him. Or worse: they never loved him at all and were glad to see him gone, just another nuisance out of the way. 

Just days ago, when his uncle had been captured and placed in an interrogation room, Ben had thrown his crossguard at Chewbacca’s feet and invited him to avenge Han Solo. In his fury and grief he’d almost wanted it. 

Instead, all he’d gleaned from that encounter were reminders of the past. Vivid images of himself when looking inside Chewbacca’s  mind — moments he’d grasped onto Chewbacca’s warm fur as though it were the safest place in the world, or when the Wookiee had gentle grabbed his arms to show him how to angle his blaster for optimum accuracy during target practice. He’d been so focused on his objective in that interrogation room that he hadn’t even realized his mind was already turning. Chewie’s memories had begun to show him that he was still loved.

Lando, though… Ben hadn’t seen him since he was a scrawny Jedi apprentice. Seeing the two of them like this felt like a punch to the gut. If they could see in his mind, they’d know all that he’d been through to get to this moment. Perhaps one day he’d be able to make them understand, though he knew that there were things he’d done he would never fully recover from. 

Chewie looked at him for a moment, measuring Ben’s newly healed face and the standard Resistance-issue clothing he now wore instead of his typical tunic and trousers. Something seemed to spark in the Wookiee, because he suddenly ran towards Ben with a shriek that spoke to his deep grief just as much as it did his happiness at seeing the young Solo child finally home.

Ben was a large man. Larger than most, in fact. And yet, he was dwarfed by Chewbacca’s frame, engulfed in an embrace that felt a little bit like being five again, hands curling at his fur. Tears sprang up as he hugged the furry beast back. In his roar Ben heard understanding as well as pain. It was something; it was a start. Far more than he deserved.

When Ben didn’t reply, he tugged on him harder, whisking him around. Ben’s cheeks reddened before he opened his mouth and garbled a weak hello and an I’m sorry for everything in his Shyriiwook — which, admittedly, was a bit out of practice. 

He heard shocked laughs coming from the group that remained, Rey’s the loudest, which only deepened the flush that was now up to the tips of his ears. He met Chewbacca’s eyes as he was set down. He knew that true forgiveness would take time, but this was a start. He was prepared to work for the rest. 

Once he was squarely planted on the ground, he turned to meet Lando’s face.

Ben didn’t know what to say. Lando had been a dear friend to his father, and for all intents and purposes he had been a member of the family. Where was he supposed to begin?

Silence stretched out between them as they took stock of where the years had taken them, all of the different ways the galaxy had torn them apart and tried to piece them back together. 

Lando broke the silence first, rubbing his chin. “You’re taller than I remember.”

When he didn’t answer, Lando continued, taking him by the shoulder with a sigh. “Listen, kid. I don’t think there’s anything I can tell you aren’t telling yourself. You’ve made quite a mess of things,” he brought him over to an empty log, where the two of them sat and watched the fire. 

There was no arguing that statement. Ben nodded, looking out at the celebration. Rey had taken to conversing with Rose and Finn, sparing furtive glances his way often as though to check in on him. She knew, instinctively, that this was an important moment. “I know.” 

“The good news is, your old uncle Lando has a bit of a penchant for trouble. I know more than you think about getting involved with the wrong people and having to clean up messes.” He began to laugh to himself, shaking his head as a memory came to him. “Hey, you used to call me Uncle Wanwo, remember that? You’d cry all the time. Such a fussy baby, always needed someone to hold you.” 

Ben had been far too young to recall that bit of information, but the more he realized that there were good memories to parse through in his childhood, the more he wanted to find as many of them as possible. Grip them as tightly as he could. It was all that was left of them now. “I can’t say I do. Wish I did, though.” There was a melancholy in his tone that Lando picked up on, patting Ben’s broad shoulders. 

“We’ve all been through too damn much, kid. We need to find ways to help each other. At the end of the day, family is family. Right?” 

Not for the first time that night, tears sprang to Ben’s eyes. For so long he’d considered himself forgotten. Betrayed. It was easy for him to cling to that and retaliate accordingly. Now, he had started to realize that it wasn’t true — even if he deserved it to be. 

His gaze strayed towards Rey again, that bright light in the midst of blinding darkness. Even now, stuck in separate conversations as they were, she anchored him. More than anyone else, she had shown him that life was worth living. That he was capable of treading the right path. She was leading his way. 

She smiled at something Finn said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. In the glow of the campfire she was incandescent, the freckles that dusted her cheeks visible even from his distance. It had never been easier for Ben to visualize a future than when he looked at Rey. 

“Family is family.”


The alcohol had made favorable parties out of everyone, Rey included. She’d imbibed a bit of the ale being passed around and felt light and fuzzy inside. As Ben rekindled with his family, Rey reflected on her own. What she could consider family, anyways. 

“I just wished you’d told us, Rey.” Finn looked disappointed. He was always a bit glum when he drank. Rose leaned over to drape her head on his shoulder, his arm coming around her. 

“I wish I had told you, too. There was just… it was bigger than both of us. I wasn’t sure how to explain it,” Rey had settled on honesty, now that all was said and done. The alcohol helped. 

She had given them an abridged version of their story: the bond, Ach-To, everything that had led them to this. 

“So, you two could talk through the Force? Is that how you… y’know…” Rose wriggled her eyebrows. 

Rey chuckled, covering her face with her hands. Her face was reddening as she peeked out at them from between her fingers. “I guess so. It’s deeper than that, though.” She glanced over at Ben speaking with Chewie and Lando, memories of his childhood filtering towards her through the bond. 

“He’s… we’re…” Rey couldn’t find the words. “It’s not easy to describe.”

Rose’s hand came to rest on her shoulder. “We get it, Rey. We can see it. You two aren’t exactly subtle.”

Her blush deepened as she took an unladylike swig of the ale, felt it hot and sharp as it smoothed her throat, numbed her senses just a bit more. 

Looking at Ben felt like looking at a signal beacon, a figurehead of stability amongst a sky of uncertainty. He’d made his way back to her. They would figure out the rest together.

As the night settled down, he’d ended up next to her, the fire in front of them the only light left. Slowly but surely, everyone had filtered out of the central grounds, off to their bunks. Tomorrow the future would begin. It had been a long, long day.

Rey nuzzled into Ben’s chest, finding it warm and soft. 

He looked down at her with a wry smile. “How are you feeling?” 

She burrowed deeper, gazing up at him from below his chest where her arms were wrapped around him. He was so big he dwarfed her lithe frame. She found that she would quite like to sit there, engulfed in him forever. “Good. Safe. I have you.” 

He cupped her chin, tipping her face upwards to press a kiss to her lips. It felt better and better every time, as they quickly became used to this easy intimacy. “Good. How about sleeping now?”

“Sleep sounds nice. Here?” She felt light from the alcohol, enough that she was warm all over. 

He started to rise, taking her hands with him to help her up. “I was thinking of a bed?” 

“A bed sounds good.” She hummed, eyes closed, her hands stretched outwards while she remained seated. “Lead the way.” 

“You forget I don’t exactly know my way around here.”

Her eyes popped open. “Right. I’ll lead the way.”

Though there weren’t a lot of amenities afforded to the members of the Resistance, private bunks were available. Rey was grateful for that small luxury as she opened the door to her tiny room, the one thing in this camp that was wholly hers. Surprisingly enough the walk towards the bunks had helped sober her, though the anxiety of realizing she was leading Ben Solo into her room was part of it. 

Ben’s eyes captured her space, taking it in. He ambled towards her bedside table, where she had placed a few flowers inside of a cup filled with water. 

She took note of his curiosity. “It’s something I’ve always done. Even in Jakku,” she said. It was a new level of closeness, to have him examine her personal quarters. “Just a small way to bring some life into a room, I guess.” 

“They’re pretty.” 

Why was she blushing? He was complimenting her flowers, not her. And yet, she felt giddy at his soft approval. She wanted him to like her bunk — as though by extension it meant he approved of her. 

He surveyed the rest of the room. There was a small chest for her clothes, and she had set up a makeshift desk at the edge with some of the Jedi texts — presumably from Ach-To. Part of her desk held what appeared to be pieces of metal for a lightsaber. 

“Is this…?”

She ambled toward the desk, eyeing her workstation. She nodded. “My saber. I was in the process of building it before… well, everything.” 

Honestly, she’d been having a rough time with it. The information in the old Jedi books were helpful, but it wasn’t enough. 

“You know, it’s been a long time since I built mine, but I can help you. If–if you need it,” he said. 

The thought of Ben taking the time to help her build her lightsaber made her heart soar. She could imagine what he must have looked like constructing his saber, with a younger face and a troubled mind, eyebrows drawn together in intense concentration. 

“I’d like that.” She smiled down at her messy desk, then looked up at him. “Speaking of, what happened to yours?” 

He cringed, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck sheepishly. “I may have thrown it into the ocean. Seemed appropriate at the moment, but…” 

“And of course you ran into battle without it. You’re lucky I was there.”

He wrapped his arms around her from behind, leaning down so his head was in the crook of her shoulder. “I’m lucky about a lot of things because of you.” 

Her face warmed at the contact, her heart fluttering in her chest. Was she ever going to get used to this? His arms felt protective, and for the first time in her life she realized she felt whole. Like a piece of her that had always been missing was finally in place. She sighed against him, happy to stay wrapped in his arms for the rest of her life. Until, of course, she realized there was a perfectly good bed two steps away.

She separated herself from his grasp, kicking her boots off before lowering herself down.

“Come on,” she reached up to grab his hand, pulling him towards her. His arms landed on each side of her, his face just a few inches above hers. She leaned up to kiss him, pulling him down with her arms crossed over his neck. 

He smiled against her lips. “ Way better than a cot.” 

She adjusted so that he was fully on the bed, his body caging hers in. His lips drifted towards her neck, sending pinpricks of pleasure throughout her body. She placed a hand on his chest, curling the fabric of his new t-shirt, before finding his mouth again. Kissing him felt like breathing, oddly enough, as though her body was meant to exist alongside his, just like this. 

They stayed like that for a while, content to enjoy each other with the freedom of knowing they had all the time in the world to explore. Slowly they gained more confidence, hands grabbing at clothes and fingertips grazing bare skin. Rey shivered under his touch as he leaned down to nuzzle her shoulders.

“You’re so perfect,” he murmured against her skin, the deep baritone of his voice doing more than enough to raise goosebumps on her flesh. “I can’t believe I’m this lucky.” 

Eventually he laid down behind her, wrapping his arms around her torso to bring her closer to him, pressing soft kisses to her earlobe from behind. It had indeed been nice to wake up next to him in the medical cot, but this —  this was the most comfortable she’d ever been. They laid there for a long while, nothing but the sound of their soft breaths interrupting silence as night settled upon them. Their first night of many together.

It was hard for her mind not to wander in that silence. The day was finally over, the battle had been won, and she was wrapped in Ben Solo’s arms. This had seemed impossible just a day ago, after an entire year of silent yearning for a man she wasn’t supposed to love. 

“I’ve dreamt of this so often it’s hard to believe it’s real,” she whispered against his arm, breaking the silence. “Having you here with me.” 

She flipped over to meet his gaze, leaning forward until their foreheads were touching. His eyes were so intense, so full of emotion, that she had to close her own as tears threatened to spill down her cheeks. Suddenly it was as though the weight of the past year fell over her, the grief and longing she’d suffered through. That she’d told no one about.

“I was so lonely, Ben. Watching you over the holonet, strategizing over your every move, pretending not to care. It was unbearable.”

Ben’s fingers came to her chin, rubbing softly at the skin there. She leaned into his touch. “Rey, look at me. Please.” 

It killed her, to hear that same pleading tone in his voice as she had aboard the Supremacy. She opened her eyes, unable to stop the errant tears that had threatened to fall before. He was finally here. 

He worked his jaw, the light from the moon reflecting against his pale skin. She could see each mole and freckle on his chest and face. His hair was dry now, and it fell in soft waves that caught the light. 

He pressed his lips to her cheek, tenderly kissing away a tear. “I was a fool –– I should have done this a long time ago. I know that now. But I’m here.” A kiss to her right cheek, once again salty. “You will never be alone again, Rey.” 

Rey had spent nineteen years in an abandoned AT-AT waiting for a family that would never come. She’d found comfort and companionship with her new friends in the Resistance, but it was a tricky, flimsy thing, founded on the back of a war she’d found herself thrust into. She loved them. She also knew they weren’t the family she’d been aching for her entire life. 

It wasn’t until Ben—until she had found herself connected to him, across time and space— that she’d realized what it meant to be seen by someone. To find hope and possibility in the flutter of her chest, and the thought of his arms around her. To feel safe. To understand someone and be wholly understood in return.  

They had suffered enough alone. Nature's blind cruelty had clutched at them both with a firm grip, putting them through far too much pain and loss over the course of their lives.

But together, they would never feel alone or wanting again.

Chapter Text

Ben stared at the Dejarik board in front of him, watching the holographic creatures poised for battle. They eyed each other, snarling soundlessly while waiting for their signal to move.

The Grimtaash was his favorite to play with — it wasn’t as powerful as the Kintan Strider or the Mantellian Savrip, sure, but his skeletal head was awesome, and he had the ability to stun other pieces for two whole turns. His mother had told him epic stories of Grimtaash the Molator and how he protected her old world of Alderaan, where she’d been a princess. Where she would have been Queen. Technically, that made him a Prince of that old world, she’d said. He liked those stories. He’d imagine himself as the Grimtaash, protecting his family from danger on a grand quest across the galaxy.

If you played your cards right in a round of Dejarik, the Grimtaash could win you the game — and Ben always played his cards as best he could. He had even won against Chewie once or twice, much to the Wookiee’s discontent.

Uncle Chewie wasn’t here now. He was with his own family on Kashyyyk – and with his father piloting the Falcon, and his mother handling Senate matters via holo all day, there was no one to play with. If he stretched his mind just a little bit — channeled the Force, as Uncle Luke had called it when he first introduced Ben to the strong tug of energy that surrounded him — he could play for two, pretending someone else was sitting in front of him. He’d tried that on occasion, but it was never as fun.

So, he sat and watched the board. They had left Chandrila just hours ago, ambling onto the Falcon at dawn, his eyes tired. They were en route to visit his Uncle Lando, who had just unveiled a new wing of his resort on Bespin.

As sad as Ben was to be alone without a Dejarik partner, he was glad to be alone in his head. The voice — Snoke, he’d called himself — hadn’t bothered him in weeks. He supposed he’d be back, sooner or later, but for now his head was quiet. It was nice.

“Ben!” Han called his attention from the cockpit. “Get over here, I wanna show you something!”

Ben’s heart took off like a fathier. He wasn’t allowed in the cockpit, usually — “It’s too dangerous for a kid,” Leia would say, with a hand on her hip and a tone that meant business — but his mother’s disapproving glare was nowhere to be found. He walked towards the cockpit cautiously, as though this was a trick, only to find his father grinning at him from the pilot’s seat.

Han turned in the seat to face Ben as he approached. “I was thinking. You’re gonna be eight soon, kid. Isn’t that something?” He ruffled Ben’s hair lovingly, a wistful gleam in his eye. “I think eight is the perfect age to start to learn to pilot a ship. What do you think?”

Ben’s palms were starting to get sweaty. He loved the Falcon. He’d been fed the stories about this ship, about the things it could do — the things it did since he was a toddler. Even if people did call it a piece of junk, it wasn’t to him. One day, he’d be able to pilot across the galaxy in it. Just like his dad.

“Really?”

“Yes, really. Sit down, kid.” Han gestured to the empty copilot seat, turning to fiddle with the controls as the Falcon drifted through the Core regions on its way out towards Bespin on auto-pilot. Ben grabbed the seatbelts diligently, eager to show his father he was ready for anything. He sat up, already far too tall for his age, all gangly arms and sharp elbows.

Han leaned towards his eight year old co-conspirator. “Just… don’t tell your mother we’re doing this, ‘kay?” That got a nervous chuckle out of Ben, excited to be let in on the secret — and for that secret to be his first piloting lesson.

Han gave Ben the beginner’s guide to flying — distilled for the mind of a child, of course — pointing out the controls on the navicomp needed to operate a ship. It would have been confusing for any other child his age, but not Ben. He’d been preparing for this moment, and he held on to every single word. By the end of their lesson, Ben was itching to grab the wheel himself and whisk his family off into distant lands, where they could all be together forever. No senate meetings or covert smuggling runs allowed.

Han eyed his son. “I knew you’d be just like your old man. Hungry for flight, huh?”

Ben smiled, a rare, toothy grin that was reserved for special moments like this one. He’d never forget this, he was sure of it.

“Wanna do the honors and take us into hyperspace?” Han gestured towards the lever to Ben’s left. It was bigger than his hand. Ben nodded, staring intently.

“Alright, Ben. There’s three things you need to know about jumping.” Han held up three fingers as he lectured out into the cockpit. “One, you’re gonna feel like you wanna hurl. That’s normal. Two, it’s gonna be real scary, when you see it up close like this. Jumping to lightspeed is no small task, even for an experienced pilot like your old man. And three,” he leaned closer to Ben, placing a fatherly hand on his shoulder. A moment passed where Ben looked into his father’s eyes and saw a weird mix of pride and adoration that made him want to puff out his chest and live up to whatever expectation his father had for him. “You’re gonna do just fine, kid. Don’t let the fear win, got it?”

Ben gulped. He was scared, but he was also ready. He just knew he’d be good at it, in the same way he could sense his parent’s emotions in the air around him and send objects flying at the twitch of his hand. The knowledge ran through him with a certainty that could only be attributed to that mysterious Force.

“Got it.”

“Alright, Ben, place your hand right there, and I’ll tell you when to push.” Han laughed, adjusting the controls above him and preparing the Falcon for Ben’s first jump. The first jump of many on this weird, special ship that felt like its own living, breathing thing. “On my count, you ready?”

Ben nodded, eager to take the first step into lightspeed, right there with his dad.

Han counted down to one, and off they went, zooming through the galaxy in a shining burst of blue and white.


In just one day, Ben had nearly died, revived Rey, reached the Resistance base in a half-dead stupor, communicated with his mother, rekindled with two of his uncles, and managed to find a way to stay with Rey and not get sent away as a result of his prior title as Supreme Leader. It really wasn’t a surprise that he and Rey slept for 14 hours that first night — waking up languidly in each other's arms as though they hadn’t just walked straight out of a war with nothing to show for it except each other.

Waking up next to Rey, he could now definitively say, was the only way worth getting up at all.

The rest of the base had been in similar spirits, much to no one’s surprise, so that first next day had been an easy one of coming down from all of the excitement. That night, Poe called for a meeting to outline next steps, and how each and every one of them would be crucial as they began the next phase of their mission: restoring the New Republic. Even, he’d said by way of introduction, the notorious Kylo Ren.

The reception hadn’t been as bad as he might have feared. There had been the expected protests and curses, but Poe assured them all that he was a non-threat. He could tell that it pained the general to defend him, but for better or worse — or in response to Rey’s threatening glares — he did so anyways.

Rey had testified on his behalf, as had Rose, for which he was once again grateful. Then, Poe had invited him to provide some words if he had any. Rey, whose hand had been clasped in his firmly the entire time, nudged him through their bond.

Doesn’t have to be a whole speech. Just show them the you that I see. At least try?

There was no way he could deny her anything — much less this, knowing what it meant.

He looked down at the plain shirt and trousers that he’d taken after showering and, not for the first time, had an out-of-body experience as he drifted towards the front of the room. What was he doing?

Clearing his throat, he looked out into the audience of unamused faces. Rose gave him a tiny thumbs up, smiling brightly, but beyond that the reception was lukewarm at best. He hadn’t expected much either, to be fair.

He wasn’t a born leader like his mother or charismatic like his father. He wasn’t even close — and the thought of trying to convince these people, who believed so strongly in their cause, that he was somehow worthy of being around him made him want to be sick. A lifetime of manipulation, suddenly vanished, had left him empty and devoid of purpose.

Ben. Stop. Just be you, please.

He looked up at Rey, who was watching him with so much love and conviction that he knew what he had to do.

“As much as I wish there was, I don’t think there’s anything I can say to make up for what I’ve done,” he started, pointedly looking away from the discontent on everyone’s faces.

What was that old trick from his time in school as a boy, before the Jedi academy? He’d been so frightened of crowds back then, but his mother had told him to imagine everyone was in their underwear. Somehow he didn’t think that particular piece of advice would help him here, but it was comforting to remember a moment where his mother had given him that sort of advice anyways. He held onto that.

“What I can say is that Snoke — or Palpatine — targeted me. My mind had been poisoned to believe I was damaged beyond repair, and he used that to his advantage,” he wrung his hands before settling them behind his back, his throat thick with emotion.

“The person I was because of his influence is not the person I want to be. I can’t take any of that back, but I want to be better. I think I’m capable of it. I hope you’ll let me prove that to you.”

The energy around the room was still taut, with a tension that could be cut with a butterknife, but he felt it melting, if only slightly. “I won’t ask you to trust me. I won’t ask you to listen to me. But I can promise you that I’m not Kylo Ren. Not anymore. For whatever that’s worth.”

He hadn’t realized he was finished until the last few words flew out of him, suddenly at the end of his sentence. He let out a breath and nodded, confirming to himself that yes, that was over.

He would have stayed there like an idiot if Poe hadn’t walked up, clapping him on the back and dismissing him before finishing up with the rest of the brief. He went to Rey’s side, sliding next to her. Her hand slipped back into his as she leaned up to kiss him chastely.

It was an extremely casual display of her affection, over just as soon as it had started. She was doing this not because she was feeling overwhelmed by emotion, passion or lust, but just as a quick reminder that she was there. That she cared for him.

Something warm and new unfurled in his chest at how normal that felt. As though he was made for fleeting displays of affection with her.

That was good, she let slip into his mind, her thumb lazily skimming his knuckles. One step at a time.

All thanks to you.

She smiled, letting her head fall to rest on his shoulder while she listened intently to the rest of the briefing. They kept finding ways to touch each other, innocently and otherwise. She held onto his hand like it was a lifeboat keeping her afloat in deep waters. He held her from the waist anytime they were standing near each other, fingers skimming the skin there lightly.

To have her far away from him was to introduce an unwelcome chill into the air — better to keep each other close.

For a second, he could feel the burning gaze of some of the Resistance soldiers on them; the confusion, anger, hurt. Rey gripped him tighter in response. They’ll get used to it, she insisted. He hoped so, for her sake more than his. It would kill him if she lost the respect of those she cared about on his account.

After that, the days started to pass by relatively quickly.

He had in fact been put to work in the bathrooms and mess hall, sweeping after messy Resistance meals and assisting with waste disposal while Rey spent her days fussing with her lightsaber. After he’d given her a few pointers from when he’d built his own, she jumped back into the project with a renewed vigor.

Rose supervised him closely — but he had started to figure that there were ulterior motives to her decision to oversee his assignment personally. At one point, Finn had found him while he was putting away towels in a supply cabinet.

“Hey, Ren. Rose said you’d be here.”

Ben bit back the comment that was on the tip of his tongue at the use of that old name. It wasn’t even accurate — Ren referred to the group, not his specific name, which had been Kylo.

“I don’t go by that anymore.” He wasn’t angry, but he felt defeated. That name and everything that came with it felt like it would follow him around forever.

Something passed over Finn’s features, until finally he seemed to accept that reply, smiling just slightly, almost apologetic. “You’re right. Sorry. I wanted to talk to you about something.”

Ben paused in the middle of folding a towel.

“It’s about Rey...” he started.

Ben rose to his full height. It was one thing to discuss him — another entirely to discuss her.

“What about her?”

“Look… I’m trying to understand. I’m trying to trust her. If she believes you're her soulmate, or whatever, there isn’t much I can do.”

“She called me her soulmate?” He almost hated the emotion in his voice, that weak part of him that craved validation, but he couldn’t help it. Not if she really thought of him that way.

He chuckled at Ben’s reaction. “Something like that,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “Kylo Ren in love. Who would have thought?”

Finn pressed forward. “Anyways, we do trust her. But we don’t quite trust you yet. So, just know we’re all looking out for her. Everything you’ve been extended here has been because of her.”

“I know. I would do the same in your position.”

Finn straightened, turning pensive once again. He still stood against the doorframe, as if unsure of how to broach the next topic.

“Do you remember that night on Jakku? The night I defected. You looked right at me… I’ve always wondered…”

The memory came to him in flashes: killing Lor San Tekka, interrogating Poe, other, more unspeakable acts committed in his name. It made a shudder go through him, but he didn’t dare run from it. Better to sit in the discomfort that poured over him.

He cleared his throat. Words suddenly failed him, and all he could do was nod.

“Why did you let me go?”

Ben fiddled with a loose piece of fabric on the towel. Why had he let him go? It would have been easy to deal with the Stormtrooper then and there — he had all the power in the world to keep him in line, or make him face the consequences for being a traitor to the First Order. He’d done it before that moment, and he’d done it after. He very well could have done it right then and there.

But he didn’t.

“I don’t know that there’s a good answer for that.”

Finn looked disappointed, until Ben spoke up again.

“Maybe part of me saw something in you that I wanted. To be strong enough to run away, that is. I never really felt like I had a choice, and I don’t necessarily think you did either, but you made it anyways,” he kept picking at a loose thread on the towel before looking to meet Finn’s gaze.

“If just a second more had passed I don’t know that you would have been able to walk away, once I’d truly realized what was happening. But… I’m glad you were able to.”

None of this felt easy, but it definitely felt necessary, and Ben was glad to get it off of his chest. His confession settled between the two of them as they sat with what he’d revealed.

Eventually, Finn’s hand came to clap him on the shoulder.

“Listen. It might take me — all of us — a while, but… I think I’m starting to understand. We’ll get there.”

“I… thank you. I appreciate that.” Ben didn’t deserve any of their sympathy or understanding. There were still parts of himself he’d have to actively shake, and any progress was good progress. This was great progress.

With a semi-pleased nod, Finn turned to go, and Ben continued folding towels.

His janitorial assignment lasted for a few days, after which Rey claimed he had learned his lesson and made penance, urging Poe to ease up on a task that droids were capable of taking care of just fine.

After that, his duties on the base were left to sitting through meetings where he divulged any important First Order intel.

By then, the wary glances and suspicious looks had eased slightly, as people began to realize he really wasn’t the threat they thought he’d be. Even Kaydel had offered him a softer grimace than usual that morning at breakfast.

About a week after the Battle of Exegol, Poe had announced that they would officially begin deescalation measures. He had reached out to all former political leaders that were offworld during the destruction of Hosnian Prime, and a tentative date was settled for the Resistance leaders and former politicians to begin reconstruction efforts in Coruscant, the home of the previous Galactic Senate.

After breakfast one morning, Rey pulled him aside, tugging on the sleeve of the dark shirt he was wearing to drag him towards an empty corridor. “Ben, I think it’s time.”

He didn’t need her to explain what it was time for. Over the past week they had spent every free moment near each other — sneaking off alone just like this, taking lunch together, retiring to their room early — and they’d finally had the chance to do all the talking that they didn’t do before.

She’d told him in vivid detail of her life on Jakku, peppering in funny stories that would make him smile to ease the anger that came over him at stories about Plutt or smugglers and mercenaries that scrambled into Niima Outpost with wandering hands and not much else.

In return, he’d finally told someone about the night at the Jedi temple — of escaping, joining the Knights of Ren, his responsibility for the deaths of Voe, Hennix, and worst of all — Tai.

“He was the one person at the Jedi temple that really understood me, and Ren killed him because he knew that would be a weakness.” In their room, the two of them alone, it didn’t scare Ben to let tears fall freely; she had a way of disarming even his deepest defenses.

Rey soothed him in that way of hers, rubbing a hand up and down his arm lazily, coaxing him to keep talking without pressuring him.

“I might have turned around that day, because of him. Ren knew that. And that’s part of the reason I ever ended up in this mess. I can’t take that back, but I can recognize that.”

She nodded, understanding. “You know, I think I would have liked to know this Tai. Get some stories about Ben Solo, the Jedi apprentice.” She rubbed a thumb over his cheek, clearing a tear away while he smiled, lost in memories.

“He would have liked you.”

He also told her stories of his mother and father, and his childhood — using every bit of his brainpower to find as many happy memories as possible, those rare moments where Snoke wasn’t stuck inside his mind. Moments that became fewer and farther between the older he got.

This is how Rey knew he’d been avoiding going through Leia’s remaining belongings.

“You can’t avoid it forever. Poe has had her room locked ever since she passed. It’s going to start collecting dust,” she said, her back against the wall in the corridor.

He knew she was right. Recognizing that, however, didn’t ease the gnawing in his chest. He hadn’t been able to communicate with his mother since that first day after Exegol.

“I don’t feel worthy of it. I don’t think it should be me.”

“This isn’t about being worthy. You were her son and she loved you more than anything. If there is one person on this base who deserves to have a final moment with her through her things, it’s you. Regardless of what you’ve been through — but also because of it. Having you home was all she ever wanted.”

He pulled her against him, his hands strung against her waist. “How do you always know the right thing to say?”

For a second she was pliant in his arms, cuddling up to his chest, before realizing what he was doing and smacking him on the arm lightly. “Wooing me won’t work here. I’m serious, Ben.”

Something in her voice wavered, and suddenly he understood. Rey had no family to speak of, no remnants of a past life to look through, nothing to tether her with the people she’d spent years on a barren wasteland waiting for.

He separated himself from her, grabbing her hand. “Fine. Let’s go now, then. But you have to come with me.”

“Me? Why? This is between you and Leia, and I don’t want to—”

“I know how much you looked up to her. And she saw you as a daughter, too. She’d want us to do this together.”

Rey blushed, tearing up slightly. She’d had so little time to mourn Leia’s loss — Ben wasn’t selfish enough to deny her this chance to earn closure. She deserved it just as much as he did, if not more.

The path to Leia’s room was in a quiet corner of the base, hidden away from all of the main hallways and dormitories. Her door was locked and there was a keypad to the right that was blinking, waiting for someone to input the code.

Huh. “She was thorough.”

Rey chuckled softly before sighing. “Yes, she was. Poe told me the code was the date for some sort of Galactic Republic celebration, or something to do with a concordance? A long time ago, but maybe we can find...”

Ben’s breath caught. Rey had turned away to get Poe, but he put a hand on her elbow, pulling her back. “I think I know what it is.”

He input the numbers in the Chandrilan datekeeping style, with the year of 5A.B.Y followed by the month and day. The door hissed and clicked before sliding open smoothly.

“How did you know which day it was?”

He worked his jaw. “It’s my birthday.”

Sympathy and a deep grief became amplified on Rey’s side of the bond. She peeked over at the keypad, committing the date to memory and saying it out loud. “Hmm. Good to know.”

When she looked up at him, his eyes were misty. She squeezed his hand affectionately. “Well, then. Let’s go.”

The room inside was immaculately kept, and although it had the trappings of a typical, shabby Resistance room, something in the air around it felt elevated. Regal. Very Leia.

He could feel her presence in every inch of the room, as though she were right there with them.

They started at her dresser, taking out her clothes and examining them, one by one. For the most part there was little they could truly keep, but Ben did decide to hold onto a few items that he recognized. Rey, likewise, found a few pieces that she wanted to keep in her memory and could reuse.

Time had not been kind to this family — there was little to hold onto, and if Leia had any properties or possessions in other planets, Ben would have to rifle through her holos to figure all of that information out. The Resistance had been her life for six years, and Ben barely knew how to mourn someone he’d stopped truly knowing a long time ago, even if they had reunited briefly.

For now, all he had of her was what was left in this room.

In a drawer he found a box of jewelry that she had kept safe, separate from her other daily pieces. Rey peered over his shoulder while he took them in his hands, one by one. There were a few pieces in it, but one caught his eye instantly — holding it in his hands, he felt like the man defeated he’d been in Crait, looking up at Rey after the battle that had torn them apart just as quickly as it had brought them together..

His father’s dice.

As a child, Ben thought those dice were magic. Han had entertained him with the stories — some probably fabricated, but others definitely not — of how his lucky dice had saved him on countless occasions. It was hard not to believe it, as he held them in his palms now.

He was lucky to be alive, to be with Rey, to have the chance to take advantage of that inherited luck moving forward. Those dice belonged to his father, and now to him. His one true inheritance.

Pocketing the dice, he examined what was left in the drawer. Earrings, bracelets, other pieces of jewelry his mother used, but one in specific caught his eye. He held it up, examining the dainty circle with a jewel at the top.

“This is from Alderaan,” he whispered.

Rey must have recognized the name from stories passed around the base, and myths from Jakku. “Leia’s home planet.”

Ben cleared his throat, his grip tightening on the ring in his hands. “Yes. Darth Vader — my grandfather — destroyed it. It was before our time, I didn’t even know until I was older. She would tell me stories of it, though, as a boy. She was their last Princess.”

“Which makes you the Prince, doesn’t it?”

He sighed, looking down at the ring. “I suppose.” It was small, with a tiny jewel over the top in the shape of the Organa crest. He wondered what its purpose was — why his mother had saved it among her prized possessions.

Rey came to stand behind him, her arms drawing around his chest. His eyes closed of their own accord, reveling in the warmth of her body and the patience she’d bestowed upon him, time and time again. His other hand, meanwhile, came to grasp hers, holding onto it gently. He’d find ways to make sure she was happy, safe, protected — just as she made him feel — every single day for the rest of his life.

A knowing — and incredibly smug — voice suddenly sprang up from behind them. “Ah, so that’s what you two have been up to.”

The two of them jumped apart, like lovers caught in an illicit affair, both their faces growing redder by the second. It did not elude either of them that this wasn’t the first time they had been interrupted. By the same person.

“M-Master Luke?” Rey gasped. She had told Ben of her encounter with him before the Battle of Exegol — to which he could barely hide his petulant disdain — but neither of them were expecting to see him now.

Ben found he couldn’t say much of anything. He tried to quash the latent anger and frustration that bubbled at seeing his uncle, but that was one step he wasn’t quite ready for.

Luke held his hands up in mock surrender. “I told you I’d see you around, didn’t I?”

When neither of them moved to speak, he laid his arms down, looking at the two of them and shaking his head. “I guess I should have seen this coming. I knew the connection between you two was stronger than anticipated. Just… didn’t know in what way. Now I see.”

Ben’s tongue was sandpaper in his mouth — his forgiveness could only extend so far, and looking into the eyes of his former Master did nothing except remind him of years of silent suffering, too scared to discuss the darkness inside him with the one person who should have understood, the sting of betrayal that had left a mark on his heart. Perhaps his mind had been twisted beyond his control in those formative years, but the child-like hurt was all-too present.

Words didn’t need to be shared between Ben and the man who raised him — his emotions were raw and ferocious enough in the Force that the air around them vibrated from it.

Luke cleared his throat, his ghost-like form translucent in the dark room. “Take your time, Ben. I’m in no hurry. But you need to open your heart to forgiveness — it is something we all learn to do — though I’m sure you’ll figure that out on your own.”

“To think, my young nephew turned back to the light, helped by the only other Force user I’ve seen that could ever match his ferocity. You did the right thing, Rey,” he said, watching her next to Ben, one of her arms cradled protectively around his waist. “Going to him, I mean. It was the right thing to do, even if you had to beat me up to do it.”

Ben looked at Rey in a silent question.

She kept her gaze fixed on Luke, a tiny smile quirking at her lips. I’ll tell you about that later.

Luke measured the two of them — the most powerful Force users in the galaxy — with a gleam in his eye. “It will be up to both of you to decide what will become of the Jedi. Whether they remain a relic of the past, something new is created altogether. Either way, it is in your hands. I think you’ll know what is best.”

Looking at his uncle, Ben saw the man that had come into his room as a boy to sit down and explain to him the “magic” that sprung from his fingertips and made it possible for his toys to fly. The uncle that had taken him into his care at ten years old, traversing the galaxy as they went on adventures to secure the future of the Jedi Order. The uncle that saw him grow through puberty, a looming shadow following him everywhere he went. The uncle whose face of fear had been the last thing he’d seen before he’d run to become Kylo Ren.

Their encounter with Luke was over just as soon as it had started — and once again they were alone in Leia’s room.

Ben was still wrapping his head around seeing his uncle again, his mind recalling the fact that he’d fallen off of the most precarious ledges of Exegol, deep into the heart of the Sith, and dragged himself up by himself. No help from family or the Jedi had come to him then.

Rey let out a low whistle. “Well, that was quite the encounter.”

When Ben still didn’t answer, she angled her face upwards to meet his gaze, which was torn and conflicted. His Force signature was red-hot and angry, but there was an overwhelming amount of sadness there.

“Ben…”

Pretending not to cry in front of her was useless. He let the tears drip down his cheeks, soothed only by her presence near him. “I know I have to find the peace to forgive him. I know that. I just don’t know if I can right now.”

She shifted so that she was pressed against his chest, staring up into his face. “So, we work on it. We’ll get there. No one is asking you to do it all right now. We have a whole lifetime to figure it out. Okay?”

Her hand reached up to smooth his hair, pushing it away from where it fell over his eyes. Nodding, he closed his eyes, leaning into her touch.

“You need a haircut,” she whispered.

Her attempt at lightening the mood didn’t entirely diminish the ache in his chest, but it certainly helped. He let out a chuckle. “Only if you do it for me. I don’t like droids.”

She leaned upwards to kiss him, a murmured mmhmm on her lips, her hand pressing more firmly into his hair.

Her face was so close he could count each and every freckle. “We’ll get through this, Ben. Together. If you expect the galaxy to forgive you, you need to practice giving away that forgiveness, too.”

He knew that was true, just as he knew that it wasn’t so much the anger that made it difficult. Anger was easy. It was the heartbroken boy that still ached inside him that needed to learn to let things go.

She held him until he was able to calm himself down, practicing those very same breathing exercises she had been forcing him to do.

“Plus,” she said, breaking the silence after a while, “it looks like we have our work cut out for us with the whole Jedi thing. No time for wallowing.”

“About that…” he worked his jaw, looking for the words. “It shouldn’t surprise you if I say I have no intentions of helping restore the Jedi as they were.”

“Well, as of right now, there are no other Jedi. We get to decide.”

“I’m not a J—”

“What I’m trying to say is that we can choose what that means. It doesn’t have to be the way it used to. Don’t you want to believe things can be good again?”

There was so much hope in her eyes — such a firm, unwavering belief that things could be good. An optimism that he envied just as much as he wanted to nurture it.

“We’ll have to run things a little differently. For starters, I’m definitely not a Jedi. And we shouldn't make becoming one a requirement to train in the Force.”

Rey rolled her eyes, but not without a small smile on her lips.

He thought on it some more. “And we’re not taking children from their families.”

She brightened, excited to see him catching on. “Agreed. But what if parents want to send them?”

“Well… it depends. I guess we can work something out. And our focus should be on balance. Not the light, or the dark. Avoiding reality and focusing on one is what led the Jedi of old to their downfall.” Because of my own bloodline, he thought to himself.

“Excellent point. I agree. Done.”

“And w—”

She silenced him with another kiss, both arms pressing against him. “I get it. We’re going to make things different. Better. We can focus on the details later.”

The ring was still in his hand, warm and firm, the only remnant he had left of a world eradicated from all of space and time. He could feel the imprint of the Organa crest in his palms as he gripped it before putting it in his pocket. He knew exactly what he planned to do with it

Chapter Text

The next morning, the bed was decidedly cold when Ben began to wake up. Still in a sleepy fog, he blindly grabbed at the blankets, searching for the warm body that usually snuggled his throughout the night.

He was already absurdly used to sleeping next to her.

“Rey?” he groaned into his pillow, the barely-there light filtering in from the window indicating that it was very early.

“You’re awake!” He heard the smile in her voice from across the room. She swiveled around to face him. “Look, I think I’m done with this. Finally.”

He slowly propped himself up on his elbows, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes before facing her. She was turned to him, legs crossed on the chair, holding her lightsaber like it was a precious jewel.

She’d worked herself to oblivion to put it together, utilizing his tips from his days at the academy and adding her own touches. She extended the saber out to him, pointing out her design quirks.

“I added these prongs here to keep my grip steady, and this,” she gestured at the wide base, with its two ends, “is modified to feel like my staff.” The saber ignited, flooding the room in a shining burst of golden light that illuminated her face to create the image of a halo around her. The room pulsated with its bright, clean energy, the two sides humming with power that was clear and strong in the air around them.

It was a powerful burst of light in the darkness and so quintessentially Rey that it was a wonder she’d ever wielded anything else.

“Do you like it?” she looked up at him through her lashes, that golden glow making her features look even softer than usual.

“It’s perfect.”

“Well, I know one way to break it in.” She leapt to her feet, extinguishing the saber and finding a clip to attach to her outfit. “Want to spar?”

“It’s barely dawn, wouldn’t you rather rest some more?” he patted the space next to him for good measure.

“Sparring. Now. Unless… you’re scared?”

He was up immediately, pulling on his trousers and boots before walking out of the room, calling his grandfather’s lightsaber to his hand as he walked out in front of her, gently grabbing her hand with his other one.

“Fine, let’s spar.”

It shouldn’t have surprised him, how easily the lightsaber that had been his grandfather’s felt right in his hands. And yet, he found himself marveling at the ease with which he was able to wield it, after it had called to Rey in the snowy forests of Ilum barely more than a year ago. Back then, he’d been torn between awe and fury, an odd combination intensified by his reaction to Rey.

He now felt that same awe, only much more intense, with the fury replaced by a deep appreciation. They reached a clearing on the outskirts of the base, their sabers at the ready.

“Ready?” he asked, getting into position.

She answered by igniting her saber once more, the energy palpable in the air around them.

Ben had done more than enough practice at the Jedi academy over the years of his training. He’d continued to practice with his Knights, and training routines were sometimes the only way he found himself able to release the pent up anger and aggression he carried day by day. He had faced many worthy opponents over the years.

None of them were like Rey.

As they met in the middle, sabers vibrating each time they touched, Ben realized every other battle he’d ever had paled in comparison to the ones they shared together. He could never hope to find such an equal, on the battlefield or otherwise, and not for the first time he thanked each and every star in the galaxy that their paths were intertwined.

Where he struck from the left, she was prepared to strike from the right, whipping her saberstaff around as though it were an extension of herself.

It felt like a sophisticated dance, some sort of language only the two of them knew how to speak. They were attuned to each other’s movements and thoughts through the bond, yes, but they found ways to surprise each other — he jumped to meet her from behind, she swung from under to catch him near the shoulder.

Sweat had gathered on Ben’s brow, yet he felt invigorated — an energy pulsating through him at the ability to get his body moving.

He wasn’t aware of how long they stood there sparring, but eventually they’d begun to draw a crowd, members of the Resistance that had only really seen the power of a lightsaber when it came from Rey, training with floating targets.

They cheered every time she landed an advantage over him and groaned collectively each time he did — but both happened in equal measure, and by the end, the excitement had reached a fever pitch.

They couldn’t hear any of it.

“Tired yet?” she smiled, all teeth, brilliant against her saber and the light of the morning sun behind her.

“I can go all day, sweetheart,” he channeled some of his father’s swagger, feeling more and more comfortable every day in parts of himself he’d shoved down for years. The endearment slipped out in the heat of the moment, but it felt right as he said it.

It must have caught her off guard, because she faltered, slipping enough that he was able to gain a total advantage of her. He swung under her ankle so that she fell under him, caging her with his arms against her sides.

For a few silent moments they didn’t move, panting from exhaustion as they started at each other, the sparring session clearly over. Disappointed shouts rang from the crowd that watched them before they turned to leave, the excitement gone with the end of the fight and the defeat of their Jedi.

She seemed terrified, like a doe-eyed animal he’d startled in a field, and suddenly he wondered if he’d spoken out of turn, his ears hot with embarrassment.

“Sorry, I…” He was pinning her down, he realized, so he moved to let her go, looking anywhere but her face. He sat up next to her, his hands digging into the dirt beneath them.

“Sweetheart?”

He coughed awkwardly. He wished the world would swallow him whole. “Sorry, it slipped. I won’t call you that if you don’t want me to…”

She shook her head, absently tracing nondescript shapes in the ground with a finger. “I’ve always imagined that word, when I thought of my family. The people who must have loved me once.” She was lost in her memories, a deep anguish and longing stinging her side of the bond so strongly he felt it in his chest.

“Well, I do,” he grabbed her hand to stop it from moving. “Love you, I mean.” He was definitely red all over now, but she needed to hear it.

The word hung between them. Love. Had he truly just admitted that? It was nothing more than a verbal confirmation of everything he’d felt for far longer than the week since Exegol. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d told someone he loved them. Had long believed that he wasn’t capable of such an emotion — surely no one could love him, and therefore, how could he love in return?

And yet, yes. He did love her. She’d consumed his thoughts to the point of obsession when they’d been enemies on a battlefield, but it took a different shape the more they understood each other. Now, he’d fight the entire galaxy single-handed for her. Somehow, he knew she’d do the same for him. Wasn’t that love?

She needed to know that this was it for him. He’d known it for a long time, but as they slowly prepared to get started on whatever came after this, he needed her to hear it directly.

“You do?” she caught his gaze, moving closer to him, the dirt under them staining their clothes. Neither of them cared.

“Of course. Isn’t it obvious by now?” He dropped the saber in the ground behind them, leaning forwards to cup her cheek. “And... I’d like to be your family, Rey. If you’ll let me.”

She had tears in her eyes but her Force signature was glowing, warm and content, the longing all but vanished in the wake of his confession. She moved to cover her face with her hands, away from his stare, and he could hear the soft sniffles that indicated she was still crying.

He gently grabbed her wrists to move her hands away from her face, drifting upwards to catch them in both of his. “You don’t have to say it back if that was too soon, Rey. I don’t want to pressure you. But you do need to know that I love you.”

She nodded slowly, giving him the impetus he needed to wrap her up in his arms, enveloping her frame. She softened, dragging her arms around his shoulders before pulling away from his chest slightly to look up at him. “It’s not too soon. I… I love you too, Ben. I want all of those things with you. I guess I just…”

When she trailed off, he nudged her gently. “Just what, Rey? You can tell me.”

She avoided his gaze, looking down. “I never thought anyone would care about me this way,” she whispered.

He could tell she was embarrassed by the admission, the way it poked at her deepest insecurities and laid them bare for him to see. All he could do was thank her for trusting him with it. “I will never stop caring about you this way. I need you to know that. Okay?”

She seemed to melt under him as she nodded, tucking her head under his so that she was pressed against his chest. She grabbed his hand, locking their fingers together before pressing a kiss to it. “Okay. And please do call me that again. I liked it.”

“Sweetheart?”

She looked up, beaming as she closed the distance between them with a kiss. “Yes, that.”

She was blushing, and he pretended the thought that he made her feel that way didn’t make him want to preen.

“I can’t believe I won our first battle with your new saber because I flirted with you,” he murmured against her lips, smiling.

Suddenly she was serious, leaning back to look up at him, that same fire he’d fallen in love with sparking in her eyes. “Oh no. No, that did not count. We are going again, now.”

With that she separated herself from him and leapt up, calling her saberstaff and twirling it excessively before getting in position. “Ready? Or are you scared?”

He moved to follow, dusting the dirt off of his pants as he stood. He tried to pretend he wasn’t smiling. “Whatever you say, sweetheart.


“She looks pretty good, doesn’t she?”

Rey’s hip was perched against the Millennium Falcon’s boarding ramp, arms crossed at her chest. “Power converters are brand new, greased up the engines and she’s got a shiny topcoat. You don’t have to thank me.”

It was true: even in the aftermath of the war, the Falcon looked the best it had in a long time. That didn’t do much to quell the gnawing in Ben’s chest, though.

Rey’s lips were quirked upwards in a half-hearted smirk, eyes sympathetic. Her attempt at comedy hid a larger truth: this ship held some of, if not the strongest ghosts of Ben’s past, and experiencing it all again would tear open wounds that hadn’t even begun scabbing yet.

The ring he’d found in Leia’s room still burned a hole in Ben’s pocket, and the rest of the items of hers that they’d kept were safely stowed away in the ship. It was time to leave.

They.

He couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment he’d stopped thinking of himself as an individual and the two of them as a we, but it was as natural as breathing now, the way the two of them just worked. There wasn’t anything he did without thinking of her, making space in a heart that had been alone for far too long.

“So you two will meet us in Coruscant, right? No running off or deserting?” Poe, Finn and Rose were approaching the Falcon now, set against the backdrop of the rest of the camp as everyone prepared to leave Ajan Kloss.

“Oh, relax, Poe,” Rey met them in the middle, sneaking towards Rose to grab a garment she was holding suspiciously close. “We’ll be there.”

“Good. We’re going to need you there. And you,” he said, pointing at Ben, “You’re gonna wanna think of some speeches. You’ll be giving a lot of those.”

“Hey, ease up on the guy, he’s doing his best,” Finn chimed in, much to everyone else’s disbelief.

“Oh?” Rose looked up at him with bright eyes. Proud.

“Well, I’ve realized we understand each other in more ways than you think,” he turned to Poe, “and he’s going to help us out with the Stormtrooper liberation program. Right, Ben?”

“Right.”

Ben didn’t have to look at Rey to hear how happy this made her; he felt it as though it were his own.

“Is Chewie going with you guys?” Rose asked.

“With those two? On the Falcon, alone, for days on end?” Poe laughed, out loud. “Chewie is a lot of things, but he’s no masochist.”

Rey and Ben reddened, looking anywhere but at the friends that had come to see them off.

After a quick hug from Rey and a promise to stay in constant communication on the way to Coruscant, the three of them walked off, preparing other soldiers and ships. It was all finally happening — the end of the war had come and with it, a new beginning for all of them.

Rey ran into the Falcon to put away the dark fabric she’d taken from Rose. A few minutes later, she poked her head out of the boarding ramp.

“Well? Coming in?”

Before the academy, Leia, Han and Ben had moved around often. He’d been born and raised in Chandrila, where they stayed for a few years while Leia traveled often to handle Senate matters. After that, they lived for a time in Hosnian Prime, as the city was slowly being molded to become the new capital of the Galactic Senate. Within that time, they traveled fairly often — dignitary dinners, banquets, political events, and the like were all part of their life, and who better to grace the presence of these events than war heroes?

The Millenium Falcon, therefore, had in many ways felt like a home. It was the one true constant of his childhood, the routine hum of its engines and muted reds and blues of its control system a comforting background noise on many sleepless nights. It was mythologized, sure, but the reality was that it was just a ship. Not a fancy one, and truly a piece of junk in many ways, but the piece of junk where he first learned to look out at the stars and examine his place in them.

He’d hated it for what it represented — a broken, sad childhood that had been ripped from him and turned sour. Now, that anger had dissolved and given way to mourning over what could have been and would never be. He was glad it was in Rey’s hands now.

As he walked up the ramp, he took his time to examine it, until he led himself up.

He felt immediately as though he’d walked back in time. “It... looks exactly the same.”

Rey quirked an eyebrow from where she stood against the wall. “Well. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

He ran his hands over the walls, seeing himself as a boy doing the very same thing during long flights where he found he had nothing to do. A barrage of memories flooded him all at once, but he practiced his breathing to maintain his composure. Rey had taught him that. “A good thing, I think.”

Slowly walking the perimeter of the main hold, he found himself staring at the Dejarik board in front of him. He kicked it lightly with his foot, whirring it to life. “Wanna play?”

When she didn’t answer he looked up, only to find her with her arms crossed, a sad smile gracing her features. “Maybe later,” she said softly.

He roamed towards the kitchen his father had built for his mother, running his hands along the compartments that had once stored his cereals. He’d been such a picky eater, he’d refused to eat unless it was his favorite brand.

Then he reached the bunk where he’d spent endless, artificially created nights trying to sleep, monsters in his head keeping him awake.

Slowly, he drew nearer to the cockpit, until finally he could see out the window into the field on Ajan Kloss. The seats were in good condition, and everything appeared just as functional as it had all those years ago, and long before it. He pulled out his father’s dice from his pocket, his chest heavy as he secured it above the seats.

The gold of the dice glinted under the reflection of the sun, shiny as it swung to and fro, before stopping.

“How are you feeling, Ben?”

He couldn’t tell how long he’d been standing there, or when exactly Rey had managed to sneak up on him, but he took a deep breath before answering.

“I think I’ll be okay,” he said, turning to face her. He grabbed a hand to pull her close. “I have you with me, so…”

She smiled up at him for a moment, probing gently to make sure he was really okay, before slipping out of his arms. “Great. Time to set up some ground rules.”

“Oh?”

“No offense, but this ship and I have gotten quite close over the past year. We should talk ownership.”

“Ownership?”

“Well, you see, I did get used to piloting over the past year or so. It’s only fair that—”

He pulled her closer again, leaning against the back of the pilot seat before drawing his arms around her.

“Rey,” he warned, gentle but firm. “I am happy to be your copilot everyday for the rest of my life, sweetheart.”

He felt the girlish thrill that went through her at the endearment as though it were his own, a feeling so pure and bright he wanted to bottle it. Since he couldn’t do that, he’d resolved to using it on her as much as possible.

She kissed him quickly, then turned. “Come, I have something I want to give you.” She led him towards the bunk that now housed their things, as sparse as they were. “Okay, close your eyes, please.”

He could feel that she was nervous, so he complied silently. She nudged him towards the bed to sit. He felt a light weight hit his thighs.

“You can look now.”

He opened his eyes to see his black sweater, now clean. He raised it up by the sleeves, noticing an embroidered patch where there had been a hole. It was in the shape of a yellow circle, with orange lines coming out of the sides.

“Rose taught me to embroider a little. I’m still no good, as you can see by how sloppy it is right here,” she pointed, self-conscious at her own creation, “but I tried my best. I thought you might like to keep it.” She was chewing on a nail, avoiding his eyes, as though staring at the sweater would make it disappear.

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been given a gift, much less one that was made with as much love as this. “Rey, I…”

“If you hate it, I’d rather you not tell me. We can just pretend.”

He let it go, gently using his hands to cup each side of her face to get her attention. “Rey, I love it.”

She warmed as he kissed her, a silent thank you and another I love you shared through the bond as he did so. She tasted like the very sun she’d embroidered on that sweater, a physical manifestation of all the light he’d repressed for years.

She perked up, kissing him back in kind, slipping her tongue to deepen the kiss and gently pulling on his shirt to touch bare skin. They hadn’t gotten much farther than this since she’d brought him with her to the base, choosing to take things slowly, and both of them were getting impatient, each frenzied encounter growing more hurried and rushed than the last.

He pulled away, flushed and all-too aware of the fact that they needed to leave very soon, and wherever this was going could wait until they were far, far away from everyone else. That was what they had agreed upon.

Ben leaned down to kiss her quickly in an apology. “Not yet, sweetheart. Plus, I have something I want to give you, too.”

Since they’d looked through Leia’s room, he had practiced what he would say, or how he would convey the depth of his feelings to her. He’d played the moment over and over in his mind, imagining himself with entire soliloquies of praise and affection to bestow upon her. Now, though, as he looked in her expectant eyes, he couldn’t remember any of it.

Pulling into his pocket, he grabbed the ring, keeping his fist closed. “Rey,” he started, “I don’t have anything to offer except the promise that as long as you want me, I’m here. I want to be someone you can lean on. I spent too many years stuck in darkness, and it wasn’t until I found you that I realized I was capable of better than that. You showed me how to see that in myself.”

He cleared his throat, emotion choking him, but continued. “This doesn’t have to mean anything you don’t want it to mean. Consider it a promise, if you will.” He took hold of her hand and pressed his mother’s ring into it, closing her palm around it.

“I promise that I’m here. For the rest of my life. Or as long as you want me. Whichever comes first.”

“Oh, Ben…” she held it up between her forefinger and thumb, examining the crest of the Organa family.

The moment she held it in her hands he knew it belonged to her. As a symbol of his love for her, her place with him, their future together — as though all of it could be encompassed in that tiny ring of metal.

“When I think of home, Rey, really think about it, all I see is you.”

He offered to put the ring on her finger, to which she complied, but it was a little loose. She took a loose cord from her bag and slipped it through the ring, tying it around her neck, the resourcefulness that kept her alive for nineteen years in the desert present even in small moments like this.

The sight of the ring resting against her clavicle did strange things to his heart. She grabbed his shoulders, urging him to look up.

“You keep speaking as though I’ll wake up one day and decide to throw you to the wolves,” she said. “What you don’t realize is that when I think of home, all I see is you, too. You’re stuck with me. Okay? For the rest of my life.”

She stroked his cheek, focusing on the skin where his scar used to be. “The world could fade away and it wouldn’t matter as long as I have you with me, Ben.”

He should have been terrified of the deep attachment they’d formed with each other; the way it would define everything he did for the rest of his life. The way it already had from the moment they’d met, in the forests of Takodana what felt like lifetimes ago.

Instead, he felt freer than he ever had before. He kissed her, as he now had done many times, but it didn’t feel any less heartstopping. He’d never get used to her.

He held her in his arms, in their new bunk on the Falcon just big enough for two people — a family — and together they enjoyed the fact that at the end, when all was said and done, he truly had come home, and she had found hers. Finally.

Eventually, they realized it was time to go. Ships had already started leaving Ajan Kloss, and they needed to keep up if they were going to stay on schedule — they were looking at at least a week of uninterrupted time alone.

She buckled into the pilot seat, the ring glinting against her chest when the light hit it, listing out the pre-flight checks that were as routine to her as breathing. He followed her orders, making liberal use of mock-salutes for his pilot, feeling more comfortable than he had in a long time as he remembered what it was he loved about flying. The way the world felt limitless at his disposal.

They reached out into the atmosphere of the Ajan Kloss moon, slowly inching towards space where they would make the jump into hyperspace.

Rebuilding the galaxy from the ashes, in the wake of the First Order’s demise, wouldn’t happen quickly. It would take a long time, and the two of them would be at the forefront as they decided what they would do with the Jedi. None of it would be easy, and he would have a lot of explaining, and apologizing, and atoning to do in the coming months — but he wasn’t scared. Not anymore, at least.

Fear had once been his main coping mechanism, the only way he found himself able to deal with the world around him. That fear had opened the door to aggression, to lashing out, to hurting others because of the way he felt hurt in turn.

And then she changed everything. Not because she was special, or better than him, or some sort of superhuman, but because of kindness and compassion, and perhaps a little bit of help from fate. She was meant to be in his life, just as he was meant to be in hers. They were meant to protect each other, to support each other, and to keep each other in line.

They were now in space, the other ships with them zooming quietly into hyperspace on the outskirts of their vision. She’d prepared them for the jump and was looking at him expectantly, a thousand questions on the tip of her tongue. She only asked one, though.

“Ready?”

He leaned over to kiss her, soft and slow, an assurance that no, he wasn’t but that yes, he was. He was because of her. “Let’s go.”

That was all the confirmation she needed. She looked at him expectantly, nodding towards the lever to his right.

He’d done this a million times, whether it was in the Falcon, or the Grimtaash, or any of the TIE Silencers he’d flown over the years — jumping into hyperspace always brought him that same addictive lurch in his gut that it did as a child. This time, though, things were irreversibly different.

He wasn’t scared anymore, for one. In fact, he had the oddest sense of hope about the future. As though he had a second chance to make things right.

He also felt calm, somehow. At peace. A lot had gone horribly wrong in the years that led to this moment, but so much of his life had felt out of his control. He had finally been given the chance to take ownership of his life and his destiny, and he didn’t intend to squander it.

He may not have been deserving of these things, but they’d been handed to him nonetheless. The chance to make things better — different, good somehow.

With Rey.

He pulled on the lever. The same way he’d done as a boy with his father, or as a scared young man running frightened from the demons that taunted him, or as an older man, born again, willing to risk it all to save the love of his life. He pulled the lever, glancing at Rey with a soft smile as the two of them sped into a brilliant burst of blue and white, towards a future, a home, they would build for themselves — together.