Rey's arms wrap around him as he feels himself pulled away from the overwhelming place of connection with his mother. No! He's not ready! But then his beloved is encouraging him to lay his head on her shoulder and she's soothing him with her fingers in his hair.
He should stop this sniveling, but … he can't. Rey is holding him and he just … lets go. He's done so much, hurt so many … for what? Dear gods, for what? Nothing, it had all meant nothing.
This knowledge, he's been pushing it away since the moment he realized—on that nightmare bridge bathed in red—that there was nothing he could do to snuff out the light. That if killing his own father didn't bring him fully to the dark, nothing ever could. Nothing … nothing. All for nothing.
Father. Oh, Father ... he can't really believe that he did that, as he's pulled further down into memory, the sensation of his blade plunging through his father's heart. That discordant sense of utter wrongness rises in him. It will never fade. Until the end of his days he will always be the son who murdered his father, stole his mother's husband from her. Oh … oh, Maker it's even worse than that ...
In a blinding moment of clarity, he understands that his father had loved him. Fiercely. Ben just couldn't perceive it. But now, after feeling how his parents had loved each other … he spirals into the daydreams of Rey heavy and ripe and he knows, deep down in a place he cannot deny, that he would give anything, do anything for a child borne of his beautiful Rey.
What if all those frowns from his childhood were confusion? What if his father had truly meant it when he'd said, "We miss you. Come home." Oh, Force … what if … what if he had, taken his father's offer and gone home?
His father would be alive, he'd be with Rey every single day. Every single night. His soul wouldn't be a shattered mass of mistakes and regret.
He can barely think through the bursting connections, and he starts to gasp, unable to fill his lungs with air. His heart beats wildly, out of sync, it hurts. Make it stop, it hurts.
"Look at me!" Rey's plaintive call breaks through his anguish.
His eyes, near blind with tears, search for hers, then she's grabbing his face and all he can see is Rey.
"There, yes. Focus on me."
He blinks slowly and his tears stop. Stars, she's so beautiful.
"That's it Ben, just listen to the sound of my voice. You're alright. You're safe."
Safe? Safe?! He knows that's a lie. But … Rey is telling him he's safe and her hands running through his hair feel so good. Mmmm. Rey is here. Rey … Rey … Rey …
"Yes, he's fine. Well, he's going to be fine. I'm sorry I broke you apart like that, but he was … he wasn't alright." Who is Rey talking to?
Oh. That's right. He'd been with his mother. Wait, how is that possible? He shrugs slightly, deciding Rey can do anything.
She makes a little squeak when he pulls her to him, burying his face at the crook of her neck. She smells just right. Home.
"Mmm?" he enquires as he nuzzles against her.
But she pulls back and he whines in disappointment. She again takes his face in her hands. "Your mother is extremely worried about you. And so am I. What … what happened?"
Rey looks so concerned and he doesn't like it. She shouldn't be distressed. Then his mind begins to clear and he starts to remember. He'd been with his mother. Shame coils and snags through him as he realizes he'd … he'd shared everything. The lightning. How he blindly obeyed a monster. The way his own body had rebelled against the unnatural act demanded of him ...
Then she'd … she'd forgiven him. Force … how is that even possible?
Rey's face is so full of fear and he doesn't know how she brings herself to touch him. He's too stained with his father's blood. Maker, he's disgusting. But her hands slide down his cheeks and she's pulling him into her arms again.
Why would the Force have ever given him such a gift? This bond? Bless him with Rey while damning her with him? He doesn't understand. All he knows is that when she holds him, he feels whole.
"Please … please tell me what happened, Ben," she murmurs against his cheek.
Taking in a shuddering breath, he prepares to pull away so that he may see her face when he tries to explain what he doesn't even begin to comprehend himself. Most of him wants to stay right here forever. In Rey's arms where everything doesn't hurt all the time. He's so damned tired.
Finally he shifts, loosening his hold and finding Rey's eyes.
"She … she forgave me," he whispers. The words feel odd in his mouth.
A gentle, kind smile blooms on Rey's face. "I'm glad."
Glad? But … he does not deserve this … this … impossible grace. He almost wants Rey to hiss and spit, remind him he's a murderous snake, a monster. Creatures are not for forgiving. He can't let this in.
"But I don't understand! How can she ... how can she possibly forgive me? I killed him, Rey!"
She flinches and looks away. She's right not to want to look at him. He rips his hands from her and stares at them with horror. "I killed him with these hands!" He thrusts them out in front of him, palms up.
She tries to lace their fingers together but he barks, "No!" He swiftly avoids her grasp. "These hands don't deserve to touch you! These hands have brought only pain and destruction and murder. I cannot be forgiven!" I don't know how to be.
Rey's brows draw together in a deep furrow. She again holds out her hands and says, "Please, Ben. Please."
"I have no right to touch you. I'll only taint you," he snarls, backing away from her.
"Stop. I'm the one who decides if you're allowed to touch me. It's not your choice to make. Now give me your hands," she says sternly.
Ben shakes his head. "Tell her … tell my mother that she shouldn't forgive me. Tell her she should hate me!" Like I hate myself ...
"I'm not going to do that," Rey says gently, then looks over to where his mother must be standing. "He's having trouble accepting that you forgive him." Rey smiles just a bit and nods.
He doesn't like that they're discussing him. It makes him feel like an errant child. "What did she say?" he asks shortly.
"She said, 'Well it's a good thing that's not up to him.'"
Some part of him is quickly filled with familiar fury at how dismissive his mother can be. She always did this when he was a boy, when he'd get so angry. She'd smile at him indulgently and it made him feel so stupid.
Yet … he'd felt it. Instinctively he knows that lying was simply impossible in that strange place of feelings and raw history. He knows his mother truly does forgive him, even as he will never, ever forgive himself.
She doesn't even know why he'd destroyed the temple, killed … Chan, Rell … no, he won't remember them. How he'd tried to get his fellow Jedi to see, how everything went so horribly wrong …
He wraps his arms around his torso and turns away from Rey, ignoring the flash of hurt he sees.
Skywalker is dead. He's hurt his mother enough, she doesn't need to know what her brother did to him.
Wait. That means she'd forgiven him even thinking he'd betrayed her brother? Murdered her husband, destroyed her twin …
He turns slightly and croaks out, "Why?"
"Why what?" Rey asks, her hands reaching for him again. He tightens his arms around himself, he doesn't deserve her offered comfort.
"Why was she willing to forgive me? Why would she want to?" he nearly begs.
"Oh Ben … you … there's so much I wish you could see …" she says sadly before closing her eyes briefly.
Rey focuses her attention on Leia and asks her his question. She listens and then nods. "She said … she said because you're her child." Her voice is filled with sadness, but it's different, now … she's beginning to hunch into herself.
Something is upsetting Rey. It pulls him from his spiral of self-loathing and the ever-beckoning past. His beloved needs him, and even if he knows he doesn't deserve to touch her, it will help her if he does. And so he's reaching for her, taking her hands, needing to comfort her the way she'd been attempting to comfort him.
Stroking his thumbs along her palms he peers at her. Yes, something's wrong. "Rey?"
Her eyes dart to his and he sees it. The longing, that deep wound that's behind all of her choices. Her parents.
Then her expression clears and her spine straightens. She shakes her head. "It's not time for that," she says, almost to herself.
"No. I can't! I … maybe later." She searches his eyes pleadingly. After a long moment he nods once.
She lets out a slow sigh. "Are you feeling better?" she asks.
Something about his concern for Rey has pulled him from the chaos of his history. Locking it all away again, he takes in centering breath.
"Yes. I am." He lifts her hand to his lips, kissing her palm softly. Her fingers press into his cheek. He may not deserve her touch, but he's never going to give it up. He's not strong enough to go without her.
"Thank you, for …" For holding him as he fell apart so completely. For making this time with his mother possible. For loving him. But nothing seems right. "Just … thank you," he finishes awkwardly.
Her eyes grow soft and she strokes his cheek. "You're welcome."
Leaning forward, they touch their foreheads and feel each other for a moment before breaking apart.
There's much left to talk about with his mother.
He'd listened to Rey explain his plan to thwart Hux. She'd added to it here and there, logistical details he hadn't yet considered. It had sounded so much more … thorough when he'd listened to her lay it out for his mother. He wonders if Rey has the barest comprehension of how amazing she is?
As she'd talked and answered his mother's questions, he'd been able to put himself back together, more or less. The strong sense that he shouldn't touch Rey has replaced itself with the need to hold her close.
Now they're alone again, Leia needing to think. His mother had touched his hand briefly again just before she'd left. He'd been surprised to feel … pride. And a rush of deep affection for Rey, approval ...
Tucking Rey against his chest, he gives himself a few moments of simply enjoying the solid rightness of her in his arms, but they've been together for most of the night at this point, and she's sure to fade soon.
He pulls back and looks down into her face. "You never asked my mother about … about meeting me. In person." He's decided on Cathne. It's less than an hour from the Finalizer's current position. He'll be able to manage a few hours away undetected.
"I want to have that conversation alone," she says, blushing.
It stings that she doesn't trust him and his face falls.
"No! It's not because there are things I don't want you to know. It's … she asks such embarrassing questions … half the time I don't even know what she means ..." she trails off.
He remembers how Rey's cheeks had flamed when his mother had just found out about their bond. How shocked Rey had been at something the other woman had asked.
"What was it she said, anyway, when you said 'it hasn't come up'?"
Rey's blush deepens. "She asked … she asked if I had the … uhm ... implant…"
Oh. Oh! He hadn't even thought of that! For a strange moment he wants to be incredibly reckless and not bother with it when the time comes. But … it's war and Rey pregnant … with his child … it would be beyond selfish. The thought lingers, however.
Rey's cheeks are still burning and he asks, "Why … why did that embarrass you?"
"She's your mother! Besides … I …" She looks away and grows quite tense.
"What is it, sweetheart?"
"I never thought … I never thought I'd ever … be with a man. On Jakku no one can afford the implants anyway and I don't … I don't really know what to do. I mean … do I just go to the doctor and … ask? And I don't have anything to trade for it and I ..."
She looks so nervous so he takes her into his arms and murmurs, "I'll take care of it. As long as one of us has one, that's all that matters. But if you do want one, yes, you just need to ask. They won't expect you to trade anything for it, I'm certain." The Resistance doesn't want pregnant soldiers any more than the First Order.
Rey grimaces. "I don't understand that," she says lowly.
"What, what don't you understand?"
"They just … they just give me things." She shrugs. "The first day I was on Atalyn, I tried to offer to work on ships for food and Poe just stared at me … Finn explained and I … I hate their pity."
He works very hard to keep the sorrow off of his face. Of course she wouldn't understand kindness. Plutt taught her that no one ever does anything without expecting something in return and he suspects this lesson will take a long time to untangle.
Rey sighs. "Then Leia, she … she started bringing me beautiful clothes, jewelry ... and it scared me. It felt … it feels like a debt I can never work off. She tells me I'm being silly, but …"
Ben hums slightly. "I think you need to talk to her. Tell her about Jakku. And I mean the truth of it. What it was like. Plutt," he says darkly.
Rey shakes her head emphatically. "No. I don't … I don't want her to know I was … I was a slave." Her voice is thick with humiliation and it slices into him.
"Rey, you have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing. My mother … my mother will help you. She … she cares about you very much. I felt it when we were together in the Force."
She scoffs. "Leia cares about everyone."
"No … you're special to her. I know you are. Talk to her. You don't need to be alone in this." He's surprised at how much of the resentment he's used to feeling just … isn't there. His mother always had a protégé or two under her wing and he'd hated them. But now … now he just sees it as his mother's nature and he's in fact quite grateful for it. Rey needs someone to help her navigate this new reality where none of her old rules apply.
"I hate not knowing how things work. At least on Jakku everything made sense."
"You'll learn. You already are. Talk to her," he repeats.
She holds his eyes and some of the trepidation fades. "I … okay. Okay, I'll talk to her."
He wishes he was with her all of the time. To be the one to help her learn to accept generosity, slowly ease the suspicion he often sees in her face. Oh how he despises what her parents did to her. Wait, her parents, something had made her think of them while he was cracking wide open.
"Earlier … something reminded you of your parents. What was it?"
She flinches and blinks rapidly. "It was … it was when Leia said she forgives you because you're her child, like it was the most obvious thing in the galaxy. Like there was nothing you could do to stop her loving you. No one has ever loved me like that."
Ben cups her cheek, noticing how his large hand covers almost half of her face. "That's not true …"
"Of course it is! They sold me!" she exclaims hotly.
"No … Rey … I meant me. There's nothing you could ever do to make me stop loving you."
"Oh," she says sheepishly.
He draws his thumb along the silken skin of her cheek, simply holding her eyes, letting her see his devotion.
She leans forward and kisses him, long and slow. Pulling back, she says, "And … and I guess I was a little angry. I try not to be, but sometimes …"
"Sometimes?" he prods.
Her eyes grow hollow and she looks away from him. "You … you had everything I wanted and … and I know there's so much more to it, but sometimes I still get upset that you don't see how lucky you were."
His brows shoot up. Lucky? He's anything but lucky to have been born into the Skywalker family but something about her bearing keeps him from arguing with her. Then he realizes she's right. Measuring by Rey's scale is … humbling.
Drawing her to him, pressing her face into his chest, he rumbles, "I'm beginning to."
Ben notes the time, there's really no point in going to sleep. He feels oddly at peace, as if some of his anguish has bled out of him. The calm Rey brings has remained. They'd spent their last few minutes together caressing each other gently and he'd had his lips pressed to hers as she'd faded.
They've made plans to meet on Cathne the day after tomorrow. That should give him enough time to adjust duty schedules and disable the necessary security measures. And for her to speak with his mother.
He wishes he had time to find a gift for her. Thinking about her life of deprivation makes him want to give her everything. But he can't exactly slip off the ship twice. Perhaps he could arrive on Cathne a bit earlier … see if he could find something?
Wait … he goes to a cabinet in the corner of his room and opens the top drawer. There. When his crystal had cracked, a shard the size of the tip of his pinkie had come loose. It's still the original blue and it feels almost warm in his palm. He's kept it, never knowing what to do with it. It felt wrong to discard it.
Taking the crystal with him, goes to his work table, pulling out his tools. A design is already forming in his mind as he sits down.
At least this way, a part of him will always be with her.
A/N: Great news! ArtemisBare has joined the Ben Solo Pain Train crew. She's alpha reading for flow, pacing and general 'dude, that's dumb, don't do that.' All typos etc. are mine. Thank you so much, ArtemisBare!
Thank you brilliant and beautiful readers, you make every posting day thrilling and give me so much energy for writing. Thank you, thank you, thank you.