True to his word, Poe hosted another council the day after next, and gave everyone the time and space they needed to make their voices heard. Some voices - many voices - were raised in anger and the desire for revenge, but they were tempered by those who had mercy and forgiveness on the tips of their tongues, and in the end, no one objected to the ultimate decision reached by the council and by the High Command, who presented several options for a vote. As soon as the meeting concluded, Rey hastened to the caverns on light feet, a buzzing at the base of her sternum.
Ben was sitting on the edge of his bed when she entered, his head resting in his hands. His face was pale as he lifted it, though a light came on his eyes at the sight of the smile trembling on her lips.
"Is it decided?" he asked.
She nodded, and opened her mouth to answer, but found she had no words. Instead, she flew across the cave and threw her arms around his shoulders. Tears dropped from her eyes and onto his neck, slipping under his collar.
"That bad?" he said. One arm wrapped tentatively around her back.
"No," Rey said. "It's that good."
His hug deepened around her when she whispered the resolution of the council in his ear. Exile. Under guard for the rest of his life. A comfortable prison on a planet yet to be named. She sank into his embrace, letting herself perch on his lap as the truth of his fate settled in around them. They stayed that way for a long time, for how long she didn't know and couldn't care to count, with her face nestled into the crook where his neck met his shoulder, smiling and weeping and weaving her fingers into his dark hair.
When it had been so long that her neck grew sore, she pulled away, and he smiled softly and reached up to wipe the tears from her cheeks with his thumb. "Why are you crying?"
"Why aren't you?" she countered, then laughed. "I'm sorry. It's just - I feel like I've been barely keeping all these little pieces of myself together for so long. Sometimes I just can't hold all of them anymore, and a piece falls out." Ben made a low noise in the back of his throat at that. "What?" Rey said.
He fixed her with that intense, soul-searching stare of his, the one that could pierce through any shield made by her mind - not that it mattered. Her walls had come down days ago, in that place among the stars, where they'd met beyond the edges of consciousness, and she hadn't had any defenses against him since. She let his gaze enter the prism of her thought like a beam of light, and at that moment she felt more seen, more beheld than she ever had in her life, on any planet in the galaxy.
"What I see is you," Ben said simply. "Whole. Strong. Too good for me."
She scoffed, tangling her fingers more securely in his hair as if in contradiction. "Me? A scavenger from Jakku?"
"You're more than that," Ben said, his tone a challenge. "And you know it."
"Palpatine's granddaughter, then?"
It was his turn to scoff. "I don't care about your bloodline," he said, "or where you were born or how you spent your childhood. I know -" He paused, looking away from her for a moment, then forced himself to meet her eyes once more. "I know I've said a lot of terrible things to you, and done a lot of terrible things to you, and to a lot of other people. I don't deserve the redemption you've offered me, the kindness you've shown me, none of it. But I swear to you that I won't waste this chance. There's no way that I could repay the debt I owe you - or to the galaxy - but I will spend the rest of my life making sure you don't regret this moment."
She gripped his face in both hands so that he couldn't look away again. "Ben. There is nothing you could ever do to make me regret this moment. Mercy is a gift, not a loan. And I know you will use it wisely. I see you too, you know."
"I know," Ben said softly, and a sweet memory formed between them as they both leaned in at the same time, their lips meeting for a kiss. Energy melted through Rey's body like a relief she hadn't known she'd been waiting for, and she gave herself over to the kiss, forgetting everything else for a blissful moment - forgetting that this shouldn't have made any sense, the two of them, and yet to deny it would have been to deny the Force itself.
When they parted, a smile lingered on both their mouths. "What about you?" Ben said after a minute.
"What about me?" Rey said, getting comfier on his lap.
"What will you do next?"
"Oh." She'd been so preoccupied with what would happen to him that she hadn't stopped to think about that. "I don't know, honestly. There's some work to be done still here, picking up after the First -" She stopped herself.
"You can say it."
"Picking up after the First Order. Routing the last of their remnants from the corners of the galaxy. I'm sure I'll help with that. And then?" Rey let out a whoosh of breath. "Well, I still have a lot to learn about being a Jedi. Or whatever it is that I am. That we are." She nudged him with her hip. "A dyad in the Force. I guess it couldn't hurt to explore that a bit more, right?"
"No," Ben said, his smile growing. "No, it couldn't hurt at all."
"Then it's settled," Rey said. "I'll have to make sure that I have visiting privileges before you leave. They might not love the idea, but they know I'd just find a way to you no matter what."
"Of course you would," Ben answered, and Rey marveled at the gentleness of the man that held her like a precious thing - the man that only a short while ago, was closer to her enemy than her lover. He had come through darkness, through fire, through stars, through void - and here he was before her, more human and more lovely than she ever could have guessed. Her heart had made room for him, and when they were apart, that room would be empty space waiting for him to come home. "We'll always find each other, Rey. Nothing can stop us."
And she knew that it was true.
A/N: Well, not quite the end! I'll be posting 1-2 more times with some epilogue stuff to wrap up, but we're almost done! I just wanted to thank everyone for sticking with me and being so enthusiastic and sweet about this story. It really helped me break through a dark period of writer's block and you all were a huge part of that too. I hope that this ending offers some healing from TRoS and some general enjoyment with all the craziness of the world right now. Lots of love, and see you in the epilogue 3