"I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul." ― Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets
It was cold. Dark. Quiet. He did not know whether he was still alive.
Maybe he was. Maybe he was not. Maybe afterlife was really about staring indefinitely at the darkness and feeling a void fill in every corner of his… was it his body? He did not know what one had after they perished, what their case turned into... Because that was what they all had, wasn't it? A shell, a feeble and temporary carapace that served the dimmest of purposes. He wondered whether he had ever given a second thought about what came next, but that thought seemed almost childlike. Yet, as the growing suspicion that he was dead seemed ever more plausible, it crossed his mind that being dead was in one word, boring.
For a split second, he felt his lids flutter as a small breeze rushed across his existence. He tried moving what he suspected were his eyes and discovered that he could squeeze them shut. With the breeze came also the realization that he could still breathe as his chest filled in and out slowly. He decided to take a deep breath, test a bit further what exactly he could still do in death, however a surge of pain ignited through him and he thought that perhaps he was still there, somewhere, wherever that was. But where? A limbo? A checkpoint? A passage? A veil? So many words, such hollow meanings.
Even without an extensive knowledge about death, he was most certainly sure that dying was not meant to be like that.
Breathing, feeling, aching. If dying was like that, well, perhaps he had been dead all along.
Shaking that ridiculous conclusion off his thoughts, he tried reopening his eyes and discovered that he could still do that, though it seemed much more difficult than he… remembered? Did he remember anything? Did he actually know what he was doing there? Had he ever opened his eyes before? Had he ever done anything before? What exactly was before?
Maybe he had and maybe he knew where he was because as he took in his dark surroundings and tried to look past the rough silhouettes farther, a faint recollection of whom he was and where he was began forming in the back of his throbbing mind. Still, there was a thick fog numbing it as though he could not summon a single explanation as to how he had come to that point. The answers were at the tip of his… tongue? Was that the expression? Did that even make any sense when he was no longer there, when he had moved past his feeble existence and stared at the infinite void that was sure to envelop him forever?
But then again, he was not really dead, was he?
Logic told him that he was not, even if he was beside the point of explaining how he knew it.
He tried taking a deep breath again and another wave of piercing ache coursed straight into the middle of his chest. He remained still, seemingly unable to move when it occurred to him once again, stronger this time, that if he felt pain, that meant he still had a body. And if he still had a body, lying in that cold dark space was about the most irrational thing one could do especially without knowing where they were or what they were doing there for that matter. Testing what he thought were his hands and realizing that they worked, he raised his numbing arm, touched his sore chest and a small gasp escaped his mouth.
If he could feel, see, talk, touch, if he still had a body, then he most certainly was not dead at all.
The vague feeling of detachment vanquished at once upon this realization and suddenly he was very aware of the sharp pain he felt in every corner of his body. Breathing was like having scorching lava flow inside his chest and his lungs screamed at the effort, sending jolts of stars in front of his eyes. His body trembled as a particularly nasty breeze rushed over it and the soreness in one of his legs weighted down on him. It was pain unlike anything he had ever experienced before, though he was not exactly sure whatever it was he had experienced before. His brain seemed frozen, clouded, unable to summon any recollection as to whom he was and what had happened to him.
Something seemed to hover above his body, a feeling he could not quite decipher. Dark and light at the same time.
He took one, two, three deep breaths and then his brain was splitting open with a gush of memories.
His father. His mother. Her. Rey.
He felt much more focused at once, the certainty of what he was doing there and who he was clearer than ever. And as that understanding dawned upon him, so did a surge of panic.
He turned around abruptly, his body aching hard with the effort, and tried to put himself up. His leg thumped, broken, unable to sustain his weight. His ribs throbbed, and he was absolutely sure that his lungs would go out next. Breathing now seemed like an impossible feat, one that sent more jolts of stars to his eyes. His head felt so goddamn heavy, hammering harder than ever before, but his thoughts and decisions had never seemed so clear. His hands had never felt steadier. His resolution had never seemed so unwavering.
The Knights of Ren. Palpatine. Her. Rey.
His father. His mother. Her. Rey.
He knew he was barely holding together. He knew that the end was near. He knew that the one thread, the only fabric keeping him there were them – his mother's sacrifice and her. Rey.
Everything hurt so fucking bad. His body, his mind, his chest, his bones, his heart? Yes, even that, that beating organ he had tried so hard to suppress, the very thing he had once heard prevented him from greatness. Oh, and the pain. Everything hurt so, so much. He knew that that was the side effect of having a maniac drain your Force, energy and fluids and then throw you out violently off a cliff to die. But he hadn't. He couldn't. He wouldn't. Not when she needed him.
It was the vivid memory of her look of surprise and gratitude through their Force connection as she realized that he had come to help that ignited him to climb the edge of that cliff. It was the memory of her gleaming brown eyes as her light saber suddenly appeared in his hands and he fought the Knights of Ren that poured through his body and enabled him to drag his body up the edge. It was the feeling of her close presence beside him as they stared at Palpatine that made him overlook the excruciating agony that throbbed in every corner of his body and propelled him forward. Slowly, so slowly, but onwards all the same.
Life almost slipped out his body when he found himself staring at a small lump at a distance. Immediately, he tried using their Force connection to feel her presence, that bond he had both loathed and treasured in equal measures. He knew that it had not worked even before he got no answer.
She was gone.
Something inside him split in two and then in millions of little specs and even the excruciating pain he felt while taking every breath seemed like nothing compared to the realization that that was Rey's lifeless body. That she was gone.
That could not be. That was impossible.
Despair grew inside his chest, enveloping his every cell. Frantically, as something heavy awoke inside him, something dark and heavy and full of shadows, he tried to get up and fell, hit his jaw hard on the ground and tasted blood inside his mouth. Panting, grunting, ignoring how his eyes screamed with agony, how breathing felt like drowning, how his chest burned, he dragged himself forward, scratching the ground, trying to grab ahold of anything to sustain his weight and propel him forward, mustering every ounce and every fiber of his body to obey his pleading commands and get to her, help her, hold her, do something.
The dark tendrils threatening to encapsulate him were getting closer. He heard their whispers close, clear. The endless void, the infinite dark was clinging to his feet, touching his skin seductively, tingling around his body, making promises of easing his pain forever.
It felt like an eternity, it consumed everything he had in himself and everything he did not. He gritted his teeth, tasted blood and bile, ignored that unbearable pain even though every millimeter he moved brought him closer to the end. But he could not reach the end without her, without seeing her again, without looking at her face once more and doing something.
He forced himself to focus on the memory of her eyes – those eyes that had looked at him in so many different ways. Dark, light, hard, soft, angry, relieved, sad, happy, confused, resolute, stubborn, determined. Those very eyes he would never get to see again…
He did not know how, but he finally reached her body and shock, grief, anger, hatred, pain and a thousand of other emotions he could not even name hit him hard at once when he gazed at her lifeless figure and vacant eyes. Darkness crept in.
Rey was staring at nothing, her face pale, her body cold, her eyes gone. He barely realized what he was doing, he barely had time to wonder how much longer he still had in that world. He pulled her to his lap, held her firm in his arms and embraced her as if she was the most precious thing he had ever seen in that galaxy, every memory of their every conversation, fight, discussion, understanding surging through his brain as though he was forever stuck in that heartbreaking moment.
The scavenger. The apprentice. The enemy. The friend. Rey.
"I did want to take your hand. Ben's hand…"
It seemed forever ago that Rey had spoken those words. It seemed forever ago that she had Force healed him, that he had felt her energy, her Force rush through his body and flow through his cells, filling him with something he had never felt before. It seemed forever ago that he had finally understood what she had meant when she told him there was still Light inside him. It seemed forever ago that he had finally seen what she had seen all along. Who he was – who he truly was.
"You are no one. But not to me."
He had told her that before, maybe a lifetime ago, and he had meant every word. Not because he thought he knew who she was back then, but because beneath her blood and her past, he truly saw her for who she was. And he knew that he was the only person in that entire galaxy who knew who she was too.
"I did want to take your hand. Ben's hand…"
Darkness crept in closer.
He lulled Rey against his body, cradling to her figure with trembling hands and a broken heart, ignoring the stinging feeling in his eyes as he stared at her unresponsive figure and wondered angrily why it had taken so long for him to turn. She had seen his internal struggle, how torn he felt, how he had split himself to his core and bone, and she had offered to help more than once. She was always so kind, so gentle and it had angered him so much that she was still capable of being like that even though all she had ever known was pain, hunger, loneliness.
He had never hated himself so much, he had never loathed his cowardice, his second guesses and his weakness as goddamn hard as he did in that very moment, those final moments, his final moments. He could have come earlier, helped her, prevented her death. But he hadn't. He had willingly resorted to darkness, to bitterness and resentment and in doing so, taken much, much longer to finally admit to what he had known all along, back when he had first met her.
That she was the one. His one. His equal.
The feeling of her hands, her soft touch as she healed him earlier that day was too much to bear.
He closed his eyes, feeling embarrassed as that burning feeling finally conquered him and a single tear that seemed to encompass a world of pain streamed down his face.
He had to try something. He could not simply sit there and allow her to be gone, not when Rey clearly had so much more to offer to that world than he did. His life had always been a waste and coming to that conclusion did not seem to anger him like it had always done. If anything, in that very moment, accepting that perhaps his life had never amounted to anything was like a balm to his pain, an answer to his pleas.
Light crept in.
The longer he stared at her vacant eyes, the clearer the answer became.
He had to try. He had to do something. And perhaps he knew what to do and he knew he was willing to go to that extent for her, yet he did not know whether he had the strength to do it.
"I know what I have to do, but I don't know if I have the strength to do it."
How many times had that single sentence haunted him ever since he had first spoken it? How many times had he gone over that scene over and over and over again until it was branded inside his brains? How many times had he questioned his strength, his resolution, his determination? Although he knew he had finally managed to find an answer to that question, he once again saw himself staring at it with glistening eyes and a broken heart.
Dark crept in… But so did Light.
He knew he had to seek for that precise spot, that place where Dark met Light. The perfect balance. He had never believed in such a thing, the very thought of finding that balance had seemed so farfetched, absurd and silly that it seemed only ironic that at the very end, he would have to resort to that. Yet, he had learned at a very high cost that he had been wrong about everything. He knew he had to look inward to be able to go onward, but looking inward had always shown him his worst – how weak he was, how broken he was.
Still, he had to try. It was her only chance. It was his only choice. His one choice.
He was ready to face the consequences, much readier than before. He used to believe he had the strength and the spirit to do whatever he wanted to do. Right now, as he watched Rey's dead body, he knew he had never had it in him until the moment he had met her. And even back then, he had gotten it all wrong.
He could feel Dark creep in closer as he grieved. But looking at her brought Light closer than ever.
And just as earlier that day when he had decided to go after Rey, he knew what he had to do.
Blinking the tears away, he pulled her closely, his trembling hand finding her stomach and lying there. He once again ignored the burning sensation in his eyes. He once again ignored that pain in his chest that had nothing to do to his broken ribs. He once again ignored the soreness in his broken leg. He once again mustered everything to overlook that throbbing agony enveloping his whole body. He could not, would not let her die. He could not allow someone like her to simply not be there anymore. It was not fair for her to be gone when someone like him was still there.
He forced himself to think of them, to think of her and summon whatever Light he still had in him, that very Light she had always inspired in him, that very Light she had seen in him from the moment they had met. And it amazed him how naturally those thoughts came to him and how they filled his chest, his mind, his heart. Memories of their Force Connections, of her pleading look that he would turn, of her honest confessions about her pain, of her raw feelings of loneliness and how she too knew he was the only one who got her, spluttered inside him and entangled around his core, warming his chest and easing the whispering dark voices inside his head. He could feel whatever was left of him leave his fingertips and flow through her cold body.
Dark crept in, but so did Light.
He found himself at a loss of words to explain exactly how that felt like. The only thing he knew was that it was Force like he had never experienced before. And as it left his body, he felt his own flame begin to extinguish too.
He knew it had worked before she exhaled and stirred in place.
He swallowed a big lump in his throat, exhaled sharply as well and allowed his eyes to drink her expression of shock and confusion, savor the warmth of her closeness and thank whoever was listening that he had managed to do at least one good thing in his life that made his existence worthwhile.
And even in the certainty that these were his final moments, he could not help but realize how beautiful she looked when she smiled even in the midst of chaos and certain death and how much listening to her say his name warmed his chest.
Her soft lips were capturing his before he had found the courage to do so.
A thousand words travelled through that kiss. A thousand stars exploded inside his chest.
He thought dying was really worth it if that was going to be the last thing he did before giving in to the enveloping darkness and falling to an infinite abyss of nothing forever. Dark had crept in, but so had Light. The perfect balance. And in doing so, he had brought her back.
He could not contain the first smile that stretched across his features as he contemplated how thankful he was that she was going to be the last thing he was going to see before he left that world for good. His body grew colder, his face grew paler, but he held her close all the same.
Rey had obviously realized what was going on and he sustained his smile even when her forehead wrinkled and her lips parted with understanding and panic, even when her soft hand holding his face clutched him as though begging him to stay. He sustained his smile though it costed everything in him to push himself forward, to insist on staying there for just a little while, to hear the sound of her voice for just a little while, to bask in the color of her eyes, to feel her warm embrace and the touch of her skin.
"It's okay," he managed to mouth numbly, tracing her face with his fingertips and smiling. It really was very easy to smile even if he did not even remember the last time he had done so.
"I can't allow you to do that, Ben," Rey argued in a desperate voice, pushing away the hand he kept firmly in her stomach to send his life Force to her and the soreness that had spread across his chest was interrupted abruptly. The connection was gone. "Stay with me."
"Let me go, Rey. You're not strong enough. You're barely here. Let me finish it," he tried moving his hand once again, but she pushed it away stubbornly.
"I am here," she pressed, her expression unyielding. "You brought me back."
"Barely, Rey. You know I'm right."
"Why? Why do you suddenly feel like pulling something heroic, Ben?"
"I am not worth it, Rey. You, on the other hand, are."
"It's not your place to say it," she cut him, touching his face tentatively. "I am not going anywhere, Ben. And so aren't you."
"There's still plenty of Force for the both of us," she mumbled, placing her hand in his face and lowering her forehead till it was touching his, another set of thousand unspoken words flowing through them. She closed her eyes and inhaled his scent, his proximity, basking in the gratitude she felt that he of all people was the one there with her, the one who had come after her, the one who had turned.
"Rey, please," he pleaded, his eyes begging for her to understand.
"No, Ben, please," she insisted, locking eyes with him and smiling kindly. "Feel it, Ben."
He felt it. Oh, Stars, he really, really felt it. The Force. The Dark. The Light. He knew she was right.
Dark had crept in, but so had Light. The Force had awakened inside him once more. She was still there and so was him.
"You said I was not alone. You aren't alone either. Stay with me, Ben. Please."
Ben was kissing her again before he could control himself and the feeling was as unique as she was. It was like life was filling him in again, as if that life Force he had used to relive her was enveloping his existence again in spite of almost ebbing away. It had made him more alive if that was even possible. To his core, to his bone, to his soul, to his heart. Their bond… he had already realized the extent of it, how undeniable, unbreakable, unwavering it was. He had already concluded that what they shared was beyond anything he could begin to comprehend and that it was one of those things one could not simply fight against. As he tasted her lips, embraced her in the middle of nowhere, relished how close she was, the inevitability of her presence in his life seemed stronger than ever.
Suddenly, leaving that world behind seemed the most unreasonable thing he could do.
"I knew you would come, Ben," she whispered, smiling with glistening eyes and a world of unspoken feelings at him.
"It was not you who had to take my hand after all, Rey," he spoke in that deep baritone voice of his, touching her face as if to test if she was still there and that she was real.
Thankfully, she was.
A/N: it goes without saying that I did not like the end of TROS and decided to write my own version. Ben Solo deserved better, that's all, and hopefully I will be able to show my take on that. I had been wanting to write a Reylo piece since TLJ but for some reason, I kept digging and digging for an idea and it never came. Turned out that all I needed was for something like that to happen to my favorite character. Anyway, I hope you like it. Let me know your thoughts.