No one else can see him. Rey is used to that. During the long year when she and Kylo took up residence in each other's minds, none of her friends ever saw the interloper who appeared before her, challenging her, demanding her whereabouts or her loyalty or whatever he wanted. Now none of them see the new trespasser into her life, who wears the same face as her enemy did but who demands nothing from her.
Maybe Finn sees him from time to time. She catches him at moments, squinting curiously at the space next to her where her silent companion loiters. She hasn't had the energy to ask. What if he can see Ben, and doesn't know what to say? What if he can't, and this is all Rey's hallucination brought on by stress, and loss, and grief?
"You don't think I'm real."
They're alone. Rey is on her back working on the fuel lines for the Falcon, the mindless repairs comforting as her hands move and her thoughts rest. Rest is more difficult when a ghost lies beside her.
"I don't know." She moves her vibrospanner to the next fastener. "I've seen your mother and Luke. They don't stay with me constantly."
He doesn't reply. Instead one phantom finger points to a spot she missed. Grudgingly, Rey turns to repair it.
"There's nothing you do or say that I don't already know. You could be a..." What was that term? Leia brought in a few doctors who specialized in talking to people. Rey talked to one once and walked out with no good answers. "A manifestation of my anxieties," she says, recalling the phrase that had made her walk out of the room.
"Ah, you talked to Dr. Ribbo. Mother made me see him when I was young." Ben's face takes on a thoughtful expression. "I treated him horribly."
"There's a surprise." She returns to her work. Ben remains silent. She should find this creepy, invasive. There were times during their bond when she felt filthy and ashamed knowing what he saw of her.
There were other times, though. Her hands stop their work as she wanders through a memory: Kylo had been close, only a system away from her. They sparred with bodies and the closest items they had to hand: a tree branch, the butt end of a blaster. He could have pulled out his red blade and sliced her open but instead threw punches Rey barely dodged. She caught his hand, threw him down, and he pulled her down with him. They hadn't even undressed, removing only enough of their clothing to reach each other. She slammed him against the hard deck of his ship, riding him angrily. He shoved her off, forcing her to her back in the dirt of the forest floor.
She'd stopped counting how many times their fights ended that way. She'd been lucky no one ever found her in such a state, and luckier still nothing worse came from their trysts than a touch of self-loathing and some mild scrapes. She told Finn and Leia about the fights, never the aftermath. She doesn't know if they ever figured out the rest.
"I did get caught out," Ben says, a note of humor in his voice. "Stormtroopers walked into my quarters twice. They couldn't see you, of course."
Rey ignores him, making another repair. He's not supposed to be able to read her mind, too. Either he senses the rebuke or he has nothing left to say. He stays silent as she finishes her work. She wonders what those stormtroopers made of the scene, their Supreme Leader with his prick hard and wet, grinding into a woman who wasn't there. She wonders how she would have explained had Rose come looking for her and seen her in struggling, desperate disarray, flying apart from the intensity they shared across light years.
"Done," she says to Chewbacca as soon as she's back in the cockpit. "I'll work on the door mechanisms tomorrow.
He tells her she doesn't have to. It's his ship and he can make the repairs himself.
"I know. I'd like to help."
Chewie tells her to suit herself, but he says it fondly. Beside her, she hears: "I think he's prouder of this ship than my father was, and that's saying something."
She doesn't reply to Ben when other people are around. Finn, Poe, and the rest of her friends treat her like she's delicate, like she might break after everything that's happened. Talking to thin air would convince them they're right.
She thinks she should go talk with Dr. Ribbo, but she doesn't go.
The Resistance has never had much in the way of supplies. People crowd in five or six to a bunk. Rey still sleeps in a pile with four other people. Rose joined in their huddle back when Rey first met her but she moved into another group with Beaumont and Kaydel months ago. Finn and Poe tend to make space for her between them, and that's all she needs as she closes her eyes at night, snug and warm and safe. She pretends she can't see the blue form next to Finn.
"I need to train," she tells Ben when they are alone, when she has admitted to herself this is more than a delusion.
"I can show you what I know," he says, and he moves into a ready stance which Rey mimics easily. They work through forms, taught to him by the master who refused to train her. "He knew what you are. He didn't dare." Ben shifts to another position, and Rey follows.
"Luke said your mother knew."
"She didn't know for certain. She suspected. She'd met the Emperor before, long ago." He extends his arm, waiting for her to copy the movement.
Rey doesn't know what to make of this ghost which has settled into her life. Kylo was mad, unstable, and driven. She can see pieces of his fractured personality in Ben's spirit, but he has passed beyond all sorrows. The worst has come, and left him here with her, carrying traces of madness in his eyes but with nothing left of his rage.
"You talk to your parents now."
"'Talk' isn't the word. I understand them now."
After hours of this, she tires and he stops. Her muscles are still learning the advanced lessons. "Other Jedi are still out there alive, aren't they?"
"I can't tell you that." He looks into a distance Rey can't see. "Some things you can only discover for yourself."
"There are others, then."
"There have always been others with the Force. Most have never been Jedi or Sith. Some had the option of either or both and walked away instead."
She hears the thin, rueful tone. "You wish you'd walked away."
"I wonder what I would have been had I known I could. I wonder what he could have been." The 'he' in question is clear. Ben has walked into the world where his grandfather's soul still wanders. Rey longs to know what Anakin Skywalker's spirit would have to say about this last descendent who so utterly destroyed his own atonement.
"We all have our regrets," he says in reply to her silent musing. "Mine are at least as much as his. So we remain, and attempt to guide others onto a better path."
Rey's mouth quirks. "You're worried about my path?"
Ben fixes her with a stare that she knows for a fact sees into and through her. "You are full of anger, Rey. No one knows that better than I do."
She finds she can't meet his eyes. "I'm fine. I passed the test. I won't be like him."
He watches her. His mouth moves into a small, pleased smile. "I know."
Luke raised his ship from the sea and caught the lightsaber she intended to discard. Ben does nothing so dramatic. He simply touches her shoulder to catch her attention during another fight. Rey has learned to ignore him in battles. He can't raise a blade or a fist to help, not like Finn at her side with a blaster.
The tap startles her, and she ducks, barely missing getting her head blown off. She spins into attack, lunging with her new blade.
"You could have said," she says to him under her breath after.
"You don't listen," he replies, a touch petulant, and that's the tone that lets her know this is really him, not some idealized figment of her overworked imagination. Ben and Kylo were the same person in life, and they are the same ghost at her side now.
"Thanks," she says, after a while. He doesn't reply, but that smile touches his lips again.
Rey isn't sure how to describe what they had when he was alive. She doesn't have words for what she feels now with Ben's shadowy hands against her. Love is simple, sweet, and true. These feelings are complex and dark, filled with a dingy grief.
His lips touch her neck with the pressure of the wind. His fingertips have no more substance than a spinnerweb, less. The silk in a web is stronger than durasteel while Ben's touch is more fragile than dew.
Rey made excuses for why she had to be alone tonight. She's meditating. She's learning the secrets of the Force. She's communing with the dead.
"Communing. Really." He's amused, and the memory of his teeth scrape against her collarbone with promise.
Rey goes to sit up. "I'm sure there's a Force ghost banishing spell in the old texts somewhere."
Ghosts shouldn't be able to laugh. She's sure about that. Ben has a great laugh, one that lets go of the seriousness he always took himself with when he was alive. It pulls a warmth from deep inside Rey, and she places her lips against his cheek, feeling not skin but the sparkle of distant starlight.
This is going to be even stranger than when they coupled from parsecs away.
She doesn't have to remove her clothes. She does anyway, folding them in a neat pile beside the bunk she's claimed as her own tonight. Ben's eyes never leave her face. Within the space of a breath, he's as bare as she is. They sink against the mattress together. In life, his hands were strong, squeezing her, pushing her, tussling with her for control. Now she feels the lightest touch, a shivery whisper as his hands glide against her sides, up the swell of her breasts and to her face.
Words aren't necessary here. He knows her thoughts. She's long accustomed to the feel of him inside her mind, sensing his emotions as they circle around her. Ghosts feel: sorrow, regret, love. Emotions may be blunted by the veil, but they persist. The last remnants of Ben Solo will be disembodied sparks of emotion, long after her bones are dust.
Rey reaches for him. Her hands could easily sink through the energy field that remains, but they find the memory of flesh, stroking the healed wound on his chest where she stabbed him, then roaming the flat surface of his stomach and abdomen. He died whole, in body and in spirit.
Passion used to bring them to each other. Ben is past passion now. Rey will have to spare enough for them both.
She moves against him with slow care. She can't shove him back against the blanket to take her pleasure from him as she used to. He can't seize her in his arms and push her to her knees, and hold her hips as he drives deep inside her. They ended so many private battles swearing and spent, and Rey blushing at the sticky wetness between her thighs as she returned to her tasks after.
That's the past. The present is diaphanous blue beside her, his mouth softer than air against hers. The present is the stroke of ghostly fingers around her neck, up to brush an ear as she shivers. The present is knowing without words that the past is dead but love lingers on.
He has no solidity to him. She can't possibly feel a hand sliding down her belly to play between her legs, can't shiver as his fingers part her open or rub delicious circles against her aching clitoris. Ben's eyes look into eternity but they are fixed on hers as Rey gasps, and cries out when ghostly flesh enters her with a firm, familiar stroke.
Before, she grew to learn his patterns: the glare in his eyes as he grabbed for control, the shift in his hips when he struggled for the right angle, the hitch in his breath right before his body jerked and spasmed in his climax. She knows he learned her as well: the growl she makes when she's ready, the sparking arousal she feels from his teeth at her throat, the firm pressure she needs on her clit to come. They knew each other, and that at least has not changed.
Ben has no body left, no nerves, nothing but the echo of his better self. His mind slides into hers instead, and Rey opens to him gladly, sharing the good, thick, impossible feel of him inside her. He gives her the rich, slow, slick slide of himself, tasting her delight.
"I thought you'd like this," he says with a smirk that's more Kylo than Ben, but she forgives him. Kylo was the greater part of him for so long, and Kylo was the one she used to take to what passed for a bed between them.
A number of retorts come to her lips, and she knows he hears them all running through her mind. She could do this herself, thank you. She could push him away now. She could go to the other cabin down the corridor and let herself inside, and tell Finn and Poe she wanted them both, here and now, and they would say yes.
She expects a twinge of jealousy. She senses none, and that's the proof she needs that Kylo is gone. Kylo wanted Rey for himself. Ben will never want her to be unhappy or alone.
She hears him muse on her last light threat. With a catch of her breath, Rey knows he wants to watch her, writhing and trapped and complete between her two dearest friends, wants to place incorporeal hands on her as she moans and sip the fullness of her pleasure. The image burns her brain, driving her closer to him. He's deep within her, moving to the pace she sets, his phantom hand over hers as she presses and rubs where she needs the physical touch.
Part of her stands back even in the midst of her desire. She's undergone too much strain on her mind and soul, and this is nothing more than a pathetic delusion. Some other watcher, silent and horrified, would see Rey alone in her borrowed bunk, her hand between her own legs, calling out the name of her dead lover. This can't be real.
His mouth is against her ear. "Everything is real from a certain point of view. Or so I've been told."
For one moment, he's solid, firm as the hard mattress under her. For an instant, he's in her arms and joined with her body, not alive, not any longer, but real. His mouth against hers is vital and sweet and filled with longing for things that could never have been.
Pleasure burns through her, sparking out every nerve. The dim lights flicker as the Falcon's circuitry takes her power, grounding it inside the old machinery. Rey sobs and shakes. Already Ben has regained his spectral form, lighter than mist, as insubstantial as than a dream, nothing left of the man she knew except the permanence of his love for her.
Her body quakes and shivers, the good feeling already dwindling. This is hopeless.
"According to my parents, all relationships have a few issues."
She shakes her head, her eyes wet. "You're dead. I'm not. That's a big issue."
"Not an insurmountable one, nor unprecedented. My mother wasn't alone that last year."
Rey isn't going to ask. She knows firsthand there are thousands of spirits in the Force. She can think of only one who would have stayed by Leia's side until the end.
"When will you go?" It's the only question that matters. She felt the echoes of the past. She knows ghosts don't stay themselves forever, passing fully into the Force at the end of their work.
"Not all of us fade away," he replies to her unspoken thought. Inside his mind, she sees faces, Jedi she never knew. She understands they too have yet to pass on completely. "As long as those we loved in life still need us, we can remain. I'm here. I will always be here beside you for as long as you want me to stay." Sincerity ripples through his words. She ought to be frightened. She ought to be horrified. Her once-enemy is vowing to become her eternal companion, watching her forever. It should be awful.
Her throat is too tight to speak. Instead Rey reaches for him, and kisses the atom-thin give of air where his mouth should be, and they need no words at all.