Author's Note: Thank you for reading this story! I hope you enjoy it. Feedback is welcome and appreciated!
Disclaimer: I don't own Star Wars.
She expected him to be next to her, sprawled out and hogging all of the bed space as he did every night. It was a nightly ritual they had developed together as their lives eased into a new normalcy after the fall of the First Order. Whenever she would reach out for him in the night, he would be there to hold her, to pull her closer to him until she could feel every rise and fall of his chest as he breathed evenly and deeply. Tonight, when she stretched her arm out to the center of the bed, she was disappointed to find herself clawing only at air.
Still half-asleep, Rey twisted her torso to face her partner. When only darkness met her, she flicked her finger to kick on the overhead light on its dimmest setting.
Ben Solo sat on the edge of the bed, his broad back facing Rey. A sheen of sweat coated his skin, glistening in the soft light. He held his head in his hands, drawing in audible, ragged inhales that he was trying, and failing, to turn into controlled exhales.
"Ben, what's wrong?" Rey whispered.
He tensed when he heard her whisper, swallowing first before finding his voice. "Rey." He shifted his weight slightly and Rey felt the bed dip at his movements. "I'm sorry I woke you. Go back to sleep."
Rey pushed herself into a sitting position and scooted over towards him, taking a seat next to him on the bed so close that their thighs touched. "You're shaking," she observed. Her hands encased his shoulders gently enough so as not to startle him but firmly enough to let him know she would be there to hold onto him as long as he needed it.
"It's nothing," he said quietly, running a hand through his sleek hair to remove a lock from his eyes. "Don't worry about it."
"A vision?" Rey angled her chin slightly to make eye contact with Ben. He could feel her poking at their Force bond. Even her persistence and curiosity were doused in lightness and love, not a hint of intrusion or suspicion in her connection with him. Ever since the discovery of their connection, Ben had always felt a constant craving for her bright light. Once they had healed each other and shared a kiss on Exegol, that craving had intensified. Her clung to her energy, body, and mind like it was his lifeline. Sometimes, he knew that Rey was the only person who could keep him afloat in his new life.
Today, or rather tonight, was one of those times.
"No," he quickly dismissed. "Nothing like that." Rey continued to search his face for an answer. She could feel one forming on the tip of his tongue, but he was holding back from her. Perhaps it was out of fear? Now that Ben had started to come to terms with what he had done in his pursuit of being Supreme Leader, the confidence Kylo Ren had always displayed disappeared to reveal a much more insecure Ben Solo. Uncertainty replaced his self-assuredness. Ben never knew whether or not the next person he met would hate him when they found out who he had been, blame him for some tragic event that was his fault, or worse, believe his redemption was not genuine.
But it was.
He wasn't sure how to go about proving that to the rest of the galaxy, especially when every night his dreams replayed the darkest moments in his life so he could relive the anger that used to coarse through his veins and the decisions that anger caused him to make.
"Then what?" Rey persisted, lightly squeezing his shoulder to bring his focus back to the present. "Please, Ben."
Ben brought his palm to the side of Rey's neck, letting his fingers sift through her brown hair. One look at her face, determination plastered over her features, crumbled any wall he might have tried to erect.
"Nightmare," he finally choked out, caressing Rey's neck with his large fingers. "I can't get it out of my head," Ben admitted, despising himself for being so weak that he had to dump all of his problems on Rey, as if she did not deserve to find the contentment that had been radiating off of her since adopting the Skywalker name. "I'm so tired, but I can't sleep. Just spend the whole night thinking." He leaned more of his weight into Rey. "It's happened every night this week."
Rey sighed. "That's a long time without sleep."
Ben nodded, his chin drooping to his chest. Rey wasn't sure if it were embarrassment or exhaustion that dictated his movements. "I did so many horrible things," Ben whispered. "Killed so many people, tortured others, destroyed worlds." He broke physical contact with Rey to massage both of his temples. He could feel a headache forming and tried to offer himself some small relief before the pain became worse enough for Rey to feel through their bond. "And I can't undo any of it."
"We can't dwell in the past," Rey offered. "Or even predict the future. We must focus on the present, to build the life we want to live. It's all we can do, Ben."
"But I killed them. Both of them," Ben countered, his voice catching in his throat. "What right do I have to live in any present?" He pinched the bridge of his nose, resisting the urge to collapse into Rey. "Especially a present with you."
Ben didn't have to name Han or Leia for Rey to know it was they who Ben must have been dreaming about tonight.
"I see his face, right before he falls," Ben continued, hunched over so his elbows rested on his knees. "Hear him promise to help me. Chewie screaming, you screaming. It's stuck in my head." He let his forehead settle into his hands, pressing his palms into his eyes to prevent any tears from leaking out. "Over and over again. My father looks so surprised. I'd never saw that look on his face before," the distressed man narrated. "Like he never thought that I could be so… evil, like he still believed in me." He put his hands over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut.
"He did," Rey acknowledged. She had witnessed Han's death, and felt the disturbance, even with her rudimentary grasp of the force at that stage in her life. "He'd be so proud of you now."
Ben continued, murmuring, "My mother." He jumped up from the bed, surprising Rey, and leaned against the bare wall. "I killed her twice." He beat his fist against the wall twice, only to fall to his knees before sliding down to the ground. "I felt it, all of it. Her pain, disappointment… When I go to sleep, I can still feel it. Endlessly."
Rey rushed to Ben's side, encircling her own lithe arms around his shoulders. She did not bother to deny Ben's accurate description of his treatment towards Leia. Instead, she reached out through their bond to send him feelings of comfort. Even if his conscious mind were not ready to accept her support, perhaps his subconscious would be.
"And I see you. What I did to you." Ben mumbled. "I'm back there, doing it all over again. I don't want to, but I can't stop," he explains, his breathing picking up pace again. "It's all happening, all at once. And it feels so real, and I can't stop seeing it. Every night." A sob escaped his lips. "Endless reminders of all the awful things I did. And you…" He fixed his eyes to a spot on the floor so as not to give himself the luxury of looking at Rey. "You know what I did, saw it, felt it." He swiped at his cheek to get rid of a stray tear running down his face. "How can you stand to be with me?"
"Because I know who you truly are," Rey answered without missing a beat. "You were being manipulated at every turn, molded into someone completely different than yourself." Rey suppressed a shudder as she thought of Kylo Ren and the atrocities he committed, seemingly without mercy or regret. "Don't forget that what you did includes healing me. Helping all of us destroy Palpatine. Saving the galaxy." She could feel some of the tenseness in Ben's end of their force connection release, but much too slightly for him to be experiencing any real comfort.
He felt her warm breath waft over his skin. The tactile sensation helped him momentarily shut out the images playing through his head. "I wish they could know how sorry I am."
"Ben, you have to remember that you're more than what you did."
"It's harder when it's all I see," Ben said, feeling like a failure. A few nights of bad dreams and suddenly his emotions were overtaking his whole existence, put his Jedi training to shame. He slumped further against the wall.
"You're tired," said Rey. "You need to sleep. It's no wonder these nightmares are getting to you like this. You're not thinking clearly."
Ben made a small noise, halfway between a moan and an agreement.
"Five days without sleep," she commented lightly. "That's not healthy."
"Nope," agreed Ben. As if on cue, he yawned, turning his head away from her to spare him from staring down his gullet. His mouth opened widely. Rey half-expected a great roar to come out of him, but instead, he expelled just a low whimper and let the back of his arm swipe across his eyes. Even though Ben tried his best to hide his misery, Rey could tell that every movement he made only tired him out more. He was desperate for sleep, but fought to stay awake lest the nightmares continue to plague him. "But a few sleepless nights won't kill me," he said wryly. "So it's less than I deserve."
The nights were always hardest for Ben to come to terms with his past. At least in the day, he could keep himself busy with helping Rey and the rest of the Resistance members to establish a democratic system of peace for the galaxy. He threw himself into the work, inspired by Rey's devotion to the cause that had been so important to his mother, as well as everyone else's steady contributions. Ben doubted anything could bring him the sense of atonement he craved, but this at least this was a start.
Sure, there were people who still harassed him outright and others who hid their disdain with whispers, but at least the official Resistance counsel had pardoned him for his crimes once the extent of Palpatine's manipulation had been discovered, as well as Ben's actions to help bring about the First Order's destruction.
Rey suspected that Ben had been suffering with these nightmares more than just a few nights. She decided to appeal to Ben's practical side. "You can't go on like this."
"No real choice," Ben shrugged, letting his chin tilt forward and his head follow suit as he elongated the last syllable until it died on his lips.
He stayed still for a moment, leading Rey to believe that he had fallen asleep mid-sentence. Holding her own breath, she started to summon the strength to levitate Ben back into bed, but was thrown out of concentration when Ben sprang to life again with a gasp.
Ben raised his chin until his head banged into the wall behind him, more tears trailing down his face. "I'm sorry," he whispered, demonstrating to Rey that he was still enraptured by the past images assaulting his mind. "Just go back to sleep, Rey," he grimaced, pushing himself to his knees and using the wall as leverage to stand upright. "I'm going to go for a walk."
"No," Rey yelped, jumping to her feet and clasping her hand over Ben's to stop him from leaving. The feeling of her hand over his reminded Ben of how relieved and overjoyed he had felt when Rey did the same after destroying the Sith. Her touch filled Ben with warmth then, just as it did now. "Ben, come to bed."
"It's no use," Ben sighed, pitching forward as his knees refused to support his weight. Rey quickly steadied Ben, one arm at his back and one across his chest. She took the opportunity to steer him back to the bed, swiftly guiding him to sit on the soft mattress.
Rey brushed her palm across Ben's forehead to smooth back some of his stray locks still damp with sweat. He let out a low, rumbling hum as he exhaled deeply.
When Rey saw how content her physical touch made Ben, she decided to let her hand linger on the side of his face. "Maybe I can help."
She pressed her five fingertips into Ben's cheek with enough strength so that he could feel the sensation but not so that she would cause him any pain. She moved closer to Ben until her face was inches apart from his, angling her face so that their eyes met. Rather than use words, she cautiously poked at their bond, asking for his consent before she continued.
He maintained eye contact with her. Not because he needed to do that to access their bond. The ease with which they connected only grew as they spent more time together, allowing them to be in constant contact. Between them, their relationship flourished, blossoming into the completed dyad that they had too long denied themselves.
Ben gave a slight nod, allowing Rey's presence in his mind to deepen.
You will relax.
She sent the Force suggestion couched in waves of gentleness and coziness.
Ben responded instantly to her suggestion. His whole body slumped at once. Had Rey not been there to direct him towards his pillow and to adjust his legs so that they were stretched out in a comfortable position, he would have collapsed in a heap. He kept staring at Rey, his eyes mere slits.
To Ben's utter relief, he found himself in a restful fog, on the cusp of sleep but not quite there yet. It had felt like ages since he occupied this limbo space free of the nightmares that tore him apart.
Rey slowed her breathing rate to match Ben's, something they often did subconsciously when they meditated together. It was a physical way for them to synchronize themselves metaphysically. She positioned her body to mirror his, lying on her side, and caressed Ben's smooth cheek with her palm. When Rey was satisfied that Ben was responding well to her suggestion, she sent another to complete her promise to help him.
You will sleep.
Ben's eyes slammed shut. He relinquished what little hold on consciousness he had and blissfully surrendered to sleep. His tense muscles melted into the bed. Rey gradually pulled her hand away from his slack face and exited his mind.
She sat still for a moment, watching Ben to make sure that he had fully succumbed to her suggestions and that nothing, not even his own tortured mind, would interfere with the peace she provided him. Finally satisfied that she had earned Ben a small reprieve, even if just for tonight, Rey turned off the light and settled onto the bed, letting her own eyes close.
Still asleep, Ben's long arms reached forward until they found Rey's hips, pulling her towards him so he could hold her close to him as they both slept through the night.