Notes: Written for a prompt I got on tumblr, which in turn was based on a tweet that went along the lines of, 'Ben should have lived and adopted D-0 because they would have understood each other's trauma'. It's basically just character study and obviously a fix-it, so it doesn't go too in-depth, but it's still an ongoing topic in this fic, in case you need a warning for it. Title from Sleeping At Last's Heart.
I hope you enjoy it and feedback is always welcome!
They wait out the rest of the war on Tatooine.
Ben had been the one to bring it up, resolute to go alone, and Rey had followed without a second thought. They lie as low as they can at first, eager to avoid the wrath of anyone who could follow them here, but they plant themselves into the locals's lives soon enough, taking on the role of mechanics for anyone who could need their services in exchange for anything to help them earn a living. Even though it's only temporary, things are still light years better than they had been on Jakku. She has a home here, not a makeshift shelter, and better yet, she might have a family. It's only when they both find the rhythm of their new life that she realises how easy it actually is.
"D-0, what happened to my memory circuit?"
"Are you still hoarding my droids?" Rey looks up from the engine she's been slaving over for a week now just in time to catch the deadpan look he sends her way. The contrast between their working stations never fails to make her smile, even if the reasons behind it are less than pleasant - hers is clean enough, after years of doing this on her own, and the chaos that reigns over Ben's, with his two helpers and the array of needed parts that he has floating in orbit around him, is such an obvious compensation for an absence that it makes her heart ache. When he's like this – entirely consumed by whatever is taking his attention, face scrunched up in concentration with a lightness to his body that hadn't seemed possible before – she thinks she might never want to look away.
"This is an assistance droid. It's what he does. I had a similar one as a child." He stretches his hand out impatiently, only to realise that the miniature compartment needs to be manually opened. "Give it here."
"N-no thank you." D-0 rolls away before Ben can have another chance to approach and he retracts his arm as if he'd been burnt, the pile of metal suspended in the air coming to a precarious stop as he frowns.
"He does that with everyone." His expression eases, but there's still something there, bigger than a strangely misbehaving droid, as if he had understood but rather wished he hadn't. It's something Rey has seen before, but he carefully tucks the emotion away before she can so much as nudge it awake. "I'm not sure what happened to him, but it takes him a while to approach a human. Or anything bigger than BB-8."
"It's all right. See?" He taps the droid in question until he gets an acknowledgment as D-0 whirls away pensively at a safe distance. "It's not always bad."
Ben freezes for a moment before, with a quick glance at Rey and the work she'd forgotten about, hunching back over his own project. "Someone needs to fix that defect of his. Droids don't stutter."
It would be an easy enough thing to deal with and they both know it, but Rey bites the comment back along with a wide array of things he might not be quite ready to hear her say. "He's fine as he is."
A week later, as they flee through the market on the run from the scene that they'd left behind – a spy that they'd had to dispose of once he'd attacked them, again, though whether it's from the former First Order or the new New Republic this time, Rey isn't sure any longer – the droid is the first thing Ben asks for once he's sure they're safe.
She starts to notice a pattern after that.
It's a silly thing to pay so much attention to, given what had started it, but it's impossible to ignore once Rey catches on – no matter what he does, no matter how content or safe he is, everything from Ben's direction feels like he's suspended mid-air, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. What exactly it is that he's expecting is impossible to tell, but it's there all the same, like an anxious backdrop to his every move. It relaxes its hold on him more and more every day and it never disappears completely – every step he makes is made with him holding his breath.
She finally cracks when she steps into the shower one day and sees him stiffen for all of a moment, shoulders caving in before he lets go.
"This doesn't bother you when I do it." It's barely a question and he cracks one eye open to give her a questioning look. "Unexpected touching."
"No." He rinses the soap out of his hair, the pristinely maintained air of nonchalance only giving when she doesn't elaborate either. "Why should it?"
Less than a year ago, I could have used it to kill you. It's such a distant thought now, when he looks her in the eye, as open as he's been ever since the very start. It had just meant something different then. "It does with everyone else. I've seen it in a crowd. With our neighbours, too." They don't have too many of those and it's still just a temporary home, but the people in their vicinity tend to be surprisingly affectionate. He's always acutely aware of his surroundings, but never of her – if anything, Rey suspects that she might have caught him by surprise only due to the fact that her presence is already constant in his mind. "It doesn't surprise you when it bothers others, too."
"Is this about the droid?"
He's just incredulous enough for her to know that she's right. "The same droid you've trained to trust you?"
The smile she gets in return might just be the saddest one he'd ever given her. It's a good thing, Rey supposes – she's been seeing him happy more and more often lately and if memories are the only thing that can draw this out of him, it's all the better for both of them.
"I've found that if you can't train people to trust you, you have to teach yourself to duck out of their way." There's a scattered, chaotic recoil of recollection somewhere deep inside him, of lightning and shouting and pain and more pain It stretches on, seemingly over the course of years, right before he shoves it out of sight. It's horrifying, even more so for how matter-of-fact he finds it – it's a part of his life, just another last straw on top of years of questioning and doubt, both external and internal; a lifetime of looking over his shoulder and only seeing more unanswered questions scattered along his path. It's something she understands all too well, but even then, it's far too much and for the first time, she sees it all, laid out like an open book in front of her on his command. "I don't know if you've noticed," he says, voice even lower than usual as he finally looks her in the eye, "but I have to train people out of mistrusting me."
He'd never managed to train himself to trust him, that much Rey knows now. It almost makes her laugh; how for a long time, she had hoped against hope that he would end up the explanation to all of her missing pieces (the past and the peace and the hope, both her own and the ones of the entire galaxy), given that she'd answered some of his own questions in the meantime. Bond or no bond, she can't imagine the relief it must have been – realising that she had looked at him and had seen nothing but him alone, without a single accusation or praise or expectation.
"Not me," she argues immediately, ready for a rebuttal. He's fond of arguing for argument's sake, she'd had the time to find out, but this might just be too important for him to try it now.
"No," Ben agrees and there's a little awe in there too, just before he breaks into a smile. It's entirely different this time and it lights up his entire face and she's already gravitating towards it like a spaceship towards its homing beacon even before his hand cups her cheek and draws her closer. "Not you."
When she wakes up the next day, the other half of the bed is empty.
It's a relatively common occurrence for her; waking up alone. Ben is a light sleeper and doesn't seem to need much of it to begin with, while Rey had had a much easier time of it ever since they'd arrived on Tatooine. It would be a day like any other if it hadn't been for the voices in the only other room in the house and the strange mechanical wheezing that accompanies it.
"Ben?" She rubs the sleep out of her eyes and pats the floor for her lightsaber, checking in on him through the bond on instinct. He's tense but not afraid, though that might just be the effort not to wake her – perhaps whoever is there doesn't know that he's not alone. It should have shocked her, how quickly every possible enemy on every spot on the spectrum had shifted into a vague they when they'd ended up alone against the rest of the galaxy, but it's almost a habit by now. Back when they had first slept with their weapons under their pillows, it had been easier to think of their potential enemies as varying degrees of dangerous. Now, it's just a distant sort of anxiety, ready to jump up at every hint of a threat.
Lightsaber clutched in her hand, she tiptoes over to the door as the frenzied noise grows louder and her breath leaves her on a relieved exhale just as it comes to an abrupt stop.
"Do you see now? There's no point in fussing. This could have been much easier." The sight in front of her is a familiar one – Ben's lying on his front on the floor, eyes shielded by the makeshift mask he usually uses when needed as he clutches D-0 in one hand and a drill in the other. Rey plucks one of the instruments floating around the room and revels in the fact that he doesn't flinch at the disturbance, the tension from moments ago seeping away in favour of mild annoyance.
"I know. Now you can't pretend you can't hear me when I ask for something." He tosses the drill away in favour of an unsettlingly large needle. "We have to do something about this speech pattern. I thought it would go away on its own, but it's been months."
"Yes, most likely. She's good at that, isn't she?" The tone shifts from berating to almost conspiratorial mid-sentence and Rey steps fully into the room once his greeting flows through the connection between them, as well as the awareness of her presence, and the warmth that follows engulfs her from head to toe, gentle and tentative and so carelessly honest that it nearly makes her cry. "Fixing things."
When he turns to face her, she throws the wrench in his general direction. "I'm not sure he needs my help with things that can fix themselves."
Ben swiftly moves its course towards the table where her weapon is already resting, returning her grin with one of his own as he jumps up to his feet, repairs temporarily forgotten. "Perhaps not," he allows, nearing her without an ounce of hesitation (it might not matter anymore, she thinks, how many times they've caught each other with their guard down; not when it's far more of a blessing than it's ever been a curse). At long last, he's actually landed, right here in front of her, without the past breathing down his back. It might be just around the corner, but the change is still palpable enough for Rey to realise that she'd been holding her breath with him; enough for her to feel nearly lightheaded as her own memories slip to the side right along with his. "It's enough that you're here."
This time, when she reaches out towards him, Ben meets her halfway.