Summary: Two months after the events of The Rise of Skywalker, Rey and her friends are able to live without fear in a galaxy that is finally free of the First Order's tyrannical rule. Even so, Rey still feels the loss of Ben Solo, who has remained frustratingly silent despite repeated attempts to reach him through the Force. Then one day she hears her bond-mate's voice calling to her from the end of a dark corridor, and though she knows it may not be real, Rey can't help but search for this mysterious place from her visions. Could finding it also mean finding Ben?

A/N: This is for everyone who loves Ben and Rey, for everyone who wishes (maybe even dares still hope) that The Rise of Skywalker is not the end of their story. I have tried to remain as canonically compliant as I can (canonically compliant as of January 2022, that is) so that anyone who reads this will, at the very least, feel like it's possible that these events could take place within the Star Wars universe. In writing this work I have also strived to stay true to the characters, and to treat this beloved franchise with the reverence and thoughtful consideration that it deserves. Enjoy, and may the Force be with you, always.

Chapter One

Rey sat in her bunk with her legs crossed, an old book propped open on her lap. Nearby, the astromech BB-8 whirred and trilled as he rolled his spherical body from one end of the room to the next. They were jovial sounds, and one who wasn't accustomed to spending time with droids might have assumed that the little astromech was having fun. But Rey knew BB-8 well enough by then to understand that what her friend was really trying to convey was that he was bored.

"Just a few more minutes, and I'll come help with repairs," she promised, even though that was exactly what she had said twenty minutes ago.

The droid called her out on this, as Rey had expected he would, emitting a series of high-pitched notes that had her quickly raising her hands in placation. "All right, all right. Just let me get through this bit about Force apparitions."

That seemed to satisfy BB-8, who responded by chirping and sliding his head up and down in an imitation of a nod. Rey shook her own head, though the truth was that she didn't blame him for becoming frustrated with her.

He certainly wouldn't be the only one to have done so lately.

…that some Jedi develop the ability to become one with the Force upon their death…

Though she practically had the entire section memorized, Rey mouthed the words as she read, following the text with her finger.

This ability was once thought to have required a great deal of study and preparation, but that may not necessarily be the case. From what I've observed, Force-users who have achieved this feat evaporate either immediately upon or shortly after dying. They then later manifest in the form of apparitions that are blue-tinted and slightly hazy in appearance.

Rey had seen such apparitions herself, namely, those of Luke and his twin sister, Leia.

Anakin Skywalker, who many knew as Darth Vader, is one such Force-user. He was enveloped completely by the Force after committing an act of self-sacrifice. I, Luke Skywalker, his son, was the sole witness to this sacrifice.

Luke had penned these words in his own hand, and Rey paused, as she had done many times before, in order to reflect on the many similarities between herself and her old master. Like Luke, she had borne witness to a monumental act of self-sacrifice, an act that had resulted in the immediate consumption of the soul in question by the Force.

Rey's heart twisted. Even now, it pained her to recall those last moments that she and her bond-mate had shared on the ancient Sith planet Exegol. Ben's hand had been so cold as she grasped it in her own, his breath quivering as he clung to her, his dark eyes a mix of relief and terror.

He knew. Without question, Ben had understood the enormity of what he'd done, that giving her life would mean forfeiting his own. And yet, he'd done it freely and without hesitation.

She blinked hard, forcing herself to refocus on the journal entry. It would do no good to think too much on that day again. Doing so was sure to make her sniffly and teary-eyed, and the last thing she wanted was for her friends to hover over her and ask questions.

This is something that I have to figure out on my own. She hated keeping the people she cared about in the dark, but she found herself at a loss to explain why she was investigating the phenomenon of Force apparitions. Why, in her spare time, she was combing through all the Jedi texts Luke had given her, searching for even the smallest hint that might help her devise a way to convene with Ben. Because his Force apparition must be out there, somewhere. Rey was convinced of it. After all, his body had disappeared immediately upon his death, just like Luke described.

So why hasn't he appeared? More specifically, why had he not appeared to her ? It was the ever-burning question that had been on her mind in the two and a half months since she defeated the Emperor. According to Luke's journal, those who had become one with the Force had the ability to decide who they showed themselves to and when, and Rey refused to believe that Ben was actively choosing not to see her.

"Where is he, then?" she mumbled, flipping to a page, even though she was positive it contained nothing new. "The answers must be here somewhere."

She resumed reading, and for several minutes she heard nothing but the sound of insects chittering faintly in the distance. It was an ambient noise she had grown used to in the year and a half that she'd called Ajan Kloss her home. Secluded and taken over entirely by rainforest, the tiny moon had made an excellent sanctuary for the Resistance's small but formidable army. That said, it lacked the accommodations of an occupied world, and the exiled rebels had been forced to scrounge together what they could to make day-to-day life possible. Rey's "room," for example, consisted of just a cot, workbench, and footlocker, most of which was open and exposed to the elements. Some had grumbled about the conditions, but Rey hadn't minded, and she still didn't. Having grown up in a desert, the jungle was a wonder to her, and she savored every moment that she spent in this lush, green place that was awake and teeming with life.

"Still not sure what you're looking for in those dusty old books," a voice behind her spoke. "But if you have a minute, Rose could really use another hand with the calcinator."

BB-8 zipped forward, squealing in delight at the arrival of his master. Rey closed Luke's journal before turning to face Poe Dameron, who had knelt to give the droid an affectionate pat on the head. Her friend was wearing a white shirt, the front of it soiled, no doubt a result of countless hours spent traipsing through dirt and mud. His sweat slicked hair was trimmed short and surprisingly well-kept for one who had been living in a rainforest for over a year. Rey couldn't say the same for her own hair, which she usually opted to keep tied back in three messy buns.

"Of course," Poe was saying as he stood, his eyes flicking toward the canopy of massive leaves and twisting vines that hung above their heads, "I offered to help, but she just rolled her eyes and told me to get you. In case you're wondering, I'm still trying not to take offense."

His tone was light, but Rey knew he was actually half-serious. "I wouldn't worry," she told him. "You're still the most skilled pilot in the Resistance. One of the most skilled in all the galaxy, most likely. And you can't be good at everything."

"I can sure as hell try," he muttered, his bushy eyebrows knitting together as his gaze finally drifted downward, homing in on the ancient tombs that were sitting near Rey's cot. To her surprise, he picked up the first one on the stack and leafed through it. "Man. This stuff is cryptic," he said after a beat. "Do you even know how to read it?"

Rey glanced at the book he'd chosen, one with a faded blue cover. That one, she knew, was written entirely in the ancient language of the Jedi. "Not all of it," she admitted. "Threepio had to translate a good chunk of it for me, back when he was still here. Luckily, though, most of it's not that complicated."

Poe looked dubious as he closed the book and returned it to its place. "Listen, Rey," he said, and there was something about his tone that instantly set her on high alert. "Finn and I have been talking, and we think that maybe it's time we got off Ajan Kloss."

Rey pressed her lips together. She didn't say anything for a long time, and Poe must have interpreted her silence as disagreement.

"I mean, don't get me wrong, this place has served its purpose well," he said, gesturing at the makeshift quarters around them. "But the First Order isn't really something we need to worry about-"

"They're not gone," Rey cut him off, perhaps a bit too brusquely, but Poe either didn't notice or didn't care.

"No," he said. "They're definitely still out there. But their numbers are small. Look, the point I'm trying to make is that we don't have to hide out on backwater worlds like this anymore."

Rey was quick to nod her head in understanding. Ajan Kloss had been the Resistance's main base for the better part of a year. But now that the war was more or less over, everyone had left. Everyone, that is, except for her, Poe, Finn, and Rose. "I see where you're coming from," she said. "There's really nothing here for us anymore."

"Exactly. Glad to see we're on the same page."

Instead of responding, Rey chewed on her lower lip. Finn, Poe, and Rose were the only family she had left, and she wanted more than anything for them to stay together, as they had promised each other they would when the war ended. But rebuilding a galactic government from the ground up was no easy task, and Rey knew that the four of them would have very different roles to fill in the coming days. She hated to think it, but the truth was that it was unrealistic to expect them not to separate. This was a reality she'd been avoiding for more than two months, and now that the time had finally come for her to face it, she found she felt sadder than she'd thought she would.

"So anyway," Poe said before she could begin to voice her concerns. "Like I said, Finn and I have been talking, and we think that the four of us should take a trip somewhere."

Rey could only gape. Because that was among the very last things she'd been expecting her friend to say.

"Nothing major," he clarified, noting her dumbfounded expression. "Just something different. You know…a place where we can kick back, relax, and enjoy ourselves a little for once. I mean, really, if anyone's earned a vacation, I think it's us."

"A vacation?" Rey sputtered, shaking herself out of her shock. "To where, exactly?"

Poe seemed like he had prepared for this part. "I originally suggested Canto Bight, but Finn told me that was a no-go. Guess that codebreaker mission of theirs ruined the place for them forever. Anyway," he resumed, "after waffling back and forth between a few places, we finally settled on Nar Shaddaa."

Again, Rey just stared at him.

"It's a seedy place, to be sure. But there's gambling and cantinas on every corner. Plus, it'll be easy as hell to blend in. Which is what we want, being Resistance heroes and all that."

Rey considered for a long moment. She didn't want to go, not really. But she did want to spend time with her friends before they parted ways, and if Poe and Finn were determined to escape to a moon riddled with booze, crime, and vice, she damn well wasn't going to let them go alone.

"Fine," she said, sighing. "But let me be the one to break it to Rose. Because there's no way she's going to agree to this."

"I can't believe I agreed to this."

Rose Tico groaned miserably as she stared out the Falcon's cockpit window, looking down at the red, smog-ridden moon the freighter was rapidly descending toward. "We haven't even disembarked yet, and I already hate it."

"Cheer up, Rose," Poe quipped from the pilot's chair. "I promise, a couple drinks and you won't even notice the smell."

He typed a series of codes into the control panel as Rose exchanged a glance with Rey. The two of them had finished the Falcon 's repairs in hardly any time at all, and Poe had insisted they set out for Nar Shaddaa the very next morning. Though it was technically Rey's ship, Poe loved flying even more than she did, and she had opted to hand the pilot's seat over to him for their journey.

"That's not funny," Rose shot back, to which Finn, who was sitting next to her, smothered a laugh.

"It was a little funny," he said, and Rose rolled her eyes.

"I wasn't even talking about the smell. You do know that Nar Shaddaa used to be run by the Hutts, right? People nicknamed it Smuggler's Moon."

"So?" Poe said, and Rose turned to him with a narrow-eyed look.

" So , you know this place is going to be crawling with the absolute worst kinds of people."

"Not if you know where to go."

After they had touched down, Poe killed the engines and rose from his chair. The main hatch hissed open a moment later, and Rey wrinkled her nose as a grimy, sulfuric scent immediately assaulted her nostrils. Poe paused in the doorway. "Yep, there it is," he mumbled before stepping out onto the grille of the hangar. Rey hung back with Rose as he and Finn exited together.

"It's all right," Rey murmured sympathetically. "We're just here to make sure they don't do anything stupid, remember?"

That at least earned her a small smile. "I know. It's just frustrating. Like, there's an entire galaxy out there. Why this , of all places?"

Rey was at a loss to explain it herself. "I know Finn has always said he wants to try his hand at gambling," she offered, to which Rose rolled her eyes again.

"Only because of Canto Bight," she said, and Rey grinned as another thought occurred to her.

"Poe told me before we left that this was one of the places he used to run spice to."

Hearing that, Rose's dark eyebrows shot up, and Rey smirked. She knew that would get her attention.

"Poe?" Rose cackled. "A spice-runner ?"

It was the joke that just never seemed to get old.

"Cripes' sake, do we really have to go over this again?" Poe stuck his head through the hatch, clearly having heard them. "Yes, I was a spice-runner. Yes, I did some shifty stuff before the Resistance recruited me-"

"Just before? You sure about that?" Finn had also backtracked to join them. He cast Rey and Rose a conspiratorial look, which only seemed to irritate Poe further.

"Oh, and you've always been a shining example of humanity? Last I checked, you were mopping the lavatories of First Order Star Destroyers before you joined up."

Rey snorted a laugh at that, and Rose joined in, to which Finn's jaw popped open in mock-betrayal. "Hey now," he defended. "I was raised by the First Order from the time I was a small kid! They kidnapped me, tore me from my parents' arms. You guys know that. I didn't have a choice-"

"And I did?" Poe sighed wearily. "Look, we could do this all day. I ran spice, Finn cleaned bathrooms for the bad guys, Rey shoveled garbage…" He trailed off, giving Rose a sidelong look. "Come to think of it, Tico, I don't think I actually know what you did before."

He grinned as if in challenge, though instead of responding with a witty retort, as Rey had figured she would, Rose just shook her head and barreled past him. "There's nothing to tell," she said in a tone that very much suggested the subject was closed. Rey and Finn shared a worried look before following her out the hatch.

"It's okay, Rose," Finn said. "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."

"Actually, it's not okay," Poe said, and both Rey and Finn shot him a glare. "Look, all I'm saying is that she'd better not be holding out on us. Because you guys have done nothing but give me shit about the whole spice-runner thing..."

By then Rose had wandered out into the hangar-bay, where she stopped to peer out a small window that overlooked the city. "Whoa," she breathed, and when Rey joined her, she paled, all conversation instantly forgotten.

They had to be at least several hundred stories high, the red-tinged skyline dominated by neon lights and imposing durasteel towers. Buildings that were as tall as theirs—and taller—stretched as far as the eye could see, and while they weren't exactly gleaming—most of the structures' metal finishes had faded a fair amount—there was no denying that the city had an air of grandeur about it. Transports and aircraft of all shapes and sizes weaved in and out of invisible lanes, traveling in what appeared to be some semblance of an orderly fashion. Rey marveled at the sight before her gaze traveled to a more distant sector, where she spotted several factories spewing plumes of filthy smoke into the air. I wonder if that's where the smell comes from, she thought as Poe came up behind them.

"It's no Coruscant. But if you ask me, it's still pretty impressive."

Rey found she could at least agree with him on that.

They boarded an elevator that would take them down into the city. Rey stood side by side with Rose, and as they descended, she kept her eyes forward and focused on their companions. Poe was dressed in a collared white shirt—clean this time—and brown pants, a black leather jacket draped about his shoulders. On anyone else, such a choice of attire might have made the wearer appear unremarkable, but Poe pulled it off well, his dark hair and handsome features enough to offset the drabness of almost any outfit.

Next to him, Finn was dressed in all black, minus his brown leather jacket—another jacket that had belonged to Poe, once upon a time—his soft features set in a contemplative expression. While not as tall—and nowhere near as cocky—as Poe, Rey had noted a significant change in the way Finn carried himself in the months following the events on Exegol. The wide-eyed, nervous ex-Stormtrooper she'd met last year at Niima Outpost was gone, replaced by a confident, well-spoken man who always stood up straight and looked people in the eye.

Noticing her stare, Finn turned to her with a questioning look, and Rey smiled, her heart swelling with pride. We've come a long way, haven't we, you and I. She might have said the words out loud, had the elevator not glided to a stop a split-second later. Poe stepped out almost as soon as the doors had opened. "Just stay close," he told them, "and everything will be fine."

Nar Shadda was known for having a perpetually night-like ambience, and Rey saw instantly how true that was. The streets felt dark, despite it being the middle of the day, and she couldn't help gawking as Poe weaved them in and out of crowds with expert precision. Humans and alien species from every corner of the galaxy bustled around them. Some were familiar—like the insect-eyed Rodians and tentacled Quarren—and some were unfamiliar, like the bulbous, amphibian-looking creature that Rey saw talking to a handheld hologram of another creature that looked very much like him—or her—self. Their language appeared to consist of throaty croaks and clicks, and though she was fascinated, she willed herself not to stare too long.

"Stay close," Poe reminded them as they entered a square that boasted a giant pool with a fountain of pink, foaming water at its center. The area was so congested that they had no choice but to form a single-file procession, and it was then that Rey closed her eyes and reached out with the Force. She drew back an instant later, however, unprepared for the return that she received. While Ajan Kloss was undeniably more life-filled than Nar Shaddaa, there had been a peacefulness about the forest that soothed and comforted her. The life here, however, was chaotic and disorienting, and Rey waited a moment before trying again.

She felt the faintest stirrings of life in the dirt-packed ground that must have been miles beneath the concrete road on which she stood. Though sparse, she detected various species of plants, insects, and creatures that had chosen to make this populous moon their home. She sensed death as well, all the withered roots and bones that had long been buried beneath the soil.

She smiled to herself. It was nothing short of a gift to be Force-sensitive. She hated to think that she might have never discovered her abilities, though the truth was that she likely wouldn't have. That is, had it not been for...

Stop. Don't do this. You're supposed to be having fun, remember?

She couldn't help it, though. Ben was everywhere she looked, and with each day that passed, it became increasingly difficult to deny that fact.

She felt Finn's eyes on her back, and to her dismay, his gaze did not waver, not even after they had exited the square. Rey exhaled. Everyone knew by then that Finn was Force-sensitive, though neither Poe nor Rose was aware of the excellent progress their friend had been making during his training sessions with Rey. Of course, she'd been teaching him bits and pieces of everything she knew, but what Finn had proven himself to be most adept at was sensing the emotional states of others.

"Rey?" he said, coming up alongside her, as if on cue. "You all right?"

It still unnerved her a little that he was able to guess her moods so easily. At the same time, it was clear that his concern was genuine. She turned to offer him a nod of reassurance. "Fine. Just out of sorts, that's all. The city is overwhelming."

It wasn't entirely a lie, but it wasn't the full truth either.

Though they hadn't admitted it, Rey knew that her friends suspected she was keeping something from them. Poe and Rose were likely ignorant of just how big that something was, whereas Finn undoubtedly had a much stronger sense. Of course, he had yet to bring it up, but Rey was certain it was only a matter of time. And she still wasn't sure what she was going to do when that time came.

She supposed she could tell him today, him and the others. Wait until they were seated in the back corner of some barely-lit cantina, drinks in hand, and just let the entire story come spilling out. How she hadn't been alone when she faced the Emperor on Exegol. How she'd been mere seconds away from succumbing to his demand for her to join the dark side. How Ben had come to her aid and broken her out of that trance. How the two of them had fought together, joined in the Force through a bond that seemed to defy all explanation. How she had died killing the Emperor, and how Ben had used their mysterious and powerful bond to resurrect her afterward.

Rey gave a slight shake of her head. She couldn't tell her friends these things. Because then she would also have to tell them that when she'd opened her eyes and seen Ben, she'd felt happy , happier than she'd ever been in her life. That when she'd leaned in and kissed him, it had been to tell him so, so many things. That she was grateful he'd come for her, that he'd saved her. That she no longer rejected the bond they shared, but rather, that she both accepted and cherished it. That she cared for him. Deeply.

And then she would have to tell them of Ben's death, and how there was a part of her that felt like it was missing with him gone. How even two months later, the thing that she wanted most in the galaxy was to see him, to speak with him, to feel his presence again at the other end of their bond.

No, of course she couldn't tell her friends these things. Because to them, Ben was still Kylo Ren, the Supreme Leader of the First Order, an evil, murderous tyrant who was not worthy of redemption.

Are they wrong? A traitorous voice whispered in the back of her head, a voice that Rey used to banish immediately upon hearing. Now, though, she forced herself not to shy away from the question, but to consider it with unflinching honesty.

The truth was, she'd always thought of Kylo Ren and Ben Solo as two separate people. She wasn't sure how or why she'd come to interpret things this way, though in hindsight she supposed it wasn't entirely accurate. Because Rey didn't believe that Ben had been corrupted by the dark side of the Force—at least, not in the same way Luke said Vader had been. Which meant that Ben had always been himself, even in the midst of his most vile and unspeakable acts. And she could choose to forgive him, as his mother Leia had, but she couldn't expect others to do the same.

Both Poe and Rose had given their lives to the Resistance long before Finn or Rey came along, and to say that their loyalty to the cause was fierce would have been a massive understatement. The chances that either of them would ever be capable of seeing Ben as anyone other than the Resistance's sworn enemy were slim to none.

And then there was Finn. As a Stormtrooper, he had been forced to report to Kylo Ren, and there wasn't any doubt that her friend was severely traumatized by those memories. Had Ben survived the events of Exegol, the idea that Finn would have accepted him into their friend circle was equally as laughable.

Maybe it really is better this way.

She hated to think it, but there were moments where she found herself wondering if it was true. That maybe Ben had been fated to die that day. That maybe they'd never been meant to realize their full potential as a dyad. That maybe, in the end, everything had turned out exactly the way the Force had willed it.

"This is it," Poe announced suddenly, bringing their group to a halt in front of a rundown building with broken windows. A green light that read Slippery Slopes flickered above the door, music blaring from within. Though the entrance was surrounded by overflowing rubbish bins that smelled of rot, Poe didn't hesitate before making his way forward. "Let's go. First round is on me."

Across the street, two Twi'leks stood beneath a tattered awning, both green-skinned with twin lekku protruding from the backs of their skulls. At a glance, most anyone would have pegged them as ruffians, tall, muscular, each armed with a hunting knife and blaster. One of them—a male—wore a blank expression as he half-heartedly observed passerby. While bounty hunting wouldn't have been his first choice of profession, the last thing he'd ever expected it to be was boring, though the last few years had proven him to be very wrong in that assumption.

His yellow eyes passed over four humans walking toward the Slippery Slopes Cantina. Two of them were male, one dark-skinned, the other pale. Behind them trailed two females, the first of which had silky black hair. Though short, she had a sturdy build, and there was no mistaking the blaster that she wore concealed in a holster at her side. The males also had similar such weapons attached to their persons, which wasn't anything out of the ordinary. One would be a fool to travel to a place such as Nar Shaddaa without protection.

The second female brought up the rear of the group, her off-white tunic billowing around her. The Twi'lek was about to turn away, though before he could, his gaze snagged on an elegant, cylindrical weapon that hung from a hook on the girl's belt. He studied it for several seconds before turning to address his sister.

"That human," he said, nodding in the direction of the cantina. "The one in the desert garb. I believe she may be the Force-wielder the guild mentioned. The one with the large bounty."

His sister followed his line of sight, though in the next instant she chuckled, shaking her head. "Her? Oh come now, Gorbec, she hardly looks a warrior."

"I know. But she fits the description to the letter. Brown hair, small of stature-"

"Plenty of humans have those features," she said dismissively, as if he'd never seen a human before in his life. "You're just grasping at straws because we haven't had a decent target in weeks." She stepped away from where she'd been leaning against the wall. "Come, Nerra . Let us move on from this place-"

Gorbec caught her arm. "I would agree with you," he said, his voice a deep rumble. "That is, if it weren't for the fact that she's carrying a weapon that very much resembles a Jedi's."

His sister's vibrant eyes grew wide, her gaze returning at once to the human girl. After a moment, her dark red lips twisted into a devious smirk, which Gorbec took to mean that she saw what he did. Wordlessly, she jumped into the street, motioning for him to follow.

"You call it in," Gorbec told her. "I'll tail her."

She nodded. "Don't let her out of your sight."

He turned to rush headlong into the cantina, though before he could go, she placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Mind the other three," she told him seriously. "They may not look dangerous, but if they're with a Jedi, chances are, they're bound to be trouble, too."