She expected the far reaches of space to be more chaotic, more dangerous, more wild . But the Rebellion’s latest outpost is stationed at the edge of a crystal-clear, purple-hued lake with flowering trees lining its banks, and it’s just so. . .serene.
It’s strange. For the first time, nature isn’t trying to beat her down. There’s no blistering sun or suffocating sand. There’s no pelting rain or holes that wish to swallow her. There are only cool breezes that rustle the white blossoms adorning the trees, dragging the more fragile blooms down to dance along the surface of the lake, and the mysterious sound of tinkling chimes.
Hidden away in beauty, Rey should be able to forget. When she closes her eyes, she should see the sparkling water and the rainbow scales that mark the fish she’s been feasting on. Out here, she shouldn’t see him on his knees in the dark, haloed in the dust of the past. She shouldn’t see defeat hanging like chains around his shoulders in a cowl he forged himself.
The moment’s peace she’s longed for since leaving Jakku is finally at hand, and it’s making her absolutely miserable.
Because no matter how much tranquility she breathes in, his please rattles in her hollow lungs in a continuous, desperate echo that begs her to not forget.
Two months go by before they finally have a space which can rightfully claim the title of medbay--a place where the newly recruited staff can do more than ration out salves for burns and wince through unsteady sutures administered by untrained hands. It’s not only a place to go to for emergencies, but somewhere every Resistance fighter--green and veteran alike--is ordered to visit by General Organa for a routine physical.
“Jedi-in-training are no exception,” Leia affectionately chides after Rey skips her appointment slot for the fourth time.
She’s patched herself up for so long that having anyone else examine her seems useless. Her time would be better spent training with Finn, or helping Rose with repairs, or figuring out a way to retool the broken lightsaber stowed away with the sacred texts on the Falcon . She knows her body better than anyone else; she’d know if something was wrong.
Rey likes the class one droid--an ancient thing that looks as if it could use more than an oil bath--that takes her vitals. Leia, finally, granted her permission to speak to a machine rather than a person since Rey’s always been more comfortable around metal and gears than flesh and bone.
After she’s passed the initial tests and provided bio-samples, the droid’s monotone voice cycles through a list of questions that goes on and on and on . Only one strikes her as odd.
“When did you last bleed?”
Puzzled, Rey has to think a moment. She searches her memory for the last training session where things went wrong and she ended up with stitches. “About a month ago.”
Her answer ticks another question off of the checklist; after ten more, she’s released with a clean bill of health and the standard send-off of, “eat well and exercise.”
Finally, an order she can agree with wholeheartedly.
The warm waters of the lake are the perfect temperature for bathing. While most of the crew still prefer the privacy of the freshers, Rey doesn’t have as many inhibitions; the rare water-baths she’d had on Jakku happened around a communal trough where female scavengers and Niima residents did their business quickly and without comment. Rose joins her just because she relishes the chance to swim.
“It’s easier to float,” Rose admits as she splashes into the water. Lingering soreness in her shoulder from her Crait injuries impedes her desire to teach Rey more than simple strokes. “But who enjoys that stillness?”
Rey sinks up to her shoulders, hardly making a sound in comparison to her lively companion. The warmth feels particularly wonderful on her aching muscles today. She’s not sure what she did differently during her sparring session with Finn yesterday afternoon, but everything from her waist to her hips feels like it was stepped on by a happabore.
She turns her face toward the sun. Even with her eyes shut, she can trace the circle of light smiling down on them. For a few minutes, she tries to push away all other thoughts and channel the positive energies around her into her aches and pains.
“Uh. . .Rey?” Rose starts. Her paddling slows to a stop several feet away. “Did something surprise you?”
Rey squints one eye open. What on earth could Rose be talking about?
Rose’s eyes laugh at her in a knowing way, but Rey still doesn’t see anything humorous. The tech nods at the water in front of Rey, and she looks down. Dark spots cloud the space around her hips. Rey jerks back, but the cloud follows her in the water, sneaking from between her legs. Shaking, her hand slips between her thighs, then quickly brings it out of the water. There isn’t much left on her hand, but Rey can tell it’s blood.
“Rey?” Rose’s tone goes from conspiratorial to concerned.
“W-What’s going on?” Rey stammers. Did she tear something during her training session and not notice? Rey retreats toward the shore and stands at a place where the water hits her mid-thigh. Bright red rivulets streak down from her center, and it takes all of her willpower not to shout for help. “ Why am I bleeding? ”
Rose churns water for several seconds. Her friend would do more than blink at her if it were serious, wouldn’t she? She would jump out of the water in search of aid if it were a true life and death situation, right?
Whether it’s her wide eyes and short breaths that snap her into action or the terror in her voice that spurs her forward, Rose wades over to Rey and reaches up to rest her hands on the Jedi’s shoulders. “Oh, sweetie. We need to have a talk.”
Meditation doesn’t help. The pills the medbay technician gave her, among other supplies to deal with the blood, only take the edge off. Rose had collected some additional treatments, but she’d been called away to solve a duct issue. Without an explanation of what everything is for, all Rey can do is lay on one of the Falcon’s cots, breathing and mulling over the information that’s been dumped on her at least half a decade too late.
Every month . This crippling pain is going to happen every month, though Rose had assured her the cramps will lessen over time, had attempted to joke about mother nature catching up for missed cycles.
Rey had responded with a grimace, not a grin.
Maybe if she hadn’t been such a glutton, it wouldn’t have come to this. Starvation and stress, the medbay technician had told her, could have delayed her cycle all these years. Rey knows she shouldn’t wish for her old life--that going hungry and hauling salvaged parts through the desert were worse than this--yet the familiar struggles would be welcome right now.
It's one thing to slice a hand open on a jagged piece of metal--a pain that ranks somewhere around an eight as it happens and a two for the next month. It's another thing entirely to cycle through minutes-long stretches of a solid five all morning and afternoon. The interminable aching is the true torture.
She startles at the soft intonation of her name. Her body reacts to the intruder, ready for a fight, but it ends up battling itself--piercing her with a hot, needling sensation that makes her groan and clutch at her stomach.
Why did it have to be him ?
“What’s wrong?” She sees him sweep his eyes from top to bottom, seeking a source for her distress.
“Give me the dignity of going away.”
She doesn’t have the energy to push him from her mind like she did on Crait, to close him out of a moment of weakness she’d rather keep hidden. She’s not sure if it makes it better or worse when her request isn’t met with animosity, but genuine worry.
“Are you hurt?” he presses, drawing nearer.
She laughs through gritted teeth. “Up until a few hours ago, I thought I was dying.” Why would she admit to that? Maker, the nagging throbs in her lower abdomen and back have started to drive her loopy.
For the first time since their connection began, Rey lets herself notice him. He’s wearing a similar outfit to the last time she saw him, but the clothes don’t fit him as snuggly as they used to, like he’s lost the muscle she’s gained over the past few months. Rey excuses her perusal as needing to discern which one of them has appeared in her space--Kylo or Ben--though she knows the two are inseparably intertwined. It’s only a question of dominance.
His eyes, soft and colored by the desire to ease whatever ails her, incline toward Ben .
Why did it have to be him? she thinks again.
“I’m going to be fine ,” she emphasizes, sucking in a breath that belies her words. “Don’t you have other things to worry about, Supreme Leader ?”
He doesn’t rise to the bait, doesn’t switch demeanor to make it easier for her to goad him into leaving. Instead, he drags a hand through his hair, smoothing out the waves in tandem with his patience.
“You’re deflecting,” he remarks, shaking his head and looking at the ground before meeting her eyes again. “Let me help you.”
Another cruel fist clenches inside of her--a seven edging close to an eight--making Rey turn her head into the mattress and whine. Once it passes, she asks, “Why would you want to help me?”
It’s a valid question. He’s still the leader of the First Order; she, a Jedi fighting for the Resistance. They aren’t supposed to help each other, aren’t supposed to care about one another’s well-beings.
“I don’t want you to suffer.” The last word is almost inaudible.
The suffering she’s known doesn’t have a number scale. It dwells in her heart, lamenting for lost causes, for things split in half without hope for repair, for months spent without speaking.
It’s a suffering which can only be ended by surrender, and she’s not ready to give up.
Of course, he’s only talking about the accessible pain, the ones which can be soothed.
“Really, don’t trouble yourself,” she tells him.
He ignores her and begins to explore the space, stepping over to a metallic trunk hosting Rose’s collected treatments. He assesses the contents, lifting the cloth draped over a bowl resting on the heater. “Volcanic stones?”
Rey’s only response is to groan as a level nine twist and pinch causes her to gasp. She curls in on herself, but it brings no relief.
Ben glances over his shoulder as he continues on to the next item: a jar with an opaque ointment. He lifts it to his nose, then draws it away, blinking his eyes from the sting. “Methanol rub?”
She’s in too much distress to deny herself from asking, “Can you bring that over? Rose said it would help.”
He turns and steps over to the bunk, but doesn’t relinquish the jar. “Help with what?”
His insistence is maddening, but she doesn’t care anymore if he knows what’s wrong. “Cramps!” she half-shouts. “Is that what you needed to hear? I’m on my moon-cycle.”
“Ah,” he draws out as if the pieces of a puzzle have come together to form a clear picture.
She motions to the jar. “Now hand it over .”
Rey huffs loudly, expanding her lungs with enough air to launch a rapid string of her finest curses at him when he adds, “Turn over. On your stomach.”
She deflates instantly. “W-what?”
“I know what to do,” he says, sheepish and with a faint red tinge on his cheeks. “I can make you feel better.”
If the pain didn’t seem to be getting steadily worse, she wouldn’t humor him. As it is, she’s desperate and willing to try just about anything, including trusting him.
Rey does as he asks and flattens herself out on the mattress while he brings the bowl of heated stones over. He places them on the floor next to her bedside, then kneels down. His bare hand rests on her lower back, pressing ever-so-gently on either side of her spine, an inch or two above her tailbone.
“Does it hurt here?” he questions, voice deep and rumbling in a way that makes her heart flutter. He moves his hand again. “Here?”
“More on the left,” she reports, then amends, “It all hurts. Everything hurts.”
“Then we’ll fix everything,” he returns, a smile warming his voice. “Can I roll up your shirt? It’s better for the stone to rest on the skin.”
She nods, lost in his shared promise: we’ll fix everything . If only he truly meant everything --the pain in her body, the suffering in her heart, the hurt that’s spread across the galaxy because of the war they continue to fight.
They could fix everything, together.
He pushes her shirt out of the way, bunching it halfway up her back. Taking one of the hot stones from the bowl, he passes it back and forth between his hands to absorb the sting of the fresh heat, then places it against her skin.
Rey gasps and jerks her hips away even as Ben retracts the stone. “Too hot?”
Yes . It feels like a scalding piece of metal that’s been baking in the Jakku sun all afternoon. But even the momentary heat has started to seep through and loosen the muscle intent on strangling itself, so Rey shakes her head. “No. It just caught me off guard.”
He hesitates a moment longer before placing the stone back in same spot. The pause between contact lends it the perfect temperature, just hot enough that her fingers clench into the sheet beneath her, but tolerable enough that she can stay still. He waits for another stone to cool slightly before laying it on her other side, right above her kidney. Prepared this time, Rey sighs at the sensation.
Ben begins to move the smooth stones, running them over her lower back, up her spine to the rolled hem of her shirt, then down to the waistline of her sleep shorts. As they transfer their heat to her sore muscles, he replaces them with fresh stones from the bowl.
“How did you know?” Rey asks. “How did you know what the stones were for?”
He’s silent a long time, and Rey wonders if she actually voiced her question or if it was all in her head. The next time he switches out the stones, he reveals: “I’ve seen it done. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I’ve seen the relief it can bring.”
While she wants more information, she gets the sense that it’s a topic he doesn’t feel comfortable elaborating on. Instead of pressing him, she snuggles her head into her folded arms and sighs contentedly. “It feels better than you can even imagine.”
Ben repeats the process again and again, until every stone is exhausted and Rey is half asleep. It’s the first time she’s felt relaxed enough to rest since the aching started the previous afternoon. When the heat of the last stone fades away, she whimpers--actually whimpers --over the loss.
It’s not that the pain has suddenly returned which drags the sound from her throat, but the absence of his touch.
Just when she wonders if their connection lapsed without her notice, Rey feels something else on her skin: his lips. They brush against her lower back, slightly parted and letting the warmth of his breath gloss over the tender spots.
There’s no drowsiness in her voice when she asks, “Is that something you remember seeing too?”
“No,” he answers, leaning over to caress the other side of her back with his mouth. The words are mumurmed so close to her skin that she feels them move. “They say kisses take the pain away.”
He clears his throat and pulls back, fumbling with something on the floor. “It’s foolishness, really.”
“Then why did you. . .? Oh!”
The press of his fingers is a shock that takes her breath away. There’s something coating them that feels cool at first, then burns with a comforting, radiating heat.
“Sorry,” he utters. “It’s the methanol rub.”
Rey wants to say there’s no need for an apology, not when his hand sliding over her back feels even better than the rocks, but all that comes out is a quiet moan. His touch spreads the warmth of the ointment as well as his own; both seep into her and alleviate the remaining tension knotted under her skin.
She’s heard Rose use the word blissful when talking about Finn’s massages, and for the first time, Rey thinks she understands what it means.
“Can you do this every month?” she asks, sleepy once more.
“If you’d like,” he returns. “Though it would be easier to do in person. You could still--”
She cuts him off not only because she doesn’t want to ruin the moment with offers she’d have no choice except to refuse, but because she hears footsteps coming up the loading ramp.
He senses it too, and abruptly severs their connection.
She’s just sucked down enough air to control her panicked breathing when another Skywalker calls into the semi-darkness. “Rey?”
“General Organa?” Of all her possible visitors, the Resistance leader comes as a true surprise.
“No, no. Don’t get up,” Leia says quickly when Rey starts to push herself off of the mattress. “I only came to see how you’re feeling. Rose has been worried.”
“I’m much better now,” Rey assures her as she settles back into place. “Just tired.”
Whenever she’s in Leia’s presence, be it in the command center or elsewhere on the base, a sense of calm washes over Rey. It could have something to do with the woman’s Force signature that Rey doesn’t understand yet, or it could have something to do with the motherly care that naturally emanates from her, but Rey revels in it all the same. As Leia comes to sit beside her on the cot, a feeling of ease floats down to blanket her.
“Would you like me to use the stones?” Leia asks, reaching down to fish one from the bowl. “Oh, they’re cold.”
Rey swallows, suspecting that the Force-sensitive woman can detect a lie as easily as she reads ship schematics on a datapad. What would she do if she knew about the bond Rey has with her son?
Leia saves Rey the trouble of sweating out her options. She drops the stone back into its container and picks up the upcapped jar instead. “May I?”
Rey nods, still not trusting herself to speak without accidentally revealing her secrets.
With the pads of her fingers, the general applies a small amount of balm to the half-coated side of Rey’s spine, rubbing soothing circles onto her back. She takes her time, humming a scale of notes over and over to fill the silence. Even without the Force, this woman wields her own power over those around her.
Enveloped in peace, Rey begins to drift off again.
“You know,” Leia starts softly, voice wading through a pleasant memory, “Han used to do this for me.”
Rey’s eyes crack open. Her heart stutters against its resting rate. “He did?”
Leia hums a single note--an affirmation. “Han never liked an enemy he couldn’t shoot, much less one he couldn’t see,” she explains with a smile. “There were days he’d spend hours easing my pains with hot stones and ointments."
Finished with the application, Leia puts the jar on the floor and gently rolls Rey’s shirt down to cover her back. She stands, then pulls the blanket up to cover the younger woman’s shoulders, moving her hair away from her face with a delicate swipe. It’s the first time Rey can remember anyone ever tucking her in.
“Rest now,” Leia says, straightening up.
As she’s walking toward the door, Rey can’t stop herself from mumbling one last question: “Why did he do it?”
The general’s hand touches the arch leading toward the loading ramp, smiling as if Han Solo still stands beside her when she’s on board this ship filled with his memories, their memories.
“It was just one of the ways he showed me he loved me.”