Chapter 1: Prologue
Please enjoy this beautiful moodboard gifted to me by the amazing Azuwrite.
One casual observer might be forgiven for misinterpreting the scene. It was nearly too holo-perfect. A tall, attractive man and a willowy, attractive woman clasped each other’s hands and spoke passionately to each other while their shiny hair rippled in the breeze and brightly colored leaves flew in the air around them.
The same observer might have rolled her eyes and moved on from the beautiful autumn tableau if she hadn’t spotted the heated, intense way their gazes locked together. Our ordinary voyeur might have leaned in nosily if she’d seen the way his brow furrowed at the same time a flush rose high on her cheeks. She might have leaned in even more if she’d read the word “no” on both parties’ lips.
Looking further, our observer might have seen the scar that slashed diagonally across his face and the way it became more vivid against his pale skin as he became more emotional. Our observer might also draw the conclusion (or stab at the wild guess) that this woman, whose color was also brightening, had put it there.
Our observer, of course, would be correct.
Two very powerful people met each other in that idyllic setting. Two very determined people who were each very, very sure of their positions. There was no doubt that both were absolutely certain that they knew what was right. Unfortunately, both had very different ideas of "right."
Neither of them registered the wild, colorful beauty that surrounded them--trees dressed to the nines before their biologically inevitable denuding. No, for this moment, the gorgeous reds, yellows, and oranges were wasted on them.
Beautiful people arguing in a beautiful setting.
Maybe our observer would have walked away by now, bored by the aesthetics, which were a little too on-the-nose, if we’re evaluating.
And, of course, there were a few things going on here that our trusty observer couldn’t have known.
Three times, she had rejected him. He’d offered a home to her lonely heart, offered instruction to her untapped potential, and then, finally, desperately, had offered her the co-rule of the galaxy under some abstract new paradigm. This last, of course, was entirely spontaneous on his part. In his more self-aware moments, he knew she was right to have turned down that offer--how was she to know what he was offering when he didn’t even know himself?
Four face-to-face encounters laid between these two.
First, in a forest--he’d never felt anything like her before; she’d never seen so much green in her life.
Second, in a nameless chamber on the Finalizer--she was a prisoner, groggy but belligerent and surprisingly strong; he was set off balance and disarmed by her sheer will.
Third, in a snowy wood--he was wounded and woozy, and she was so, so, so fierce, protecting the first friend she’d ever had, fighting for the memory of a man who could have been a father figure if he’d lived more than a few days in her life.
Fourth, finally in person again on the Supremacy, when they’d fought together for once. Every time he undressed or showered or even thought about it hard enough, he was surprised that her handprint wasn’t permanently visible on his thigh where she’d grabbed it as they fought back-to-back against Snoke’s Praetorian Guard. Force knew he felt the mark, even invisible as it was.
Five ghosts could be seen watching the couple, glowing blue and hovering above, unnoticed by the two in their passion. They were five, but their thoughts were hardly one.
Anakin could barely keep himself from facepalming at his grandson’s ineptitude. No, a vulgar display of power was not the way to win a heart.
Padme could barely keep herself from trying to high-five the lady of Jakku, who held her own quite formidably, even in the face of the undefinable Skywalker charm.
Luke did not keep himself from shaking his ethereal head hopelessly as he watched history repeat itself. There was the familiar stubbornness, mingled with the cockiness, recklessness, and biting wit he knew all too well. If he didn’t know better, he’d have thought he was watching his twin sister and brother-in-law bicker.
Han also chose not to refrain from expressing himself. He gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to his son’s boldness even as he rooted for the tough desert-forged woman who he’d only known briefly. She was smart and skillful and would give Han’s hard-headed son a well-deserved run for his money.
Snoke simply shuffled off in his gold slippers, skulking out of the shimmering blue of the other ghosts, damning his poor choices yet again. Of course the boy had been too soft--the purity of his blood had been corrupted by the common trash of his Solo heritage. Snoke should have gone after the girl from the start.
Chapter 2: The World Begins
Supreme Leader Kylo Ren’s flagship was the Resurgent-class Imperator. He had selected it for no other reason than to slight General Hux’s beloved Finalizer.
So, he did not feel as attached to his flagship as former Supreme Leader Snoke had to the Supremacy. As far as Kylo knew, Snoke hadn’t been planetside for many standard years.
Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, on the other hand, took every opportunity to absent himself from the Imperator. Sometimes, he took a nondescript shuttle and landed on the nearest human-habitable planet. Depending on the development of each planet’s society, he’d either camp in whatever wilderness the planet offered or move anonymously through countless cityscapes.
Whichever it was, and whether or not it was only psychological, he always felt better breathing real atmosphere, with his body subject to non-artificial gravity.
As much as he preferred planetside life to the artifices of orbit, Kylo had never felt like he belonged on any particular world. He’d been born on Chandrila, in the former capital of the New Republic.
He’d grown up there, mostly, but he didn’t feel Chandrilan. His Aunt Mon was Chandrilan, though, through and through. Ben had respected and even loved his mother’s dear friend. However, because he felt no strong ties to that planet, Ben thought that calling himself a Chandrilan might be disrespectful. He felt that he’d be wrong if he claimed citizenship of the homeworld that Mon Mothma had fought for, drawing her fellow citizens into the risk of open rebellion against the Emperor.
So he couldn’t invite Rey to meet him in Hanna City. Kylo regretted that a little. He did still know the most beautiful places in the parks just outside the city limits, and he did know which of the finest restaurants in the city were still open. He would have loved to take her to any of the places he remembered.
More than anything else, he wanted to show her beauty and give her a new experience. She’d never seen that much green? Well, how hard would her mind be blown by a walk through a deciduous forest whose colors blazed in their last gasp before winter? If he could get her there at just the right time, it would be better than any pyrotechnics or holo he could show her.
Though he was Chandrilan by birth, he was Alderaanian and Corellian by heritage.
He’d grown up with no shortage of stories about the beauty of Alderaan, enhanced by his mother’s small collection of holos and scripts. When he was just a boy, Ben’s heart had ached over the thought that everything his mother had of her home consisted only of the things she’d been lucky enough to have with her while she was forced to watch the destruction of Alderaan.
Again, Ben flashed back to his childhood and his remembrance of Leia’s rueful face as she corrected someone who claimed that lightning couldn’t strike twice. He remembered her words, too. “It only needs to strike once,” she’d said.
Those boyhood heartaches were compounded the first time Starkiller had fired, obliterating the Hosnian System. His mother’s home, destroyed by the power of a galactic superweapon, again. And this time, he was complicit. His physical distance from Hux’s fanatical, spittle-flecked speech made no difference. The fact that he was able to view it from a safe, transparisteel-shielded location was all he needed to know. He was very much a part of the us that blasted them into oblivion.
His feelings on the occasion of Starkiller’s debut surprised him initially. But when he thought about it later, he’d supposed it was only natural. Leia had never been morose when she spoke of Alderaan. She’d never been self-pitying when she showed him the pretty holos of each season on her homeworld. In fact, after Ben had learned that he was a strong Force-empath, he’d realized that what he’d felt from his mother was pride in her origins--a pride that spurred her to fight that much harder for a better day for everyone. He’d figured out that he sensed sorrow from her, but it wasn’t a sorrow she’d turned inward. No, her sorrow was for every single soul in the galaxy who hadn’t experienced the beauty and tranquility of her home, for everyone who hadn’t known the kindness and compassion of the Alderaanian people.
There was a wistfulness to Leia’s memories of her home. Ben’s father’s memories of his own home had been tinged with similar wistfulness. This had puzzled young Ben. Han’s home planet, of course, was still there, extant on every star map.
Of course, Ben knew that he was also Corellian. But he’d never actually been there. Corellia was, by all accounts, a thriving Core World with many vital industries. Several Corellians were galactic-level celebrities--Ben’s own father for one, along with Wedge Antilles and Corran Horn, who were both close family friends. Those three, as well as Soontir Fel, an Old Imperial ace, probably had quite a bit to do with the widely-held belief that Corellians were the best pilots.
However, the closest little Ben had ever come to his father’s home system was a hastily-seen blur, pointed out through a viewport. When he was a little older, Ben learned that there may actually still have been valid Corellian warrants for his father. These were apparently serious enough that Han Solo expected that he’d never see his home again. He remembered marveling at his father’s cocky nonchalance toward his abandoned roots; he remembered being even further gobsmacked by the fact that Han clearly felt that Leia and little Ben were more than a fair trade for belonging to a place.
Tatooine, of course, also figured in Ben’s origins. He’d never been there, either, but was occasionally plagued by dreams of twin suns--dreams that came with such a vivid, real perspective that Ben was sure his uncle’s and grandfather’s memories had found him in the Force as he slept.
So, Chandrila was a non-starter. It hadn’t ever been his.
Alderaan, obviously, was an impossibility.
Corellia was to be avoided on principle. Ben figured that those on Corellia who wanted no part of Han probably also had no great desire for any part of Ben.
And Tatooine? Why would he drag Rey off to another desert?
He had to find another place. He knew what he wanted; it was just a matter of finding where it was.
Well, he supposed, one of the few perks of his Supreme Leadership was the fact that he could actually do nearly anything he wanted to do at nearly any time and nobody would ever question him.
The idea had come to him on one of his many solo flights in his personal fighter. This was another privilege of his position. There was a standing order to keep the Supreme Leader’s TIE Silencer at the ready.
His favorite moments these days were his flights in his own ship. He plotted courses to insignificant locations, flew himself out to the farthest reaches--all just to hear himself think.
The near-silence of his sealed cockpit gave his brain room to breathe; the hum of his engines helped his cognition happen. The solitude of his situation instigated his ideas.
This was where he’d decided what to do. He’d come up with it on a long flight, thought it through, and sketched out preliminary ideas in his head.
When he returned from that flight, he’d never been as eager to get back to his quarters on the Imperator.
Once safely behind his own door, he attacked the Holonet with inquiries about climates, coordinates, calendars, and hemispheric variations.
And then, he found what he needed, based on hopes and half-rememberings from too long ago.
New Alderaan was still there, on the Outer Rim. In terms of atmosphere, climate, and terrain, it was, within a few hand-waved standard deviations, much the same as Old Alderaan.
New Alderaan had been ravaged and nearly destroyed during Warlord Zsinj’s rampage through the galaxy, but enough time had gone by that it had recovered fairly well. The information Kylo pulled up from the Holonet showed that they were encouraging tourism.
Moreover, it showed that just the seasonal change he wanted was occurring right now. He had to ask.
And before he thought about it any harder, he did it. Because he knew their connection was a little spotty and unreliable, and he did not want her to mistake his meaning, he left a hand-inked note on the desk in his quarters.
Chapter 3: If It Could At Least Be Ours Alone
At this point, the bond had opened at enough random times that Rey thought of it as an inconvenience or the Force just disrupting her life because it could. Sometimes, she just saw Kylo doing whatever he was doing, whether it was meetings or meals or workouts, with no indication that he knew she was there. She’d figured that it probably worked the same in reverse. Every time she felt that odd tingle while training or working or eating, she assumed Ben could see her.
The randomness had evolved into a sort of unspoken agreement. There were certain times when they were both free. Sometimes, their bedtimes were in sync. Sometimes, their mornings were in sync. Sometimes, they were both free at odd points midday. Both Rey and Kylo would swear that they did not seek each other out at these times. Both, of course, would be lying.
Their conversations were intense, wide-ranging, and sometimes combative. Rey could not get her head around the idea of someone [read: Ben] having a lovely family and friends and rejecting them all. Kylo could not get his head around someone [read: Rey] actually wanting structure and seeking out a network of people.
Their differences were a challenge, but they’d reached a point. This point was not an actual agreement, but was simply a mutual understanding and respect of each other’s positions. For his part, Ben now understood how someone who hadn’t grown up as he had might envy him. For her part, Rey now understood that it was possible to feel lonely even when surrounded by people who loved you.
But one day, the bond had opened and for some reason, she was seeing Kylo’s personal quarters on his flagship. Kylo himself was not present. She’d seen the room itself plenty of times, but this had never happened before. Why would the Force want her to see his empty bedroom? She was puzzled, even as she surveyed the space and the little signs of its occupant all over.
His bed was unmade. There was a towel in a heap just outside the fresher. There was a pair of pants on the floor next to the bed, exactly as they’d been when he’d stepped out of them last night.
Rey knew him well enough to know that he really did not like to have cleaning droids in his room. He allowed them in only once a day to collect his laundry and tidy his fresher. He did not want his bed made, he did not want his desk straightened, he did not want anything else of his touched. The only time they were permitted to touch his bed was for a weekly change of sheets.
So, as her eyes swept the familiarity of his room, she got her answer. There was a message, intentional and addressed specifically to her. “Rey, please join me at these coordinates on this date.” It was written in the lovely, deliberate script that she now knew was his. And it was propped up on his desk for no other eyes than her own.
Rey had to acknowledge his thoughtfulness--the note made her smile. This did not mean that her guard was down. She knew full well that the First Order ships had fired on her and Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon. She also knew full well that that had been done on Kylo Ren’s orders.
So, as many fond memories as she had of snatched moments lying back and simply talking to Ben, she was never far from the truth of the situation. Her pragmatism had been her preservation for her entire life. But she couldn’t cleanse her mind of the reality of fighting together with him, silently teaming up to defeat Snoke’s Praetorian Guard. In those lightning-fast moments, she had never before felt so attuned to another being. She was able to anticipate his movements, which enabled her to go where he wasn’t. She could tell that he felt the same from her. Even outnumbered, they had been unstoppable. They had coordinated seamlessly, even able to use each other’s weapons when necessary. Rey and Ben had fought as one, separating only when the last of the red-clad bodies fell.
It was her remembrance of this oneness that caused her to muster all of her will and every last bit of her Force-sense to push a bit of herself through the bond to pick up his fancy brush, dip it into his equally fancy inkwell, and scratch out a simple “yes” at the bottom of his fancy paper.
Only after she’d done that did she begin to agonize. Maybe her trust was misplaced, maybe he was trying to lure her into a trap, maybe she was unwittingly beginning the end of the Resistance.
But her heart believed in him, even if her head didn’t fully buy in. She wanted to see him in person again. Her interactions with him had made her realize how badly she’d needed someone who understood her. Yes, Rey was happy with the ragtag Resistance crew, who surrounded her with enough cheerful chaos to make up for the friendships she’d missed growing up. However, even her dearest new friends didn’t understand her newly-discovered Force-sensitivity.
But Ben did. And he could commiserate with her, offer advice or even just listen to her without exclaiming “huh? you did what with the who now?” While these reactions were humorous, they were not exactly what Rey needed for her development.
They were, though, just a little bit. Rey had grown up utterly alone, with no home but the one she made. Her fallen AT-AT had been a physical place she returned to after leaving. It had fit the most bare, technical definition of home.
Rey was quickly learning that home had less to do with the place one laid her head at night than with the people who surrounded her, welcomed her, and made her feel a part of things.
She knew she was home with the Resistance. Finn was her first friend ever, and he was only too happy to draw ever more people close to him in her absence. By extension, these people also drew closer to Rey. This was how Rey had been introduced to Poe Dameron after Starkiller. This was also how Rey had met Rose after Crait.
Rey’s discovery of home was proof that the Force worked in mysterious ways. If she hadn’t run into Finn, she’d never have met Han, a true hero of hers and a mentor for only a brief time. If she’d never met Han, she’d never have met Chewie or Leia. Rey couldn’t imagine her life without Chewie and the Falcon, a ship that Rey was really only borrowing. Chewie owned half of it, and the other half belonged to one Ben Solo, if and when he ever chose to claim it. Both Chewie and Leia knew that and assumed Rey knew it, too--indeed, there was definitely a tacit agreement that Rey was only safeguarding it.
But there had to be something beyond that. From her first meeting with Kylo, something had sparked and ignited a fire in a place she’d never known she had. When she spread out her imaginary future, she could not envision any one of the possible paths without Ben Solo.
Something nameless in him called to something nameless in her. She felt his being in the deepest part of her soul.
And, in all honesty, his broad shoulders, deep brown eyes, and silky dark hair called to another nameless thing in her. She felt that in a part of her soul that was a bit shallower than the other.
Rey had her own reasons for accepting Ben’s invitation. She’d looked up the coordinates from his note and found that there were several resorts located near the spaceport where she’d be arriving. She’d grinned with delight over her research and decided she could spend a few days lounging in luxury, even if she’d decided she couldn’t take any more of Kylo.
So, her decision made, Rey packed up her few belongings and began her circuitous route toward Ben’s coordinates.
Chapter 4: And If It's Quite All Right
Please enjoy this beautiful moodboard gifted by none other than my lovely recipient, kaybohls
Here Rey was, standing around in an Outer Rim spaceport on a moon called Killik. She felt a little battered and tired from her travels, which were necessarily complicated--while she might have made the wild decision to place her trust in Ben, she couldn’t say that for anyone else who may have been involved on either side. Whatever her personal feelings were, operational security outweighed all of them. There had been so many jumps and trips, sometimes doubling back, sometimes out of the way entirely. Right now, Rey had no idea of the time; she had given him only her ETA from her last jump. So she posted herself against a wall near one of the main doors and just hoped.
Here Kylo was, searching an Outer Rim spaceport on a moon called Killik. She had refused to give him any information about her journey’s origin; she’d only given him a time. He knew that even her last departure port would give no hint of the location of the Resistance. He knew she wasn’t stupid. While she might trust him, she rightly did not trust any First Order personnel, either. The thought of her trust in him warmed his heart to a degree that wasn’t at all dignified. He figured that she’d spent the last several hours making all sort of jumps, meandering about the galaxy on her way to him. This did not matter to Kylo. He would meet her where she was.
And she was here, in Killik Spaceport, standing near a door, face set, adorably vigilant, waiting for him. Kylo started toward her.
Rey felt him before she saw him, so she wasn’t at all surprised when a large presence and a deep voice appeared next to her, offering to carry her bag.
She looked up, and her eyes met his for the first time since the carnage in Snoke’s throne room. His hair was a little longer; his eyes were no longer lit with wild remnants of adrenaline. The same flush rode high on his cheekbones, but not from the heat of battle. His hand was outstretched again, just as it had been before . . . oh. He had asked a question.
“Oh, ah, no. I’m fine carrying this, thanks,” she replied, lifting the strap of her satchel to her shoulder.
Inwardly, Kylo cursed his rapidly warming face. He felt the redness beginning its inevitable spread to the tips of his ears. He couldn’t even greet her properly? No, the first thing he’d done was to imply that she couldn’t handle her belongings on her own. Ugh.
“Oh, ah, right. Um, thank you for coming. Our transport should be this way,” he said, pointing toward the sign he’d seen.
Rey walked beside him in the direction he’d indicated, already groaning silently at herself. He’d been trying to be a gentleman. Of course he knew she could handle her own bag, but he probably also knew she was a little tired and wanted to offer some small relief.
“Um, thank you for inviting me,” said Rey. At first, she was afraid he hadn’t heard her, but he turned to look briefly at her and one corner of his mouth turned up a bit.
Ben looked like he was about to say something, but it appeared that they’d arrived at their destination--one of the many transport rental counters attached to the spaceport.
He tapped some numbers into the screen on the front of the counter, and within seconds, a small droid rolled out from behind it, introducing herself.
Ben and Rey followed the droid to an outdoor lot, where they stopped in front of a transport and Ben signed the droid’s proffered datapad.
Rey hefted her bag into the transport’s cargo area, and Ben did the same. Doors glided open on both sides of the vehicle.
She stepped in and was instantly surprised by the luxury surrounding them. Rey was automatically buckled into a seat that immediately altered its contours to fit itself to her body. The sigh that escaped her was long and deep, and if she’d noticed Ben’s reaction to it as he got into his own side of the vehicle, she’d surely have blushed redder than anything.
Ben, of course, had heard her sigh and could not at all account for his reaction. So, avoiding her eyes, he sat down in the driver’s seat and said nothing.
Once he’d gotten the vehicle away from the spaceport and underway, he felt a little more sure of himself as he saw her relaxing fractionally. Or maybe the loaded silence was just getting to him.
“So, we’re on our way to New Alderaan,” he explained, a little haltingly. “I’m not really from here, but I wanted to show you--” He trailed off, hopelessly awkward.
“Oh, Ben,” Her interjection was a gift. “I know.”
Or, Rey thought frantically, she thought she knew. But it seemed that she did know. His broad shoulders relaxed just a bit, his brow loosened, and his jaw unclenched a little.
“I wanted you to see,” he began again, his courage seemingly restored, “Well, I knew you’d never seen too much green, but I wanted to show you what the green becomes in some places at this time of the orbital year. There are so many colors, and it’s so pretty, and--” He was helpless again, just that quickly.
“Shhhh.” She reached out and laid a hand on his arm. “I looked up some things after you sent those coordinates, and I saw some pictures. I’d love to see it in person.”
His shoulders relaxed a little more. There really wasn’t anything on the Holonet for his particular situation, and he hadn’t expected to find it. “How to speak to a woman you might have tried to kill but you really want to see her again now and you are trying to take her someplace you think she’ll like and you just want her to be happy there with you” was not a search that would have yielded many worthwhile results.
“Thank you. I’ve never actually been here before, though. But my mom is Alderaanian--well, you knew that--and everything I found out about this place seems to show that it’s fairly close to the real thing. It looks like the holos she used to show me.” Ben looked a little sad as he thought about his mother.
Rey tucked that away as she responded. “Thank you for sharing this with me, then.” She left it there. Rey remembered seeing the small holopad in the General’s bunk--it projected a planet in miniature, a small, green-and-blue ball rotating slowly.
She’d never actually spoken with Leia about Alderaan. Rey had always felt rather rootless, adrift and in search of a home. However, when she learned of the tragedy of Alderaan via a Holonet search, she realized that there was something worse than never having had a home. The abstract idea of an imagined place that one might belong was far, far better than a home stolen and destroyed before one’s very eyes.
“Anyway, I always wanted to come here,” Ben said softly.
They were now inside New Alderaan’s atmosphere, so close to the cloud-dotted green-and-blue serenity of the planet, which drew closer and closer.
Rey peered out of the viewport. The abstract picture of water, land and clouds focused sharper, sharper, sharper as she watched, until she could pick out individual structures and trees as they got closer to the surface. She felt Ben cutting in the repulsors as the trees became more and more detailed. When the trees’ leaves became distinct, she was finally aware of their craft gliding to a smooth, slow stop, followed by the gentle release of her seatbelt.
There were trees all around, it seemed--tall ones. Rey was so busy gazing up at what she saw through the viewport that it took a moment for her to look down and notice Ben fidgeting outside her door.
Blushing, she pressed the control to open her door. When she stepped out of the transport, Ben stood, waiting for her, both her bag and his slung over one shoulder.
A little stiffly and nervously, he offered her his free arm.
Rey took it, a little gratified by the way his muscles seemed to relax at her touch.
“It’s not far,” he said. “Just up this way.”
Rey walked beside him along the path he indicated, doing her best not to gawk at their surroundings. Indeed, it wasn’t a long way till they reached a clearing that held their destination--the doorstep of a small cabin whose exterior walls were built of the very same wood that towered around them.
Ben let go of Rey’s arm to open the door, then guided her inside. Rey’s nostrils filled with the scent of what she supposed was the wood, mingled with notes of bonfires past.
“There are two rooms.” Ben’s words came out in a rush. “You can have your own space--I didn’t want to presume. . . “ He felt his cheeks heating again. Real smooth, he thought, disgusted with himself, even as he continued to speak. “Have a look around; you can pick whichever room you’d like.” The look of delight on Rey’s face lifted his mood a little. Maybe he hadn’t bungled this too badly. He couldn’t keep the smile from his face as he watched her darting about the small space, opening doors, peeking out windows, sticking her head into cabinets.
Rey could barely contain herself. She worried that she must have looked absolutely daft to Ben, running around the little house and looking at everything. However, as much as she’d learned to shift her idea of home to mean more about people than about a place, she was still fascinated by the idea of a house. She knew now that sometimes the concepts of house and home went together, but she had yet to experience the type of place tied up in so many beings’ ideas of home.
One of the bedrooms--the smaller of the two--had a soft-looking deep green bedspread and pretty matching curtains over the large window. Green was Rey’s new-found favorite color, so she found the decor calming.
She stepped back out of the bedroom to find Ben standing just where he’d been before. “I’d like this one, please,” she declared, pointing toward the green bedroom.
Ben chose not to hide his smile from her. His choice paid off immediately as he watched Rey’s smile start at her eyes and spread over her face.
“Hey,” said Ben, “it’s still really early here--local time, I mean, so if you’d like to rest a little bit now . . . “
“That would be wonderful,” Rey replied gratefully. The invitation reminded her of the travel-weariness that had briefly been pushed aside by her excitement.
Ben picked up her bag and carried it into her bedroom, setting it gently upon the overstuffed green armchair in the corner. “Rest as long as you like. I’ll be in the other room,” he said, turning to leave and closing the door quietly.
Rey wasted no time, quickly pulling off her boots and removing her outer clothing before she slipped into the bed.
Chapter 5: Make a Rhyme of Confusion
General Leia Organa was at rest for once. The Resistance had received an offer of assistance just in the nick of time. Now, she sat in the residence of the Governor of the Sovereign System of Hiverne, sipping a cup of tea. At this very minute, along with Governor Erdutza Itzal and several of her trusted aides around an informal table, Leia was going over plans to move supplies to a more secure base.
The General was, for the moment, safe and secure in a place she enjoyed being. The Governor’s refusal to stand on ceremony was one of the reasons she’d liked Erdutza Itzal immediately. The tone had been set as soon as Leia had stepped off the Falcon to meet the Hivernian greeting party. Leia had begun her formal introduction in the way she’d perfected in her years as a princess and senator. The Governor had enfolded the General in a tight hug and encouraged Leia to call her “Erda.”
Erda and Leia had become fast friends, which was a boon to the Resistance. The support of Hiverne was absolutely key. Hiverne I was a major center of technology and industry. Up to now, the Hivernians hadn’t officially entered the current conflict on either side, but they’d quietly entered into a deal with the Resistance, supplying much-needed food, supplies, and materiel.
Leia was listening to the Governor’s finance chief give numerical projections of the aid the Resistance could expect from Hiverne in the next fiscal period. The numbers were far more favorable than she’d expected, and the General smiled as she did a bit of quick math on her datapad.
Just then, a knock sounded on the door of the conference room. The sentinel looked out, then stepped aside to admit Kaydel Ko Connix, who immediately excused herself for interrupting.
Kaydel stood behind Leia’s chair and spoke quietly into the General’s ear in the measured tones of one who was accustomed to conveying private information, even where her boss was surrounded by others.
Leia nodded gravely once Kaydel had finished speaking. She rose to her feet. “I’m terribly sorry, everyone, but it seems that I’ve just received an important communication. Please excuse me.”
Governor Erdutza Itzal also rose, causing every one of her ministers to stand immediately to attention, which, in turn, made the Governor start to roll her eyes just the tiniest bit before she caught herself.
“Why don’t we all take a break?” Erda suggested as Leia exited the room. “Let’s take two hours; I’ll have some refreshments brought.”
The General slipped outside the conference room to a small seating area in the hall. Kaydel had sent the private communication to Leia’s personal device. As she opened it, Leia was startled by its origin. It had come in on the heavily encrypted forwarding channel she’d kept open for messages directed to her Senatorial office. There weren’t many these days, but they showed up occasionally and were generally fairly important.
This message was . . . different. It started off with all of the formal salutations and styles she thought she’d left behind. As tempted as she was to dismiss it, she read on.
The message was from a Janae Antilles, Chancellor of New Alderaan.
Chancellor Antilles was overjoyed that the Princess was interested in the lovely planet which was meant to serve as a new home for every displaced Alderaanian. The Chancellor understood that Her Royal Highness had given extremely strict instructions that she was not to be disturbed at all during her time in one of New Alderaan’s exquisite parks, but surely this friendly greeting wasn’t too much of an intrusion.
Leia read on to find out that she was to be congratulated on her choice of getaway location, and that the parks of New Alderaan held unparalleled recreations of the flora and fauna of her original homeworld. The General found herself further assured that the finest cabin had been readied for her party’s arrival, cleaned, aired, and stocked with a wide variety of items. If anything was lacking, Her Royal Highness was to contact a certain comm number immediately, where someone would be available around the clock to rectify said lack.
Leia’s brow furrowed. What the actual kriff?! A vacation was the furthest thing from her mind these days. And she hadn’t been on New Alderaan recently. Why was she getting this message? She scrolled further down, and a holo of a small cabin rose into the air over her device.
It did look cozy, she thought. She scrolled down to the end of the message, only to see a reservation and confirmation number. What the kriff, indeed?
And then, suddenly, all at once, General Leia Organa knew.
Admittedly, she wasn’t the best at switching her personal codes regularly, even when all of the Holonet experts said to do so fairly often, but as she got older, it was just such a hassle. Of course, she certainly wasn’t that lax when it came to the comm security of the Resistance, but she had people like Kaydel to handle that, didn’t she?
There was one person alive in the galaxy who’d be able to guess the significant dates that she still used as personal codes. That same person might also be very interested in the location of one Rey of Jakku, who had recently advised the General that she would be absent for several days on a personal matter.
General Leia Organa threw back her head and laughed, startling a passing droid who was carrying a large refreshment tray to the conference room Leia had vacated moments before.
Once her mirth faded, Leia simply shook her head, surprised at the smile she couldn’t repress, astonished at the burst of love that filled her chest, and a little worried at the surge of hope that lifted her heart.
Ah, well. She just better not get a kriffing bill.
Chapter 6: Into Clearer Dimensions
Rey woke slowly, warm and content, smiling just a little to herself. She stretched luxuriously, then spread her limbs wide on the wondrous bed that was much larger and softer than she was used to.
When she sat up, she was surprised to find that the fog of travel had left her head. Smiling again, Rey turned and stood from the bed. She’d satisfied her weariness to a point where she was alert to her next need.
She had to wash off the funk of too many spaceports and the dust of too many shuttles. The decon fields she’d stepped through each time she changed ships hadn’t really been sufficient to make her feel clean.
Rey peeled off the underclothes she’d slept in and entered the ‘fresher attached to her bedroom. This was already the height of luxury for Rey--not having to gather up her stuff and scoot quickly down a hall to get clean was definitely an improvement on her present circumstances.
And . . . ohhhh . . . this was a water shower. Since she’d been introduced to water bathing, Rey had become a devotee. The water here flowed from above like rain, deliciously hot and tingly on her skin. The small white toiletry bottles complemented her shower experience with rich lather and delicate fragrance.
When she finally stepped out of the shower, skin steam-flushed and dewy, Rey found that another treat awaited her in the form of the enormous fluffy white towel on the bar right outside the shower. She wrapped herself in it, using it to warm her wet body as she dried off, then putting a smaller white towel around her head to soak up the water from her hair.
After smoothing lotion over herself, then having an interesting experience with the fancy sonic hair dryer mounted on the wall, Rey walked back out into the bedroom to pull on fresh clothes from her bag.
Once she was dressed, though, Rey felt at loose ends. It seemed silly to sit around in her room fully clothed. But then, she wasn’t quite sure how to act with Ben when she left the room. She shook herself. Surely, if she was able to come at this man with a lightsaber, she could face him in the living room of a vacation rental.
Taking a deep breath, Rey opened the bedroom door as quietly as she could. She didn’t want to disturb him if he was sleeping. She walked out into the living room. He wasn’t there, but she saw that there were now a few logs in the fireplace. She ventured into the kitchen, having just realized that she was thirsty.
Ben startled immediately when he saw her in the kitchen doorway; he jumped visibly and once again turned red to the roots of his dark hair. He had been putting something into a woven basket that sat on the table. When he registered her presence, though, his eyes darted like she’d witnessed him committing a crime.
“Hi,” said Rey, breaking the silence.
Ben straightened up from where he’d been bent over the basket. “Hi,” he replied. “I was just packing some food for us--I thought you’d like a picnic?” His voice went up uncertainly.
Rey couldn’t help but snicker a little. Kylo Ren, scourge of the galaxy, Supreme Leader of the First Order, filling a basket of food and looking up like he’d been caught in some terrible act?
The small laugh that had escaped her made Ben redden even more. She felt a little bad about the state of his face--she didn’t want him to overheat, after all.
“A picnic?” Rey’s voice rose with a question.
Ben blinked and shoved a hand through his hair. “Oh, ah, yes. It’s, um, packing a meal and eating outside.”
Rey’s brow furrowed. She’d eaten outside her little home many times, but had never heard of a “picnic.”
Ben watched Rey’s forehead scrunch into an adorable expression.
“I am hungry,” she said.
“Great,” he replied, congratulating himself for not sounding as strangled as he felt. He set one last item in the basket, then closed its hinged lid. He dragged his eyes back up to her face again and managed to get out, “I hope you were able to get enough rest,” while still sounding halfway sane.
She smiled at him. “I did, thank you. The bed was lovely, and I had quite a nice shower. It was just the thing after traveling so much.”
Dammit. Ben thought he’d been doing fine, but then she had to mention her shower, and his mind took him to all sorts of wicked imaginings of a wet, naked Rey.
“Anyway,” she continued, “thank you for thinking of me. A meal would be lovely.”
Evidently, his mental contortions hadn’t been visible on his face, because she wasn’t drawing a weapon on him or screaming and running. Ben congratulated himself on getting off to a decent start as he motioned toward the door, then followed her out of the cabin.
Once they got out the door, their progress was a little slow. Rey kept tilting her head back to look at the trees, then turning in a slow circle to take in everything she possibly could. Ben found that he wasn’t impatient at all; getting to watch her discover the colors and feel the crisp air was its own reward. He found himself wishing he could take a holo.
They progressed at a leisurely pace until they reached a small rise overlooking a gently sloping valley. Ben had selected the location during a holographic virtual tour of the cabin and surrounding park. The tour had helped him scout out the best views available and make a list of places he wanted to show Rey. This place was surely a winner. The colors were even more vivid than they’d been in the hologram.
Rey couldn’t believe her eyes. From where they stood on the hill, she was able to gaze down into a tree-filled valley. The sunlight lent a fiery glow to the warm tones of the leaves, which rippled like flames in the slight breeze. At the very bottom of the valley, a small brook flowed like a narrow silver ribbon. Everything was so quiet around them that she could hear the water trickling over rocks.
“Ben, this is gorgeous!” Rey exclaimed when she noticed him eyeing her anxiously, as if he’d just handed her a gift he hoped she’d like.
He relaxed a little and offered her a small smile. “Then this is where we’ll have our picnic.” He set down the basket and opened its hinged lid, then removed the bundle Rey had seen earlier. It was a large, soft blanket with a pattern of multicolored stripes of different widths intersecting at right angles. Ben spread the blanket over the grass, then sat down on it. Rey did the same.
Ben reached into the basket again. He handed Rey a sturdy, unbreakable plate, then brought out covered dishes of meat and cheese, then finally, a cloth-wrapped loaf of bread, which he began to slice with a serrated knife from the basket.
Rey took a few slices of bread, then some meat and cheese from the containers Ben opened. She couldn’t help but let out a sigh as she tried the food. It was simple, yes, but this went beyond what she knew. Everything here was the very best version of simple food she’d ever experienced. The fresh bread was wonderful, with a crisp crust and soft, springy middle; the meat was tender and flavorful, and the cheese was smooth and savory.
Ben had served a healthy portion onto his own plate, but he could barely remember to eat. Watching Rey enjoy the meal was something else. Between bites, she enthused about the food and the view. Seeing her truly happy here was beyond anything he’d ever been bold enough to dream.
Once they’d finished the bread and meat and cheese, washing it down with flasks of cool water, Ben reached into the basket again and brought out two fruits with glossy, dappled, red-and-green skin. He passed one to Rey.
She turned it over in her hands, looking at it with questions in her eyes, then back up at Ben.
“Oh,” he said, when he realized she was waiting for a cue from him, “This is an apple. Um, you just bite it.” He demonstrated, sinking his teeth into the crisp flesh of the fruit.
Rey followed suit, closing her eyes blissfully as the combined sweet and tart flavors moved across her palate. She opened her eyes again as she realized that she’d really like to see more of Ben eating his apple. He’d bitten into it with a soft noise, then swiped his tongue over his lips to catch the juice that flowed from the fruit. Watching him made her feel pleasantly warm and happy.
Luckily, he didn’t seem to notice that he was being watched, and they finished their fruit peacefully.
He told her that they could actually leave the cores of their apples here out in the land. This was an idea that Rey loved. She smiled and laughed as they each threw the remains of their dessert down into the valley. Rey liked to think that the seeds and stems could create or sustain life--either way, some remnant of her could become part of the ecosystem here, even in the smallest way.
Chapter 7: Some Magic From Above
Ben was so relieved that this had been a success. He’d banked on Rey enjoying the view and the simple but hearty food. Her reaction was even better than he could have hoped. A smile tugged at his lips as he watched her gaze out over the valley with the sweetest look of wonder on her face.
He didn’t fight his smile, but he didn’t want to look at her too long because he really didn’t want to stare creepily. However, he didn’t see the harm in showing her that he liked to look at her looking. When her eyes finally tore away from the vivid vista before them, she bowed her head and blushed, laughing a little when she saw his expression.
“This is really like nothing else I’ve ever seen, Ben.” she sighed. “Is this--did you grow up someplace like this?”
“I did,” he replied. “The climate on Chandrila is fairly similar to this,” he continued. He didn’t explain his reasons for never really feeling at home on Chandrila. Because he was speaking to Rey, Ben did not want to sound like a home was something he took for granted. And, indeed, it actually wasn’t. Rey made his thoughts clearer, made him more deliberative and less flippant when he expressed himself, either aloud or in his own head. If nothing else, the mere idea of her in the back of his mind made him want to be better and do better.
Rey met his eyes, silently acknowledging his statement, giving him space.
“But I wanted to show you something new,” he continued, his hand going to his hair, fingernails scraping his scalp. The feeling kept him in the moment. “And I thought it might be fun for us to see something new together.”
“It definitely is,” replied Rey.
“Then there’s a lot more for us to see,” said Ben, busying himself with collecting their dishes. Rey immediately went to help.
Their hands brushed together as they set the containers back into the basket. The briefest contact of skin on skin startled them both, but not unpleasantly; if either of them let it linger, neither noticed.
Once everything was put away, they stood. Ben took up the blanket, folding it into a neat square.
Purposefully not giving himself time to think too hard, Ben picked up the basket and offered Rey his arm.
She took it without hesitation. The crisp air wasn’t quite cool enough to chill, but she still felt warmer and cozier as she gripped him. She’d held his arm all too briefly while they walked from their transport to the cabin, but was far too preoccupied with her travel fatigue to have many opinions about the experience.
This time, rested, fed, and fully awake, Rey registered every tiny piece of data that came through her senses. Ben’s arm felt sturdy under her hands, and she boldly moved to press her body against his side as they walked together back to the cabin to return the basket to the kitchen.
Rey was excited to see what was next, and she fought the urge to let loose with a barrage of eager questions.
Kylo had become accustomed to suppressing his facial expressions. It would not do for the Supreme Leader to appear too emotional--it was too easy to question the authority of one who was given to too much moodiness. He was also fairly sure that exaggerated rumors of his temper and petulance were in wide circulation, with quite a bit of help from Hux. Most of the stories were based on a bit of truth, of course. On some level, fear of his unpredictability helped keep underlings in line. However, he didn’t want to appear unhinged, either, so he’d perfected a technique of keeping his face still. The result was an impassive mask that was nearly as intimidating as the one on his helmet.
With Rey, though, Ben did not want to appear intimidating or fearsome or impassive. Even if he’d tried, his effort would have been laughable, for Rey was the one being in the galaxy who he knew did not fear him at all. His first few hours with her had been spent in a strange battle with his own facial muscles. He wanted her to see his reactions, see that he was enjoying himself with her.
So, Ben did not make any effort to camouflage his reaction to Rey nearly vibrating with excitement. He could feel the questions she was trying to keep from erupting. Ben let an easy smile spread over his face as he opened the small shed behind the cabin to reveal a top-of-the-line all-terrain speederbike.
Rey had let go of Ben’s arm when they entered the cabin to leave the basket and put away the picnic things, but now she grabbed his hand and squeezed it, bouncing a little on her toes.
The vehicle’s large, rugged chassis was painted a bright, shiny yellow and looked near-new. Rey wasn’t familiar with the model, but what she could see of the engine looked impressive. She thrilled at the thought of such a powerful ride, then thrilled a little more when Ben squeezed her hand as he smiled down at her.
“Shall we take a ride, then?” he asked, tugging gently at her hand to lead her into the shed. He had to let go of her as he walked around the bike to inspect it and make sure everything looked safe. Once he was satisfied, he helped situate her astride the bike’s back seat. Both knew she didn’t need the help, but neither would pass up another excuse to touch.
He climbed onto the bike in front of her and started it up. All of the gauges were in satisfactory ranges and the engine sounded good. Over his shoulder, he told her to hold on to him.
Her arms came around his waist, her warmth pressed against his back, and he knew she was smiling. Ben took a deep breath and a moment to compose himself.
Then, before she had a moment to ask what the kriff he was doing, he opened the throttle.
The bike zipped out of the shed.
Rey gave a delighted whoop as they took off. The engine was just as powerful as she’d thought it looked, but the ride was so smooth that the grav-suspension had to be first-rate, too. Ben’s hair tickled her face as it blew back in the breeze. It was just as soft as she’d imagined and smelled so good.
Judging by the speed at which the trees flew by, she was positive that she was now traveling the fastest she ever had in an atmospheric vehicle. However, between the finely-tuned mechanics beneath her and the broad, strong shoulders before her, she also knew that she’d rarely felt more safe.
Ben heard Rey’s shout of joy and congratulated himself again for picking an activity she’d like. The picnic had almost been cheating--he already knew how much Rey loved food of any sort, and who didn’t like to stop and admire a pretty view? But this was a gamble based on his knowledge of her. He knew that she appreciated a smoothly-running engine and figured she probably wasn’t afraid of speed.
He actually did have a destination in mind. Honestly, though? Right now, he couldn’t think of a better place to be than basking in the happiness that came off her in waves.
Chapter 8: Let Me Lose My Shadow
As much as Ben would have liked to drive on with Rey warm and excited behind him, enjoying the breeze and the bike and the beauty of their surroundings, he kept to his original plan. Not too much later, they arrived at the spot he’d intended.
He stopped the bike and powered it down. Once he’d stepped off, he helped Rey off. His hands lingered on her waist and her hands lingered on his shoulders as they situated themselves. Their hands slipped together naturally enough that it would have been impossible to figure out who had reached first.
They’d gone down a slight incline to get here, and once Rey looked up, she realized that they stood at the bottom of a shallow valley. A stream trickled down one side and descended from a short waterfall to flow into a brook that flowed through the trough. It was only a few inches deep here, and clear enough to see the bottom.
Rey, giving Ben an unexpected tug, ran right up to the side of the brook. She crouched down, still holding his hand, forcing Ben to kneel beside her so that she could observe the water more closely. Tiny swimmers darted through the water and around the stones dotting the creek bed.
Before Ben could say anything or shout a single word of caution, Rey had dropped his hand and was hopping across the brook, rock to rock.
Panic washed over him so quickly that he didn’t even register his own actions. His rational mind didn’t allow him to yell at her, lest he startle her and cause her to slip off a wet rock. So he did the only thing he could. He followed her out onto the rocks. He was only halfway across by the time she’d reached the other side. When he got there, she was already bent over, dipping her hands in the water and examining some moss.
She looked up at his fearful face and laughed, only half-mirthfully. “Really? This is what you worry about?”
Rey didn’t elaborate on that, but her meaning was plain. You ordered me blown out of the sky, and I can’t walk over a few wet rocks?
Ben hung his head. Was there really anything he could say?
Rey noticed his stricken look. She didn’t feel bad, though. He deserved to squirm. She met his gaze unblinkingly. She watched as his shoulders fell and resignation settled over his face.
“Rey, I--” he began, sounding pathetic even to his own ears.
Her eyes remained locked on his. The neutral mask over her features was the analogue of the one he’d perfected for so long. He couldn’t blame her for fighting ice with ice.
The pause stretched between them. She remained crouched and he stayed standing, their eye contact connecting them even as it built a transparent wall.
“I . . . was not thinking clearly,” he began again, starting his attempt at scaling the barrier. “I tried to hurt you and I’m so sorry. I tried to destroy you and Chewie and the Falcon and I didn’t mean to. I was so angry, and I was confused, and I don’t know . . . “
He trailed off, and anything else that he wanted to say or even thought about saying was muffled by Rey’s shoulder. She’d somehow moved quickly enough to him that he didn’t even notice it. Her arms were tight around him, anchoring him, keeping him present on the ground that was at least a tiny part of his birthright.
Some of his tears were absorbed in her tunic, and some dropped to water the soil of New Alderaan.
Rey felt overwhelmed, caught up and drowning in a swirl of his emotions and her own and their bond and the water and the stones and the sky and the brilliant hues of the leaves around them.
Somehow, she fought her way back up to the surface, gulping at the air. There, as she breathed, was all the beauty with which she’d only been briefly acquainted, and there was the man upon whom she’d made the biggest wager of her life. Both had only very recently come within her reach, but she’d be damned if she’d allow her grasp to let go of either. In a very short period of time, she’d seen far more of the galaxy than she ever thought she would, and she’d met someone who could understand her on a level that she hadn’t thought possible. Rey wanted to embrace both, and in order to do so, she needed to live in the present, to hold on to now and let the past fly from her fingers.
”I know,” was all she said.
With her arms still around him, behind his back, she opened the fists that she hadn’t realized were clenched. She pictured herself letting go of all the bitterness she’d brought here, the hurt she’d held onto. Simultaneously, she sent a sensation of serenity through the Force. It was gentle--she didn’t push her intent as she did when she needed to trick a mind to forget it had noticed her.
Calm came dropping slow over Ben. His tense muscles relaxed, and only then did he realize how tightly he’d been squeezing Rey. She hadn’t expressed any discomfort aloud, but he felt a little bad when he felt her chest expand with a deep breath as he released her a little, his arms still wrapped loosely around her. His tears slowed, but the shoulder of her tunic was still embarrassingly soaked.
Ben thought it would take more than he had to pull back and look into Rey’s eyes. He’d overestimated the ease with which he met the hazel eyes that looked into his face without judgement, fear, or anger.
In two words, she’d given him the undeserved amnesty he hadn’t even dared to hope for.
Rey met his eyes when he’d finally dared to look at her again.
“Yes,” was all he could think to say, but so much rode on that word.
Ben’s dark eyes had never looked clearer to Rey. Not when he held her hostage, not when she fought at his back, and not when he’d offered her the galaxy.
Chapter 9: Followed Your Ashes Into Outer Space
General Leia Organa had had an extremely productive day, and it seemed that the rest of the Resistance was settling in nicely here. After the meetings and planning had finished, she’d had a pleasant evening with Erda, sharing a considerable amount of the local Hivernian wine.
The wine was tasty and smooth and went down so easily. The two women conversed like old friends, each laughing uproariously at the other’s stories. When the wine was finished and the fire grew low, they wished each other good night and departed from each other.
Leia found herself escorted back to her quarters by one of Erda’s security force. Were they all this handsome? Ah, well, this one was that handsome. Her assigned officer’s height and dark eyes reminded her of her son. Once the door had been secured behind her, Leia allowed herself a chuckle as she thought once again of Ben’s scheming.
Her emotions around Ben were still very complex, but this stunt of his let her have just a bit of the blessed normalcy of any mother in the galaxy, shaking her head in fond exasperation at her child’s antics.
He had to know that she’d know exactly what he was up to, didn’t he? Ben had inherited Han’s subtlety, or, more precisely, Han’s lack thereof. Memories of her husband and her son flooded her consciousness as she took down her hair. Both Han and Ben had done it for her many times.
Sharing Alderaanian tradition was so important to her, even a small one like this. Having her braids loosened by one who loved her was always the best part of her day. With her hair flowing down her back, free from the elaborate styles she always wore in public, she allowed herself to enjoy her family and absent herself, if only briefly, from the ever-pressing concerns of her daily life.
Squabbles in the Senate, political gamesmanship, the delicate dance of diplomacy? Those were all the problem of the woman crowned by intricate braids, weighed down by gravitas, and tasked with galactic responsibility. That woman would leave their suite the next morning with her hair coiled elegantly around her head, sharply dressed and impeccably turned out. But tonight belonged to the laughing woman with hair falling in gentle waves.
Leia shook her head, as if to clear her mind of the memories that had briefly overtaken it. In the mirror, her hair still rested on her shoulders, long and slightly wavy, but there was more grey in it than she’d remembered. The years had certainly done their work on her.
So much was different. So many were gone.
But so much was left. So many remained. And those were the things she still fought for, the things she still believed in. And a few of those things, she had to believe in, because there was no alternative in a life that she wanted to continue living in this galaxy.
In fact, among those beliefs necessitated by her existence were some things that she could influence just a little, couldn’t she?
Leia had had many different types of power in her life. There was royal power, hers only by the happenstance of her family. There was elected power, granted twice to her in two governments, as a Senator in both the Empire and the New Republic. And then there was popular power, fueled by the fierce loyalty that could only come from a group that was subversive and operated underground. She’d had that twice, and it gave her pause. She’d never thought she’d live to be a rebel leader more than once.
But here she was, grey hair and all--actively fighting against her son at the head of the other side, no less.
Her son. How many times had she cried over Ben, worried about Ben, just thought about Ben and how he might feel?
That was neither here nor there.
Did here or there matter at this point if she was absolutely sure of his location? She told herself it didn’t. Because she knew where he was.
He was on New Alderaan.
He was, in whatever clumsy way, claiming his heritage and, by extension, reclaiming his connection to his mother.
Leia knew that her son wasn’t stupid. Whatever else may have been between them, she and Han could never have raised an idiot.
Regardless of the choices he’d made, Leia did respect Ben’s intelligence. This was why she had to conclude that he knew that she knew.
She also knew that Her Royal Highness, Princess Leia of Alderaan would have her every wish fulfilled on New Alderaan. And she’d been told as much.
So. Those were two things that she knew. She took that knowledge and made a choice.
Leia didn’t feel bad for a moment when she dialed a certain comm number, ready to give her name and her title and list allllll of the things that would make her party’s time on New Alderaan exactly perfect.
Because, after all, her party’s time on New Alderaan should be as perfect as it could be.
While her comm tried to connect to the number she’d punched in, Leia carefully smoothed cream over her face, then slipped into the soft bed that had already been warmed to her specific preference.
By the time she’d situated herself in bed, propped up by a small mountain of high-quality pillows, Leia’s call had been connected.
“Your Royal Highness, it is my honor to assist you.” The being who answered the phone sounded a little scared. “I hope everything has been to your liking so far?”
Of course they were nervous. They’d probably been sitting there praying that the comm wouldn’t signal. Instinctively, she went about setting them at ease.
“Everything has been outstanding,” she said, letting a smile creep into her voice. “But I was wondering if it was possible to get just a few special items sent to the cabin?”
Chapter 10: With What's Not There
The intense moment had passed, and Ben and Rey had come back to themselves on the bank of the little creek. Surprisingly, the elevated emotions seemed to have burned off any remaining awkwardness or tension between them. Rey no longer froze with mortification for a split second each time she impulsively grabbed his hand. Ben no longer winced each time he touched her.
Together, they walked a little way down the bank. Rey kept bending over to see things more closely, and Ben never tired of her fascination. Once, she’d crouched to look more closely at a floating leaf pad. In her concentration, she’d stayed still enough that a passing tiny frog decided it was a good idea to jump onto her outstretched hand.
Rey’s surprise and resulting yelp sent her tumbling to her backside and the frog hopping off in search of safer places.
Ben tried valiantly to suppress a chuckle at the scene. He did not want her to feel that he was mocking her.
She was a little confused by the quick sequence of events, and she felt a bit bad for upsetting the little frog, but she found the whole thing so hilarious that she could do nothing but sit there on the ground, laughing helplessly.
Watching her lose herself to mirth was irresistible, and Ben found himself joining in as her laughter echoed over the shallow water, more a response to her joy than anything else. Belatedly remembering his manners, he offered a hand to help her up.
Rey let Ben pull her to her feet, then leaned on him for support as she caught her breath. His arm slipped around her so easily as he smiled down at her.
“I didn’t realize you’d come here to frighten the wildlife,” he joked.
She arched an eyebrow at him. “I didn’t, either. I suppose I’ve done enough of that.”
They turned back, crossing the brook again, rock to rock, this time hand in hand.
“The controls are in a pretty standard configuration. I don’t think it’s that different from anything you’ve driven before,” said Ben as they approached the bike.
“No?” Rey cocked her head.
“No,” he confirmed solemnly. “If you have a question, I’m right behind you. Are you ready?”
“For what? To drive?” Her voice rose with excitement.
Ben didn’t really have a very good concept of wealth or money or material value. He’d fully admit that and disclose further that it was a symptom of the privilege he’d been born with and spent his whole life in. Even when he’d broken from his family, the First Order had funded his every whim and fancy and destructive impulse.
But right now, the look on Rey’s face was worth every credit he’d ever even thought about. More, even.
“Yes, to drive. Don’t worry; I’ve got a map,” he replied, trying to appear cool and nonchalant.
She scrambled up into the driver’s seat before he could say anything more. He got himself in position behind her, wrapping his arms about her waist. Silently, he watched her check the gauges and situate herself as she started the bike.
He leaned forward and whispered, “Just take us right up the path out of the valley. You can take any of the marked paths once we’re out.”
Rey shivered a little when she felt his voice, quiet and smooth in her ear. With his arms around her, with him so close, trusting her to take him wherever, she needed a moment to get herself together before she opened the throttle.
When she did, the bike whizzed forward with a delicious kick. Rey laughed out loud as she steered them up out of the valley. She turned onto one of the paths at random, slowing a little because she wanted to enjoy the scenery.
As fascinated as she was by the riot of color on the trees, she still drove carefully. Ben never felt anything but safe riding behind her. Indeed, he could have been her passenger forever, because he got to be this close to her, breathing in her scent, watching her enjoy the beauty of the forest.
Rey drove on and on, stopping at anything she deemed a must-see.
They got off the bike at a little pond, curtained by vine-draped branches and dotted with floating leaf pads. For several moments, Rey was content to observe as life went on at the pond, standing still and quiet with Ben behind her, his arms around her waist, similar to the way they’d been situated on the bike.
Birds flew in and out, diving at the pond to scoop up food, then zipping off to enjoy their meals. Frogs hopped from leaf to leaf, ribbiting to one another.
“Listen,” murmured Ben into Rey’s ear, “he’s calling his friends. He’s telling them to watch out for a brown-haired woman--”
This earned him a swift swat on the thigh from a giggling Rey, who rolled her eyes at him as they started back to their vehicle.
Ben and Rey stopped again at a clearing where fungus formed a near-perfect circle.
“They just grow like this?” marveled Rey.
“Sometimes, they do,” Ben replied, “And some say it’s because of sneaky little spirits that live in the woods.” Reaching further back in his memory than he ever thought he’d need to, he found a children’s tale of these woodland spirits, who liked to dance in circles in forest clearings. He related the story to Rey as well as he could remember.
Ben sneaked a peek at her. Her eyes were closed and she was smiling as Ben told the tale, whose words came to his mind in Leia’s voice.
He’d never thought too much about it, but now that he had, he knew it must definitely have been an Alderaanian legend. Leia had always ended the story with a kiss on his forehead and an adjustment of the blankets around him to make sure he slept warmly.
This time, the story ended with a gentle squeeze of his hand and a sweet smile that crinkled the corners of happy hazel eyes. That was a fine substitute, he supposed.
Still hand in hand, they walked back toward the bike. “It looks like we’re losing the sun,” Rey observed. The forest had been growing dimmer for a while, but she was having such a wonderful time that she didn’t want it to end
“I think you’re right,” replied Ben, who’d also been enjoying their random ride through the trees. “We should probably go back.” He pulled the holopad from his pocket and projected the map so they could both see.
Rey leaned close to him to look at the map, sliding an arm around his waist. Her mind, her heart, and her spirit were filled nearly to overflowing. The time she’d spent speeding through the trees with Ben tight behind her had been like nothing else she’d ever experienced. She pointed at the map. “So, we go back on this path, then turn back on to the main one?”
“Yes,” Ben replied. “The main one will take us back to the cabin. I’ll watch out for the markers; you just drive, all right?”
“All right,” Rey gave him a squeeze before they both jumped back up onto the bike. She found the switch for the headlights and flipped it on.
Their way back through the slowly darkening woods was much shorter than Rey thought it would be. In nearly no time, they were back at the shed behind the cabin. The door slid open as they approached, and she pulled it in with no trouble.
Rey scrambled off the bike, then held out her hand to Ben to help him off. He murmured a low thanks into her ear as he swung one long leg over the seat to dismount, holding onto her even after he was on the ground.
Together, they approached the back door of the cabin. Suddenly, Rey felt Ben tense as he threw his arm out in front of her. “Stay back!” he shouted, his voice raised by panic.
There was something sitting on the back porch, right in front of the door. Ben approached it cautiously, cursing himself for his unarmed state.
As he drew closer, he saw that it was a large woven basket whose handle was festooned with a big dark green bow. An old-fashioned paper tag was attached to the bow and swayed gently in the breeze.
Ben took a few more steps forward until he was close enough to read the tag without actually touching it or the basket.
Written in a bold, flowing script was: "It only needs to strike once. All my love to you both."
Chapter 11: Shine Its Watchful Light on You
Ben let out a long sigh, raking his fingers through his hair, his fight-or-flight dissipating suddenly enough to leave him a little deflated.
“Ben?” Rey sounded alarmed.
“Oh--oh, no, I’m sorry, it’s okay. It’s just--” Ben couldn’t even begin to find the words for exactly what was happening at the moment. He was surprised, but he really wasn’t, and--oh, there it was. The frantic desperation he knew all too well, the rapid heartbeat, the blood rushing to his head. No. Please. Could this please just not happen in front of--
Rey came slowly to his side, threading her fingers through his.
All at once, her touch soothed him, strengthened him, grounded him. And he felt foolish for getting worked up.
“What is it?” she asked quietly.
“It’s . . a gift,” Ben’s vital signs finally approached normal limits again as Rey’s hand caressed his. “Let’s take it in and open it.”
Ben gently let go of Rey’s hand to pick up the large basket and open the door. Once they were inside the kitchen, he set it on the table.
Rey was vibrating with excitement yet again. Ben couldn’t help but smile. He’d seen it enough times to know that it made her irresistible. He’d also seen it enough times to know that he’d never see it enough times. He’d never tire of that sparkle in her eyes or the happy tension of her clasped hands.
She craned her neck to see the tag. “’It only needs to strike once. . . ‘“ she read. “What does that mean, Ben?” she asked.
Ben sighed. He’d done a lot of sighing in the past few minutes. “It’s from my mother. She wants to make sure I know she sent it.”
Rey blanched--not so much from fear as from a confirmation of her knowledge that Leia really did see and know everything. Poe had told her that the General had eyes not only in the back of her head, but all around and everywhere, even when you thought she couldn’t see you.
Ben nodded knowingly when he saw the look on Rey’s face. “You think she has eyes in the Force itself, don’t you?” he said, bemused.
Rey, who had been thinking that very thing, did not want to admit to it when she heard how silly it sounded when said aloud. She shook her head vaguely.
“Ah, you do,” he replied, looking a little exasperated. However, deep down, he’d always wondered if his mother wasn’t actually the most powerful of them all. She didn’t wield a lightsaber, and had no training in Jedi battle techniques, but she seemed to have some uncanny combination of Force sensitivity and mother’s intuition. Those things, plus Leia’s natural intelligence, had ensured that most of the time, little Ben had been busted before he even had a fully-formed plan of misbehavior.
Something had made Rey giggle. Ben’s mortification deepened ever further when he realized that his thoughts of Leia had probably been strong enough for Rey to see without even trying.
Even as Kylo’s scowl dropped over his face, he was loath to fight the smile brought on by her reaction.
“Oh, Ben,” she sighed, still laughing, “you were so little and determined.”
Ben’s smile won the fight. He found it didn’t make him too angry to have Rey picture him little and cute.
He also found that he had no way to respond to that in any way that was not entirely too clumsy and awkward. So, the way forward was distraction.
“Well, let’s open this up, then.” he said, advancing toward the gift determinedly. He removed the large bow, then peeled down the shiny translucent wrapping covering the basket.
Rey stood beside him, close enough for him to feel her warmth. Her eyes widened with wonder as he drew away the wrappings.
On top of the basket was a blanket that resembled the one they’d sat on to have their picnic. It had the same kind of pattern of lines at right angles, but the colors were a little different. Ben removed the blanket and set it on the table.
Then he stepped aside and let Rey at it, because he wanted to watch her face.
Her expression didn’t disappoint as she picked up the first item.
“Marshmallows?” asked Rey, reading the writing on the bag.
“Oh, you’ll love them!” Ben enthused, more excited than he thought he’d be. “They’re soft and sweet and delicious.”
Just as he’d thought, Rey’s eyes lit up at the idea of an edible treat. Her smile stayed wide as she continued to pull things out of the basket.
“That’s Toniray wine,” he said, nodding toward an elegantly-shaped glass bottle filled with a blue-green liquid. “It used to be made on Alderaan and I guess they make it here now. My mother would always have it for special occasions and holidays.”
“So this is a special occasion, then?” She caught his eye, raising her eyebrow at him.
Ben’s traitorous cheeks immediately caught fire. “Oh, I--uh . . . “ he stammered. He wanted to scowl at himself, but didn’t want to scowl at her. Quickly, he willed his facial muscles to relax.
Rey had no idea of Ben’s struggle with his anatomy. All she saw was the crooked, sheepish grin that resulted from his efforts, along with his fierce blush. She found him utterly endearing.
“Relax. Of course this is a special occasion,” she said, feeling slightly bad for teasing him. She reached out a hand to touch him reassuringly and squeezed his bicep, which felt so big and solid and good under her hand that it was her turn to blush.
She turned quickly back toward the basket, but not before Ben noticed the pretty flush painting her face and smiled to himself.
Rey put her hands into the basket again, then again, drawing out a group of thick, waxy cylinders, six in all. “Candles?” she asked, holding one up to examine it. As she lifted it, she caught a whiff of a warm, spicy scent. “Oh, this smells wonderful!” she sighed, closing her eyes. “I’ve never seen scented ones before!”
“They smell even better when you light them,” offered Ben. “We can light them later.”
She nodded happily, then pulled out two soft bundles, both in patterns of stripes crossing at right angles. One was in shades of green, one in black and grey with a tiny accent of red.
Rey heard him let out a small noise, then mutter “Ah, she did.” He picked up the black and grey bundle and unfolded it. It was a button-up top and a pair of pants in the same fabric. When he unfolded the pants, a smaller grey item fell out and hit the floor. He picked it up. “Pajamas. And fuzzy socks. These are definitely for me.” He shook his head.
She could see his point. When he unfurled the pants, the legs seemed endless. Smiling, she picked up the green bundle. It was a smaller version of the same outfit, complete with fuzzy green socks. She knew the word “pajamas,” but had never owned any. It seemed utterly decadent to her to own extra clothes that were just for sleeping in.
“Well,” she declared, “I can’t wait to get into these. So soft,” she sighed.
Ben shook his head again, but her excitement tugged at his heart and reminded him not to take so many things for granted.
She was getting to the bottom of the basket now, but the pajamas had been cushioning the last two items.
One was a metal vacuum flask of a type she recognized. It bore a label in the same elegant handwriting as the basket’s tag--Hot Spiced Cider.
The other item was a fancy holocamera.
“So, there you have it,” Ben said, looking into the bottom of the empty basket. “My mother wants us to be well-fed, cozy, and drunk. And she wants it documented on holo.”
Rey laughed. “We don’t have to do all of that at once, though, do we?” She grabbed his hand and looked up at him.
“No, we don’t,” he said softly. He wasn’t going to tell her that her upturned face, her twinkling eyes, and her bright smile could have convinced him to do anything, up to and including deeds far worse than having a warm, pleasant evening in. “But we can make a start.”
She gave his hand a squeeze. “Fair enough,” she replied. “Then let’s change into these lovely soft outfits and take it from there.”
Chapter 12: Guides Me to the Place You Are
So, I've only really belatedly reminded myself that this is now off anon and I can finally talk to you. First of all, I am utterly overwhelmed by the response to this. All my thanks to subscribers, to bookmarkers, to kudosers, and to commenters. I appreciate you all so much, and it really keeps me going to know that there are lots of people anticipating more of this story. I hope I can continue writing things you look forward to reading.
Please enjoy this beautiful moodboard by WinglessOne.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Ben bent over the fireplace, coaxing a flame from the tinder he’d lit.
When the logs seemed to be catching to his satisfaction, he stood back to make sure that the fire would sustain itself. It did, flaming to life to match the candles he’d set about the cabin’s living room.
Already, their warm aroma wafted gently on the air.
Ben went to the wall to switch off the room’s artificial lights.
It was then that Rey’s bedroom door opened. He sucked in a heady, spicy, breath as she entered a room lit only by fire.
The flames picked up the shine in the three buns of her hair and highlighted the sparkle in her eyes as she walked slowly toward him and the overstuffed sofa that sat before the fireplace.
He caught her eye and smiled--a near-involuntary reaction at the sight of her, illuminated and entirely comfortable in the soft green pajamas.
Her gaze broke from his and surveyed the room, the flickering lights of the candles, the fire now crackling in the fireplace, the inviting sofa with the new blanket laid over its back.
Rey wasn’t at all used to anything set up solely for her comfort. This was nearly too much to take in. Caught a little off guard, she simply moved toward his smile, meeting it with a small smile of her own.
The look on Rey’s face delighted Ben. In the moment, it struck him that he felt unbelievably good.
He’d never admit it, but he didn’t hate the pajamas and fuzzy socks at all. How long had it been since he’d worn something soft and loose, something created only for comfort? He couldn’t remember the last time. Snoke had, of course, forced him into a lifestyle that surpassed ascetic deprivation and went straight into actual mandatory pain. After Snoke’s death, Kylo had immediately reclaimed a few of his favorite things--recreational flying, real food instead of bland mealbread and tasteless numian cream, a few extra hours of sleep--but he’d never thought to get himself comfortable clothing.
Ben came back to himself as Rey approached the sofa and sat down, smiling up at him.
Rey settled into the cushions with a soft sigh, tucking her feet under her. He was adorable. Dressed in the pajamas, wearing his tentative little grin, she wondered if she could ever find him the least bit menacing again.
She’d never tell him that.
“I figured we should eat some real food before we have treats,” he said, handing her a plate and then sitting down with his own.
“Oh, wow. I hadn’t even remembered I was hungry.” This was a first for Rey. She’d enjoyed their outdoor exploring so much, then was consumed by getting to drive that fantastic speederbike, then had returned to the cabin and immediately gotten caught up in the excitement of the big gift basket from Leia. During all that, she hadn’t even had time to think about eating.
She looked down at the plate Ben had handed her. There was a rolled flatbread stuffed with meat and veggies and cheese. When she picked it up and bit it, she couldn’t help her sigh. The flatbread was soft, the vegetables were crunchy, and the meat and cheese were flavorful. This was exactly the kind of filling food she always craved.
Ben’s sidelong glance told him that she definitely approved of the food he’d given her. Good.
He stared into the flames. Kylo saw fire fairly frequently, but this was different The fire closest to his recent knowledge was brought on by lethal weapons made to destroy, to kill, to leave nothing but scorched, smoking ground.
How many times had Kylo commanded fire? He only found the answer when he reached beyond the question--he realized that he’d gotten used to destructive fire. Did he even want to count the villages, the buildings, the people incinerated on his orders?
When he moved back further in his mind, delved deeper into his memories, dipped down past all of the atrocities at the top, he saw more. Ben found the things he’d pushed off into the dark corners of his consciousness.
Long before the smoke and the burning chaos of war, there had been another fire, one whose memory filled him with only sweet contentment. He was little, barely past the knees of the adults present. All of the taller people were extremely determined to keep him from getting too close to the fire. But even outside the strictly-guarded perimeter, the warmth on his face was a delicious contrast to the cold outdoor air.
Ben had been wrapped up in layers by his parents--he couldn’t be allowed to get too cold. He didn’t mind being dressed warmly, but the mittens were seriously cramping his style. After a time, they’d been removed, and he was lifted and allowed to hold a stick.
Whatever was on the end of his stick--a sugary sweet that became warm and gooey in the fire, a piece of meat that browned to a delicious crisp, a vegetable that roasted hot and tasty--Ben enjoyed it. Interacting with the heat and light fascinated him. He could have stood and stared for hours.
Once again, her eyes carried him back from wherever he’d lost himself. He stacked their empty plates together and set them aside.
Rey leaned back a little, full and content. When Ben passed her a glass of cool water, she sipped it slowly. It was crisp and delicious and didn’t have the slightly stale flavor of the shipboard water she’d become accustomed to. What were her chances of leaving here not spoiled for everything in her usual life? Vanishingly small, she feared.
And that was just the food and drink, not even taking anything else into account.
Ah, anything else . . .
She looked over at Ben. The flickering firelight lit his profile in ever-moving shadows. His jaw was clenched, and he looked a little severe. But after just a day, Rey now knew that was how his face looked when he was worried about her happiness. She reached over and picked up his hand.
While Ben had, by necessity, come to grips with Rey touching him and had quickly schooled himself into enough sense not to jump nearly out of his skin every time she came near, he still hadn’t quite mastered his reaction to her emotions.
Up until relatively recently, Ben’s strong ability as a Force-empath had been something Snoke had tried to beat out of him. It had taken him too long to relax back into his abilities and clear the dust from the parts of his potential he’d blocked off at his former master’s behest.
Rey watched Ben. He was thinking too hard; she knew it. As tempted as she was, she wouldn’t ever violate his privacy by looking into his mind. But even as she chose not to spy on him actively, she couldn’t help feeling the impressions of his strong emotions.
When she reached out to him with only her Force-sense, he was marvelous. His presence was strong, it was beautiful--and it was constrained. Why would it be? At this very moment, he was the most powerful Force-user in the galaxy. The Supreme Leader of the First Order had no reason to throw a basket over his brilliance.
She thought they’d defeated Snoke together; she’d been so sure that their victory could free him. Clearly, it hadn’t--he’d made his ill-fated offer then and there in the ruins of the throne room, disappointing her and destroying her dreams, all while the pitiful plea in his eyes called silently to her. As difficult as it had been, she’d had to leave him there for her own preservation and for that of the Resistance.
She’d been dismayed then, but not surprised. Now, though, she felt only anger. Remnants of Snoke’s hold over Ben were still evident.
Rey’s righteous indignation flared, as much for the injustice done to Ben as for the futility of anything she could do here. She wanted him to be better right now, wanted him to be as he should be, wanted to purge him immediately of the last dregs of Snoke’s corruption.
Her newfound knowledge of her own power was a double-edged blade. Without question, it had helped her come to terms with many things. But it had also upset her idea of existence as she knew it. Rey had made her own way for so long, accepting reality, hardships and all. She’d figured out ways to separate problems into things she could change and things she could not. Ultimately, knowing the difference between the two was what had kept her alive.
How much of that had ridden upon her latent ability? She wasn’t sure she wanted to know. And really, it didn’t matter.
Anywhere she’d been before here, any time that preceded now was irrelevant.
Rey shifted her position on the sofa and took the opportunity to move closer to him.
The entire right side of Ben’s body warmed as Rey rearranged herself beside him.
He relaxed himself, remembering that only moments ago, he’d congratulated himself for not freezing anytime she touched him. With that in mind, he let himself slip back into the plush cushions of the sofa, sliding an arm around her shoulders. He was immediately rewarded when she snuggled into his side with a soft sigh.
As he gathered her close, his mind met hers. In the Force, she stood ready to accept him as he was. Ben felt it like a punch. That . . . was not what he’d planned on. Kylo’s preconceived notions were immediately cast to the winds. So, in a moment of wild abandon, without care for consequences, Ben gave himself up.
Rey felt Ben let go even as she knew he held her tightly. She didn’t know what he’d released, nor did she care. It brought him closer to here, to her.
So, since I'm still tickled pink that I can do things like I normally would . . .
Thank you to my reading team. You are all beyond priceless and none of this blessed mess would be possible without you.
For this chapter, tusen takk to M, M, and P, as always. Thank you also to Mike Tyson, Peter Gabriel, and the author of the Serenity Prayer.
Chapter 13: My Dreams Might Let Me Know
Moodboard by the incredible WinglessOne:
No matter their plans, it seemed that one of these emotionally-charged moments inevitably invaded the situation. Both were fast learners, though, and each time some weighty issue descended upon them, it was dealt with more deftly than the last.
So, fairly soon after Snoke’s spectre had reared up between them, Rey had shown that she was all too willing to fight a ghost, prepared to defend Ben from the lingering effects of his master’s abuse, and Ben had held her tightly until her urge to dig up some resurrection ritual and kill Snoke again had subsided.
Then, fairly soon after that, they were kneeling side by side on the soft rug directly before the hearth, each wielding a stick with a marshmallow on the end. Ben offered Rey endless tips on achieving the perfect roast, periodically preventing her from grabbing it out of the fire and gobbling it immediately.
“Ben,” gritted Rey through clenched teeth, still turning the stick slowly to ensure an even browning, “Can. I. Eat. This. Now.”
His eyes danced as he surveyed her furrowed brow and set jaw. Sensing that any escaping chuckle might end his evening with a gooey impalement on Rey’s stick, he shifted his gaze to her marshmallow, which had toasted to a light golden brown. “Yes, it looks good.”
Rey pulled her stick from the fire, blowing impatiently on her marshmallow to cool it. Finally, she bit into it, unable to suppress a moan as the new textures and flavors moved over her tongue--the slightly crisp, smoky outside gave way to the melty, sweetly sticky inside.
Seeing her reaction to the treat made Ben smile. One day, he might get tired of watching Rey enjoy food, but today was not that day. While he was watching her, he’d forgotten about his own marshmallow. He’d always liked his quite dark and crispy, with a thin layer of crunchy char over the whole thing, but now, it had cooked a bit beyond that, and he pulled it hastily from the fire.
Rey observed him, a bemused expression on her face as she munched the last of her marshmallow. “Is it good like that?” She cocked her head to the side.
He examined the treat on the end of his stick. It was only a little darker than he liked. Blowing on it to cool it, he responded, “Well, I like it, but I’m told that burnt marshmallows are an acquired taste.” He grinned at her. “Most people like them the way yours was, just a little browned. Would you like to taste this?” He held out his stick to her, letting her bite off the top half of his marshmallow.
The face she made was adorable as she turned the bite over in her mouth, contemplating the flavors like a connoisseur. His mind flashed wildly to the snooty diplomats he remembered from his mother’s dinner parties who’d tasted the wine, swished it like dental rinse, then given laughably self-important opinions on its flavors and origins.
Those dinner parties had been one of the banes of his childhood--endless hours in uncomfortable clothes where he was forced to ”please behave, Ben” and put on a pleasant mask for people whose moral bankruptcy was as apparent as their toadying words to his mother.
Another memory surfaced, though--one he’d buried. Ben’s father, half-out of the formal outfit he complained bitterly about--"Leia, I don’t see why I have to dress up like a simian to please people you hate anyway!”--curled up comfortably on their sofa, carefully unpinning Leia’s hair and gently loosening her braids. Ben’s mother, her shimmering dress unzipped down the back, uncomfortable shoes kicked off, bare feet up on the table, sighing happily as she was freed from her elaborate hairdo. And Ben himself, snuggled close to his mother’s side while she stroked his hair and listened to his parents mock the guests who had left their home less than an hour before.
Ben would munch on leftover hors d’oeuvres while giggling at Han’s impression of a particularly obsequious guest or Leia’s snark over someone she knew was lying to her face.
Rey’s voice brought Ben back to the present yet again when she said, “Well, it tastes just a little bit too much like fire for me, but I like that it’s even gooier in the middle.”
Her earnest critique widened Ben’s smile. It was parsecs away from the pretentious evaluations offered by politicians at the parties of his youth. He bit the other half of the marshmallow off the stick. Just as he’d thought, it was a little too burnt, but it wasn’t terrible.
Rey didn’t mind Ben’s burnt marshmallow at all. In fact, she wondered how he’d figured out that he enjoyed them that way. But she was more than interested in having another nicely toasted one. Ben accommodated her all too quickly, holding out the bag to her so she could grab another squishy treat and spear it on her stick.
This was new to her. It seemed that the activity of toasting marshmallows was just as important as eating the marshmallows themselves. The idea of recreational food was something she was still getting used to.
She’d certainly had food she enjoyed; she’d eaten a variety of things that tasted good to her, whether it was the first portion she’d earned after a long day scavenging Jakku’s Graveyard or the first meal she’d had on a Resistance base. That last had been the most striking thing to her. She’d simply walked into the makeshift mess hall, held out her tray, and received food. She hadn’t had to spend painstaking hours to acquire aged parts of a dead ship, hadn’t had to spend even more hours furiously buffing outdated components to try to make them look new, knowing that her very life and ability to nourish herself hinged on these bits of metal.
No, with the Resistance, she was present, and she was a living being, so therefore she was entitled to food. That idea was entirely novel to her--the notion that nourishment was a right of the living.
With a smile on her face, and with her second marshmallow roasting to a turn, she understood that it was fine to enjoy what she was eating.
Ben watched Rey smile as she twirled her marshmallow in the fire. It felt natural to him to reach toward her and rub his hand over her back.
When Rey felt Ben’s gentle touch, she leaned toward him, still keeping her eyes on the progress of her roasting marshmallow. Priorities were priorities, after all.
She felt his warm, callused hand move up the back of her neck to stroke the tendrils of loose hair there. “Mmmmm,” she sighed as he played with her hair. She looked questioningly up at him, catching his eye. Color flowed into his face as he met her gaze.
He felt a sudden need to explain himself to her, because he knew the significance of what he wanted to do, but mostly because she didn’t.
“So, in Alderaanian culture, someone who loves you takes down your hair at night. We--my father and I--used to take down my mother’s hair.”
“What are you saying, Ben?” Rey’s question came with a wide-eyed hazel stare that threatened to undo him.
“I’m . . . asking if I can take down your hair,” he replied simply, his face still burning.
“And I’m giving you permission,” she answered, her gaze still fixed on the end of her stick.
He took her at her word, his hand immediately sliding into her hair to release the tie that held the lowest of her three buns. Surprisingly smoothly, he released the tie, then slipped his fingers through her freed hair, massaging her scalp a little before his hand moved up to undo her middle bun. This felt so good; his touch moved soothingly over her head. She let out a contented noise as she scooted nearer to him.
Her sweet sigh tugged on all his nerves as she moved closer. She liked this. Couldn’t she feel his hand shaking? Maybe she couldn’t, or maybe it didn’t matter. He tried not to dwell on the words she’d said when she’d allowed him to undo her hair. Surely, she’d realized what she was saying.
Ben loosened and released her top bun just as she pulled her marshmallow from the fire, blowing on it to cool it, biting it as he smoothed her hair. Rey felt sweetness in her mouth and sweetness behind her as Ben’s large hand continued its soft progress across her scalp. He seemed to have taken her seriously when she’d permitted him to let her hair down. She’d toasted her marshmallow a little longer than before, and it was even gooier this time.
Rey finished the last bite of her marshmallow and had to set her stick aside, next to her on the floor before the hearth. The tasty treat was exceptional, of course, but Ben’s eyes on her promised deliciousness beyond anything she’d ever imagined. She settled herself further into his embrace and looked up at him, their faces inches apart.
In silent mutual assent, each moved to close the distance, and their lips met softly. The kiss was marshmallow-flavored, a little sticky, and everything either of them had ever wanted but never knew.