Arriving within the planet’s atmosphere, every member of the Resistance was rendered speechless from the desolation that sprawled out as far as they could see.
Somehow… the war had already happened without them.
When they’d left, every destroyer in the Imperial fleet had hovered in place, menacingly prepared to journey across unknown regions to the many populated systems of the galaxy.
Now, towers of flames burned out of what remained of the monstrous hulks of metal as the fuel meant for that journey was consumed.
Each time fire made it to a munitions hold, a series of explosions would rock the inside of the ships. The lingering explosions continued setting off within them, the sound of them making the surface of the planet even more of a hellish place to be.
The oddest part of all of it was there appeared to be a pattern within the destruction. Rather than precisely lined up like they’d been before, the remains of the fleet appeared to be scattered out away from the temple. It looked as if a singular blast from within had caused all the destruction below.
The temple itself was split apart from the inside as well, further evidence that a blast from inside of it was the cause of it all.
“What the hell happened….” Poe said heavily. As much of a relief as it was to see the Emperor’s fleet defeated, the sight below was a sobering one. Though those on board the ships were enemies, the loss of life would be catastrophic.
The thought of who they’d left behind in the middle of the devastation weighed especially hard on his heart.
As they flew over the planet’s surface, surveying the wreckage to try and figure out what to do next, tiny white dots could be seen struggling frantically to get out and away from the burning hulls of the ships they’d occupied. Those already on the ground were milling around in total shock at what had just happened.
As traumatized as they appeared to be, it was clear they were the lucky ones.
The sight of stormtroopers escaping from the ships was a relief to Finn. His knowledge of destroyers layouts told him the troopers stationed in the lower parts of the ships had a much better chance of getting out- that is, those that hadn’t died in the initial blast or the crashes that followed. The command on the bridges up top would have had a nearly impossible chance of surviving.
A lack of officers present would make their job of getting troops to surrender much easier.
Sensing a pause from Poe, Finn jumped in and began giving orders.
“Everyone- get down to the surface as quickly as you can. It’s clear an aerial battle isn’t happening today. Stay on your guard though. The wreckage is anything but stable and we don’t know what we’ll be facing once we get down there. Storm troopers who surrender immediately and those searching for survivors- let them do it. They’re pawns in all of this, remember that. Don’t stop them from searching for their brothers and sisters. Any officers and command found alive however- take them into custody to be arrested and tried.”
There was a pause as he switched channels to talk to Poe through the command link.
“We’ll need to send a search and rescue team into what’s left of the temple... I can tell Rey’s in there. She’s weak and…”
The link went silent for a moment
“What, Finn, what is it?!” Poe’s heart froze in his chest as he waited to hear what else Finn had to say.
Finn paused as he’d thought he recognized a presence with her. It was the last presence he’d expected to sense by her side, even being the last person he’d seen her with.
There was something different… very different. This person wasn’t a dark tortured soul he remembered, but happy… joyful even, in spite of the terrible pain he was experiencing…
Even more confusing… Rey was happy to be with him.
“Finn, do you copy?!” Poe tried again. “What is it? What’s wrong with Rey?”
Finn shook the thoughts of who it might have been from his head, figuring his untrained abilities had caused the confusion.
He couldn’t begin to guess who it actually might be.
“There’s… someone with her… he’s hurt...”
Poe’s heart leapt in his chest, remembering the last person she’d been seen with on Kef Bir.
It was all the hope he needed.
Crouching together in shock from all that just happened, hearing the sounds of ships flying over, Ben and Rey hoped the chaos had finally come to an end.
It turned out the Force had one final miracle for them before it left them in peace to figure out what to do next.
From the shards of the Dyadic Crystal, small whisps of light began to escape and float out, disappearing as they became one with the Force.
They recognized right away what it signified.
They were fragments of the souls of those who’d helped them, they'd had been trapped inside the stone the whole time. Those remnants had been the echos they’d heard when the stone had first risen.
While making love to each other, they'd had no way of knowing the stone would trap a part of their soul within it forever once the ritual was completed. If that had happened, they’d have been tied to the stone forever, their physical bodies unable to leave Exegol.
Even in the afterlife, their souls would have remained trapped here. Remembering all those who had appeared to them, it had clearly been the fate of those who’d come before.
Breaking the stone had released the last remnants of souls it had trapped, freeing them to finally become one with the Force as they were meant to be. Watching the sparks of light disappearing gave them a sense of peace they desperately needed with all that was going on around them.
After the last spark of light faded, the wonder of the moment was shattered as the pain of Ben’s injuries suddenly hit him. He moaned out in agony as he let go of Rey, grabbing his side and rolling over on the ground to lay next to her.
Rey looked over him in horror for a moment, sensing where the worst of his injures were. He wasn’t losing any blood, all of the damage had been internal. Still, the pain of such injuries was nothing minimal.
She knelt, placing her hands on him as she tried to summon whatever energy he could spare within herself to heal them.
Ben’s hands flew up, stopping her as soon as he realized what she was doing.
“Don’t even try it...” He winced, his eyes insistent. “It’s just… broken ribs, a broken leg… not life threatening… I can heal the old fashioned way…”
“But you’re hurting so much!” Rey protested
He wouldn’t hear any of it.
“That took nearly took all we had…. There’s barely enough energy in either of us… to remain conscious.”
As depleted as Rey felt she knew the truth of it. Still, it went against everything in her heart to sit and watch him in pain like this.
“Just let me heal some of it- to make it a little easier?”
“Not a chance… We’re just figuring this stuff out… As weak as you are… I’m not risking you disappearing on me.”
“I won’t let that happen. I’ll know to stop before-“
“Do you?” He cut her off again. His eyebrows were raised to let her know he could sense just how little she’d practiced the healing arts, as naturally as she took to them.
As Rey thought about it, she realized he had a point. She’d brought back two souls from life threatening injuries in the past few days, and had nearly everything taken out of her from the ritual. Anymore draining of her life energy might risk the last bit of what was left.
“I suppose I see your point.” She sighed; frustrated she didn’t know more of what to do.
“Smart woman.” He said laying his head back on the ground and staring at the sky as he tried to focus on something else to distract from the pain.
“What can I do to make you more comfortable?” Rey asked, hating to see him in the state he was in.
“A pillow would be great… or a blanket… the floor is… it’s a little cold.”
Rey looked around the space, searching for what remained.
What was left of the mattress was crumpled in a heap nearby. Countless crystal shards stuck out of the back of it like pins on a pincushion. She realized they were lucky to have had it below them. It had taken the worst of the blast.
She spotted the blanket and pillows nearby that had been thrown with them. Their clothes were still crumpled near the base of where the altar had been. She summoned all of them immediately.
She put her clothes on right away, realizing her tease of standing naked in front of him wasn’t helping Ben’s mind relax.
Getting Ben’s boxers on proved to be the limit of what pain he could handle. Moving around to get them on had forced him to twist and bend in the last ways he wanted to move.
“No more…” He said as she got them pulled up. “Just… the blanket. There’s no chance I’m getting my shirt or pants on.”
Looking around the space again she realized she had a better idea.
She wrapped him in the blanket as she got to work.
She summoned what remained of the mattress. With the help of the razor sharp shards, after a few minutes she had it’s fabric cut into long strips.
Gently and carefully she wrapped the black strips around him, like bandages where he needed support, draping them as covering elsewhere. The skills she’d gained growing up making all of her own clothes from scraps of worn out sunshades came in handy as she tied the last of it together.
“You look just like a scavenger…” Rey smiled. “…if scavengers wore velvet.”
“It wouldn’t be a bad life as long as you were with me.” Ben said. He let his eyes rest as he envisioned the two of them on the sands of Jakuu together, far away from anything or anyone in the galaxy that cared who they were...
“I can think of much better ways we could spend our time.” Rey sighed.
“Like what?” Ben loved listening to the sound of her voice. It was the only thing that took his mind off of the pain, and their future together was the perfect topic to keep his mind distracted.
“Well… training some padawans of our own… trying to figure this balance thing out once and for all…”
“Just so long as attachment isn’t forbidden. I think we’ve failed that part miserably.”
“I’m not sure failed is the right term.” She noticed Ben fidgeting as if something was making him uncomfortable. “What is it?”
“This part right here… it could be a little loser.”
Rey set to adjusting the wraps around his waist. As she finished, she realized just how good he looked wrapped up in black velvet, even if it was just scraps.
"What?" Ben asked noticing her staring at him.
“Bit of a confession- it used to drive me insane how good you looked in black. Now I don't mind it so much...”
Rey's teasing brought a smile to his face, making her realize humor might be the best way to handle where they found themselves.
“I guess we can tell people you lost your clothes in the fight...” She went on.
“I mean… in a way that’s true.” Ben smirked as he started to laugh. The laughter was cut short as he gripped his side again. It hurt too much to laugh.
“You won’t let me take a tiny bit of the pain? I promise I’ll be careful not to give too much.”
Ben stared up at her blankly; a look that let her know this wasn’t up for debate.
“Even if you just took a little, you might still pass out. I’m not about to make you pass out on top of just having your first time in front of a bunch of Sith. Trust me- I can handle a little pain.”
Something about the way he’d said that stuck out to Rey. “My first time? That wasn’t your first time?”
Ben looked embarrassed for a moment, as if he wasn’t sure what to say.
“There’s never been any other woman but you.” He finally said.
Her heart melted hearing he was just as inexperienced as she was. Thought she’d sensed part of him had been as nervous as she was, part of him had also been so sure of himself…
She’d thought there had to have been someone else that had come before.
Hearing there hadn’t been made her realize what an incredible lover he really was.
“Just sit here with me…” Ben went on. “Having you close makes the pain a little easier to manage.”
“I’m right here.” She promised.
She scooted up behind him, putting the pillow under his head in her lap as she spread his hair out to run her fingers through it. She’d often daydreamed about having him look up at her like this. She hoped the affection would be just what needed to take his mind off things.
“Is that alright?” She asked.
“That’s… wonderful.” He replied, his head leaning into her fingers on his scalp as she found a particularly great spot to itch.
After a bit she could tell he was still hurting, and looked around trying to think of something else to talk about. She’d sensed hearing her talk had been a helpful distraction earlier.
Looking down at her clothes, she realized just how dingy her white garments were after all she’d been through.
“I suppose white isn’t the most practical color for a fighter….” She sighed, remembering their earlier conversation about clothes.
Just then a thought hit Ben, one perfectly in line with all they’d experienced during the ritual.
“What about Grey?”
“For that new order of padawans you were talking about. If we’re going to teach balance, we can start by getting the look right.”
A slow smile came over Rey, realizing what he was saying.
“Grey sounds perfect.”
“Mistress Rey and Master Ben, General Dameron is here to see you.” 3PO announced as he entered Ben’s hospital room.
The nap both had been attempting to drift off to was cut short as Ben’s eyes shot open.
Rey awoke to a sense of both excitement and conflict exploding with in him- right before walls went up in his mind to hide the rest of whatever it was he was feeling.
“Are you alright?” Rey asked, sitting up.
“Yeah, yeah… I’m fine.. I um, it’s nothing.”
“Are you sure Master Ben?” 3PO said coming over, suddenly concerned. “ This monitor is indicating your pulse has skyrocketed and-“
“I said I’m fine, 3PO!” Ben shot Back.
Rey raised her eyebrows to let 3PO know to leave it.
As much pain as he was in on top of all he’d been through, Ben had been anything but predictable since settling in at the hospital. A tension had come over him... one Rey had trouble understanding.
Though he’d broken free of the dark side, he still had no shortage of demons to contend with.
Faced with integrating back into a world he’d once run from, he was suddenly so unsure of himself. It broke her heart to see how he was struggling with his new reality. She did her best to be as patient as she could as they adjusted to their new normal together.
“Right, as I was saying… General Dameron has arrived to see you both.”
“Really?!” Rey asked surprised. She hadn’t expected any visitors that evening. Most of her friends had avoided seeing her in Ben’s hospital room, hearing who she’d brought back with her.
Fortunately, his attachment to Rey and having wiped out the entire Imperial fleet together seemed to have pardoned Ben in their minds of any wrong doing.
Still, their welcome back as a pair had been anything but warm.
“Why, yes!” 3P0 replied. “He’s here to see both of you! He’s one of Master Ben’s oldest friends, all the way back from the days of their childho-“
Ben suddenly moaned loudly, dramatically grabbing his side as if the pain was getting to him again.
“What is it?! Should I call the nurse droid back?!” Rey asked, jumping to her feet and looking for the call remote. A part of her panicked from the pain he appeared to be experiencing… yet part of her was mystified by the fact that she didn’t sense any actual increase in pain coming from him.
“I’m fine… it’s nothing.” Ben mumbled. Suddenly he was as calm as he’d been before.
“It doesn’t sound like nothing.” She said skeptically.
Ben looked back at her blankly, unsure what else to say.
3PO’s head swiveled looking back and forth between the two of them, puzzled by the human interaction taking place.
“Should I tell him to come back later or-“
“NO! Don’t do that. Send him in.” Ben cut him off.
Ben’s sudden excitement over a visitor was the biggest surprise of all- one Rey wasn’t about to question.
“You heard him 3PO, send him in.” She said.
Where Rey had expected to see someone as drained from battle and guarded as the rest of her friends had been with her after hearing about her new companion, Poe appeared to be in the best mood she’d seen him in a while.
A sense of excitement and hope shone in his eyes- one she hadn’t seen in some time if ever.
And yet, there was something else…
The moment his eyes met hers, a conflict in him flared that she didn’t recognize.
She swallowed hard as she assumed it was the same conflict everyone else had upon seeing her again.
She did her best to put it out of her mind...
That is, until she realized she was sensing absolutely nothing from Ben.
He still had walls up mind to keep her from sensing what he was feeling.
“How goes it you two?” Poe said, doing his best to smile as he stood at the end of the bed.
Rey tried to think of where to begin. “We’re more than a little exhausted and poor Ben here has seen better days but… nothing the nurse droids and a heavy schedule of painkillers can’t fix.”.
She suddenly felt a bit like a third wheel as she noticed Poe barely looking at her.
She began to wonder if it had to do with the fact that she’d heard Zorii had been distant with him since getting back from Exegol.
Seeing friends in the throws of new love while his own love life was struggling can’t have been easy…
“How are you?” Ben blurted out, feeling like an idiot as soon as he said it.
There was so much more he wanted to say, but in their present company he couldn’t possibly share any of it. It was... maddening.
“I’m great.” Poe lied. “I thought we’d have our work cut out for us on Exegol but you two seemed to have cleaned things up pretty well.”
Rey smiled at Ben as he stared out the window. Neither of them said a word.
Poe didn’t need the Force to tell Exegol was something they didn’t want to talk about. The trauma of it appeared to have affected them a lot more than he’d imagined.
With all he’d seen, he fully understood.
He’d read the official report more than once, having a hard time understanding any of it.
Some catastrophic fight between them and the Emperor…
Something about their Force bond channeling a power under the temple that had wiped out everything on the planet other than the two of them...
It was more Force stuff than Poe could begin to understand. In that sense, he wasn’t worried about being spared the details.
“So what’s the plan from here on out?” He asked, trying to change the subject. “You two thinking of coming back to Coruscant with us?”
“We haven’t really made it that far yet.” Rey sighed, unable to take her eyes off Ben. Specific plans for the future were a lot to think about so soon after all that had happened.
Wherever they ended up, all that mattered was they’d be together.
Sensing her eyes on him, Ben’s gaze went back to her.
The way they looked at each other for a moment made Poe’s heart feel like it was being ripped apart.
He knew that look so well.
It was the same way he and Ben had looked at each other, during a time in their lives that felt like a very, very long time go.
He swallowed hard as the feeling got to be overwhelming. He quickly realized he wasn’t going to be able to stay and catch up as long as he’d hoped.
“You two look exhausted.” He finally said, doing his best to hold his emotions back. “I’d better let you guys get some rest. If there’s anything you need from me- figuring out where you want to go from here- don’t hesitate to let me know.”
As he turned to leave Ben finally found the ability speak again.
“It’s really good to see you!” He blurted out, again feeling like the dumbest person alive for not being able to think of anything else to say.
Poe had a hint of a smile as he turned to look back before heading out the door. “Always good to see you too, Ben.”
The way he said “Ben” sounded like he’d waited a very long time to say it... which Rey supposed made sense considering they’d been childhood friends as 3PO had mentioned.
After a few moments of watching Ben staring hopelessly lost in thought at the now empty doorway, Rey went over and made sure to shut it, giving them the privacy they needed.
“What was that about?” She asked returning to sit on the bed.
Ben stared down at his lap, unsure what to say. The walls he’d had in place the whole time were still firmly up. If Rey didn’t know any better, she’d have guessed he was holding back tears.
“Nothing… just, like 3PO said, we used to know each other- a long time ago.”
“Used to know each other? It looks to me like you still do... Hopefully it feels good for things to be getting back to the way they used to be?”
As soon as she’d said it Rey could tell that was the wrong thing to say.
Ben laid back and turned his head to look out the window again. He shut his eyes as he exhaled deeply, appearing to try to get back to the nap that had been interrupted before.
The grief she felt in his heart had been the last thing she’d expected to feel as the walls in his mind came down while surrendering to sleep.
Rey couldn’t make sense of any of it.
If they’d been friends before, and Poe was clearly willing to reach out and try to reconnect with him, why was Ben’s heart aching as if he’d lost him?
She sat silently at the edge of the bed for a bit as she tried to think of what it could have been that she’d said wrong….
Though they felt like they’d known each other their entire lives, the more time she spent with Ben, the more she realized how complicated his past was. She was beginning to realize how hard it would be to help him feel like himself again.
She couldn’t avoid yawning as she felt the weight of all that lay ahead come over her. At the present moment, there wasn’t much she could do to solve the great mystery of Ben’s past right way, nor could she make the things he had to face any easier for him- other than to support him as he worked through it.
Finding himself again was his journey, and she’d make sure to be there for him however he needed her every step of the way.
She tried to put all of that out of her mind as she curled up next to him again. She was grateful the planet they’d regrouped on was Ord Mantell- a planet with a larger sentient species than humans. Larger hospital beds made it easy to curl up together, while allowing Ben to stretch out on his injured side like he needed to heal.
As she drifted off to sleep watching his chest rise and fall, she felt certain whatever it was that was troubling him about seeing his childhood friend again, he’d tell her in his own time.
However long that took, she’d be here whenever he was ready.
She knew all about waiting.