A/N: Cross posted to AO3 because that's where my fics will be living going forward. I will only post first chapters from each fandom here and then redirect over to AO3 in the hope of making sure everybody who would want to know, does know. I'm under the same username over there, and have another Star Wars fic brewing, so do go find me. Hope you enjoy this.
She is nowhere.
All at once.
The galaxy is racing through her mind, and she feels, she feels as if she's spread across several lightyears, as if her atoms have turned to dust but each one of them is still connected to its counterparts, as if she still exists among the stars.
It's not so bad. Far from it in fact.
She is no longer burdened with the weight of her tasks. Her shoulders - if she has shoulders - feel light, relieved, knowing that she has achieved her aim, and the people she loves live on.
There will be heavy losses today, but peace will follow, a galaxy that can thrive without the constant threat of the First Order. She sort of wants to know what it would be like. But she is content with her place in this story. Her purpose has been served, her questions answered, and she goes to the stars knowing she was so, so loved.
There are worse ways to go.
She's not really going.
There is a shift in the force, something small, but something she associates with him. Perhaps he's here too. And perhaps that's for the best.
Perhaps they could even find each other.
But then there is a tug, which she has felt before as well - towards him. Only ever him.
Her atoms draw closer together, and the galaxy withdraws from her mind. She starts feeling altogether more solid. And tired.
Her arms hurt.
She hadn't realised she'd not been seeing anything. Until her vision returns, and there he is, looking down upon her, his brown eyes shining brightly with relief.
"Ben?" The word is soft and hopeful on her lips. But then he nods the smallest of nods. His hair flickers with the movement, and she wants to reach out and touch him. His hand is on her stomach, and now she realises what he's doing, what he's giving her.
She takes his hand, and pulls it away.
"That's quite enough," she tells him.
"No," he murmurs, and he shakes his head, twisting his hand in hers so he can grip it tightly, and carry on with his one-off gift. She feels the life force flow into her, and she snatches her hand away, as if she's been burned.
"Ben no." Her throat is tight with unshed tears. She has lost too much to this war. She won't lose him as well. She can't.
"I have no place in this new world," he says in a broken whisper. "You know that. And I'm the reason you're here in the first place. If I'd been strong enough to resist..."
"You have a place," she tells him, reaching up to cup his face with her trembling palm. "With me."
He blinks, his over bright eyes perilously close to shedding tears. "Half a life though?" He pulls her closer to him, his arms solid around her, grounding her to reality. "That's all we have between us, and I can't take that from you."
"Half a life with you sounds a whole lot better than an entire life without," she says. "Wouldn't you agree?" She brushes his hair back from his face, and his eyes meet hers at last. In that moment, she knows she has won. He doesn't need to say the words for her to know it to be true. And so she leans into him, her lips meeting his.
His reaction is immediate, and she knows, deep down in her gut that he has wanted this - perhaps even longer than she has. She had thought it an impossibility, her last hope lost, but here he is, at the end of all things with her.
She pulls away, and is rewarded with the sight of Ben Solo's smile. She's never seen it before, and it's beautiful. So beautiful that she wants to cry for all the years he hasn't worn it. For all the years that he has gone without reason to feel happy.
Rey wraps her arms around him, resting her face in the crook of his neck. She closes her eyes, and can feel his heartbeat - perhaps through the force, perhaps in real life. They are bound so exquisitely to one another that it can be hard to tell sometimes.
"Half a life," she murmurs. "That's still decades. We're only young."
"I guess so," he says, his warm breath fluttering against her neck.
She knows they need to move, that they need to get off this planet before the Emperor's ships come crashing down to the surface. But after all this time, she feels she has earned a moment of indulgence. And so she stays there, comfortable, content, and inhales deeply, revelling in their closeness.
"We need to move," he says.
"I know." It's with regret that she disentangles herself from him. The feeling only deepens when she realises they'll have to fly home in separate craft. She'll have to keep an eye out to make sure he doesn't get shot out of the sky. Unless...
"I should fly the TIE fighter," she decides. "I can radio ahead, tell them it's me."
"Are you sure?" he asks.
She nods, and clambers to her feet. His leg is in an awkward position - he's hurt, badly. They can get patched up the old fashioned way, back at the base. She holds out her hand.
He takes it.
"This is so undignified," he says.
"There are less dignified ways to get you into that cockpit," she says, her arm stretched before her, fingers taut as the energy flows through her. She's going as quickly as she dare - the explosions overhead a dangerous ticking clock. She can't risk further damage to his leg. He's barely well enough to fly as it is.
She deposits him in the cockpit with only a minor bump. "Put your helmet on," she says, tossing the tatty orange and white helmet to him. He regards it with a raised eyebrow that suggests it won't provide much protection, but does as he's told.
Once she's satisfied, Rey sprints across to the TIE fighter, hauling the canopy open and hurling herself into the pilot's seat. She flicks the switches that she is so familiar with, from abandoned wrecks coated with decades of sand. The ship comes to life, and she patches a line through to the Falcon.
She hears a jubilant scream, and then Finn's voice. "Rey? You okay?" He's breathless, urgent, but alive, and she can't help the grin that spreads across her face.
"I'm fine," she says. "But I need you to get a message out to all those ships."
"Sure thing," Lando replies. "Fire away."
"I"m in a TIE fighter," she tells him, and she hurriedly fastens the safety harness. The engines of the X-Wing are firing up, and she can see him, twisted in his seat to look at her. Waiting for her.
"Why?" Finn asks.
"No time," Rey cuts him off. "But just, don't shoot me down please."
The message goes out to the hundreds of ships above them, and she drags the TIE fighter into the sky, Ben following in the X-Wing. The controls are clunky, jerky, and she doesn't care for it at all. At least Ben's ship had handled well. The response had been near instant.
"Turn on the traction inhibitor." His voice is inside her head.
"But - "
"Trust me. No one's flown that ship in thirty years."
She flicks the toggle switch, and immediately her speed slows, but the ride becomes smoother. He slows his pace in the X-Wing to fall into line with her, but then there's a crackle on the radio.
"Rey?" It's Finn. "Who's in the X-Wing?"
She wishes she could see his face, but this stupid ship is obscuring her vision with its ridiculous cockpit and even more ridiculous wings.
"We'll talk about it back at the base," she says. She's annoyed by the tremor in her voice, belying the fight that she knows must come. She's fought enough for one day, and she can't take any more. But she knows in her heart of hearts that it will come, and she owes it to her friends to give them an explanation.
There is a crackle, and the sound comes through a little fainter as Finn switches over to a private channel.
"Is it him?"
Rey breathes deeply. She doesn't know how to answer the question, and she doesn't have the energy for an argument over the comms channel.
"Yes Finn, it's me."
Rey's breath catches in her throat, and a whole host of outcomes flash through her mind. She can't help but focus on the image of a flaming X-Wing falling through the stars.
"What the?" Finn's outrage is overcome by indignant curiosity. "This is a private channel, how are you even - ?"
"You're still connected to the X-Wing." Ben's voice echoes over the channel, and it feels good to hear it. It's different now, without the stress and pressure exerted on him by the First Order, by Snoke, by Palpatine. It's calm.
The outburst from Finn gets distorted over the channel, and perhaps it's good thing. She catches words here and there, and a garbled snippet of something that might be 'outta your mind?' but the TIE fighter's water ravaged systems take care of the rest for her.
"Can you save this conversation until she's recovered?" Ben asks. "She needs to rest. Can we agree on that at least? Please?"
The corner of Rey's mouth quirks with a smile. It's an impossible statement to argue with. Ben Solo has positioned himself as a reasonable, measured man. Nothing will throw the Rebellion off more so than that.
"Since when do you talk for her, hmm?" Finn asks. "She's got a mouth, hasn't she? She can speak, can't she?"
"Finn, she nearly died fighting Palpatine. She doesn't have the energy to argue with you. Plus..." he trails off for a moment, but Finn doesn't interject. "It doesn't make any difference if I tell you to shut up - you hate me already anyway."
It's a fair point, and even Finn must concede it, because his next words are for Rey and for Rey only.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah," she replies. "Just tired."
She supposes they're all tired. Every single one of them. But the base isn't too far away, and if this old crate can make the jump to light speed they should be back soon enough.
"Okay," Finn says. "I'll see you back at base."
His voice is in her head again. "Are you gonna be okay?"
"Yeah fine," she says. She wishes she could see him. Just to know he's still here. Still real.
He reaches out for her through the force, and the world slips away for a moment. It's as if he's sitting next to her, as though the TIE fighter and the X-Wing have been welded together to create a hybrid ship. His left hand is next to her right one. He flexes his fingers - an invitation.
She takes it.
She blames the bumpy landing on the ship. And then her exhaustion. And then just the heady realisation that they've done it. They've defeated the First Order. Upon re-entry, the TIE fighter has, in fact, taken out half a dozen trees.
Ben tosses his helmet to the ground, lifts himself out of the cockpit and drops himself to the ground, landing painfully on his good ankle. Her vision is starting to blur, and with tired fingers she unclips the harness holding her fast against the seat. The acrid stench of fried electrics makes her nose twitch, but then he's there, heaving open the canopy and reaching in to pull her out.
"What are you doing?" he asks, his voice trembling. Rey grabs his arm to steady herself and realises he's sweating. His ankle must be bad.
"I just hit a few trees, nothing sinister...I mean...serious."
"Look at me." He's cupping her face, and she manages to open her eyes just long enough to meet his troubled gaze. "Come on," he says, and he puts his arm around her waist, dragging her onwards while her feet scuff against the undergrowth.
The sun is bright when they emerge from the trees, and there's a hive of activity taking place around them. She can't see any of it - opening her eyes is far too much effort, and the sounds are becoming harder and harder to distinguish.
"What the hell's he doing here?"
Footsteps, frantic, grow louder.
"She crashed the TIE fighter," Ben says. "Help me with her, I can't carry her - my leg."
"Med transport!" yells Finn at the top of his lungs. "Poe take her from him."
She's loaded onto the transport, and the world grows quieter around her. But all she can feel is his absence.
She holds out a hand in the darkness.
He takes it.