He wishes he could talk to his mom.
He is in such desperate need for straightforward advice from someone who loves him. He would give anything to hear her voice right now, even if she were to yell at him for all the terrible things he's done. Even if she spent a solid hour telling him how stupid he is for not coming home sooner. For leaving it too late. Far too late.
"Leia." The word comes in a gasp from Poe, and Ben looks up. She's standing - surrounded by a blue haze - just behind Finn, who whirls around and takes a step back.
"Generals," she says with a smile, looking from Finn to Poe. "Could I possibly have a moment with my son?"
Finn nods wordlessly, and leaves the med bay. Poe's hand slips from Ben's shoulder and he follows, pausing at Leia's side. His mouth is open, but the words fail to come.
"I'm so proud of you all," she says to him, and the words - words which Ben would have heard, had he been a better son - sting more than he'd like.
Poe nods, his lips pressed together as a single tear trails down his cheek. When he closes the door behind him, she circles around the bed, coming to a halt next to Ben's chair.
Although he's sitting down, she's only a few inches taller than him.
"Mom." The word nearly chokes him, but when she holds him, she feels as real as anything. "I'm sorry," he says. It's long overdue.
"I know," she says, her hands stroking his hair. "Me too."
He wants to hold on forever, to make up for all the years he went without love. But there's a far more pressing issue - all the years he has ahead of him, without Rey.
"I don't want to be here, if she's not."
His mom looks down at him, her eyes bright, and she brushes the tears from his face with her fingertips. "Don't be so dramatic," she says.
"I know. You think anybody ever does? Do you honestly think you're the first person who wants to switch places with the person they love?"
"I have a choice though."
He'd not wanted an argument. But of course, it's what he's getting.
"You're so focused on how you'd rather die than live without her," his mom sighs. "That you're completely forgetting that neither of you need to die."
"But I gave her half my life force already," Ben tells her. "And it's not working."
She shakes her head, letting out an exasperated sigh. "Get your head out of your ass, Ben. She stopped you as soon as she woke up! You gave her a pittance."
The news jolts through him. How could he be so stupid? And her, as well? How could she be lying there, at death's door, without entertaining the possibility that he might have a little more to give?
"How do you know?" he asks. "Because I can't tell, how can I tell?"
"Of course you can't tell," his mom says, reaching out hand to brush his hair from his face. She's smiling now, indulgent, looking at him in a way that he hasn't been looked at for more than a decade. "You're her, she's you. You're both too wrapped up in the other to tell where one of you ends and the other begins. It'd be beautiful, if it weren't so stupidly dangerous."
He doesn't have time to think on her words. He needs solutions, something to solidify Rey's place in the world. Something that will guarantee her safety - his own be damned. "So how do I fix it? She won't let me give her any more, she'd be furious with me."
"As ever, you need to find the balance. I'm sure you can think of something."
He frowns. "That's it?" She's come all the way here as a force ghost and that's all she's going to give him? A hint? He's too exhausted, too fragile, too desperate to solve any riddles right now. What he wants more than anything is a straightforward instruction, one that will bring Rey back, so that they can live their half life together, like they planned.
"You're a smart boy," she says. "You can figure it out."
"But - "
"You'll be fine," she says, and she wraps her arms around him, pulling him into a hug. "I'm so proud of you, Ben," she whispers. She presses her lips to his temple, and in the same instant, she disappears, taking all of her warmth and love with her.
The second she's gone, the door opens again. Finn and Poe are there, watching him as he wipes his face with the cuff of his sleeve.
"I can save her," he tells them. He doesn't know how, but ideas are stirring in his mind. But all the time he spends waiting for them to become tangible is time that Rey spends edging closer and closer to death.
"What do you need?" asks Poe.
"Uh, somewhere...somewhere quiet," he stammers. He puts his arms around Rey's motionless form and lifts her up.
"The Falcon?" Poe suggests.
"No," Ben says, shaking his head. "Not there. Not there." He can't even begin to think about stepping foot on that ship. Not yet. Not when he needs to focus everything he has on Rey.
"There's a clearing," Finn says, "in the forest. There's a little stream. It's away from everywhere else."
Ben nods. "Take me there."
Finn turns on his heel, and Ben's first step is agony, but he forces it from his mind. There are more important things than his leg.
"D'you need help with her?" Poe asks.
Ben shakes his head. He has to do this. All of it. Then, if it goes wrong, he only has himself to blame.
The clearing is as Finn described. Shaded by trees, the noise of the base is a distant murmur. The leaves are crunchy underfoot, and the gentle trickle of the stream helps to calm Ben's racing pulse.
"Perfect," he says, and he slowly gets to his knees, taking Rey down with him. He sits on the ground, positioning her in front of him, her back to his chest.
"Do you want us to leave?" asks Finn.
Ben shakes his head. "No, you have to stay. She might need your help if it goes wrong."
"What could go wrong?" Poe asks taking a step forward, his face lined with worry.
"I dunno," Ben says with a shrug. "Lots of things, probably. But we're out of options, and out of time."
Poe nods, his jaw set. Finn can't keep the concern from his face.
"Is there anything we can do?" he asks.
"I just need you to be quiet," Ben says. "And..."
The words don't come. He's ready to face the possibility, but not ready to express it to two people who don't really care one way or the other, as long as they get Rey back. He's a sacrifice they're willing to make, which is fair enough. But it doesn't make for the kindest audience for what could be his last words.
"If I die doing this," he says slowly, taking Rey's hands in his own. He laces his fingers through hers, relishing in her realness. "Tell her I'm sorry. And that it wasn't part of the plan."
Finn nods. "Okay," he says. "We'll tell her."
Ben believes him. And so he begins.
He closes his eyes and shuts out everything except Rey, that faint light in the darkness. He breathes deeply, his chin resting against the side of her head, her hair squashed against his shoulder.
He lets the force rise within him, the energy building and building and building, and then, slowly but surely, it trickles through to her, the light becoming brighter and brighter. The more he gives to her, the more he can feel her.
Rey's light surrounds him, flows through him, and this, this is what he was missing last time. They are one, truly, and wholly, within the force. It's not his life force or her life force. They're not bartering between one another. It's theirs. It doesn't matter from which of them each atom originated, because he is her and she is him.
He wants to stay like this forever, wrapped in her spirit, feeling nothing but warmth, and love, and light. But there are days, months, and years to come. Where they can build a life full of all of those things.
Ben breaks away from her, and falls back onto the ground. There's a pounding of footsteps as Finn and Poe rush forward.
"Ben?" It's Poe. "Come on buddy, sit up."
He's exhausted, dazed, but he's still here.
"I need to lie down," he says, feeling around for a comfortable spot.
"You already are," Finn replies, and he puts a steadying hand on Ben's shoulder, anchoring him to the forest floor.
"Is she okay?" the words are slurred, and he wonders if he's gone too far. He's yet to hear her voice, though her presence in the force is much stronger, much closer than it's been in days.
She's tired too, her voice croaky and strained. Ben reaches for her, his arms wrapping around her. Her position explains the weight on his chest, and his left hand moves to her hair, to loop his fingers into the soft knots at the back of her head.
He feels like he could sleep for a thousand years, and with her, laying here with him, it doesn't sound like such a bad idea.
"Get a transport." Finn's voice. "Let's get them both back to the med bay."
There's a crinkle of leaves as Poe sprints away, and Ben lets himself fall, deep, deep, deep, deep.
She is here.
Perfectly, solidly here.
She reaches out with her mind. Ben is close by, physically. He's resting. Which is good.
Rey opens her eyes, squinting up at the harsh lighting of the med bay. The data screen next to her bed is tracking her heart beat with little blue spikes on the display.
"Hey," Rose says softly, leaning forward in her chair, placing a hand on Rey's arm. She's smiling, her eyes bright. "How are you feeling?"
"He's fine," Rose tells her, and she nods towards Rey's other side. Rey turns her head on the pillow and sees him there, his data screen showing little blue spikes in tandem with her own. "He's resting, but he's fine. All this Jedi stuff is thirsty work, it seems."
Rey smiles, satisfied that Ben is okay.
"Where are Finn and Poe?" she asks, turning back to Rose. Her hair is piled in a messy knot on top of her head, her sleeves rolled up, a faint grease stain on one forearm.
"Sleeping," Rose replies. "It's the middle of the night."
"Rose, what are you doing here? You should be in bed!"
"Relax," Rose says. "Poe took the morning shift, Finn the evening shift, and I'm on the night shift. Somebody's gotta watch over you two."
It's been a long time coming, and a hard fought battle. But Rey lies there, processing the notion of having a family. She is surrounded by people she loves, who love her. Who sit by her bedside, just in case.
Just in case.
"Thank you," she says softly. "Go to bed though, we'll be fine."
"You sure?" Rose asks, quirking one eyebrow. It's only now that Rey notices the dark circles under her eyes.
"Very sure," she replies. She covers Rose's hand with her own and gives it a small squeeze. "Sleep well."
Rose nods, gets to her feet, and then heads for the door. Rey rolls over, so she can watch Ben, see that his heart rate is still as strong as it was just a few minutes ago. She wants him to wake up, she wants to be able to talk to him. But she'll let him rest. He must need it, after all of that.
Her eyelids grow heavy, and she fights to stay awake. She wants to be there for him when he wakes, just like Rose was there for her. She holds on to consciousness, one arm tucked beneath her pillow, as she watches his chest rise and fall.
She loses track of the time. Her eyes itch with tiredness, but then she hears a deep inhale, followed by a soft exhale. And his voice, issuing one cracked syllable.
"Yeah," she says. "I'm fine, you're fine."
He breathes a sigh of relief, and turns his head on the pillow, his hair flopping into his eyes.
"What did you do?" she asks, her curiosity not able to hold on for any longer.
"Found the balance," he murmurs. He breathes deeply again, and she can sense his process, building a picture of where he is, what's happened, how long he's been asleep for. It's like cogs in a machine, everything falling into place as his brain wakes up.
"Well, it clearly worked," she tells him. There's a tug of a smile at his mouth, and his next words are soft.
"Exactly half a life," he says. "Together."
Rey nods. "Perfect." It's more than she could have hoped for. To spend the rest of her days in peace with him, building a life, a home, a family of their own. She can't imagine being here without him, can't imagine the chasm that would leave in her life, and she doesn't dwell on it. Because they have years ahead. Decades.
"I bet you ten credits it's accurate to the last minute," he says.
She laughs into her pillow. "You sound like your dad."
A real smile breaks across his face, lines forming in his cheeks with the breadth of it. He flings an arm out across the gap between their beds, his hand outstretched.
Rey reaches out and takes it.