A/N: So, I did something I thought I'd never do and got into Star Wars, and I was in a Ben mood while watching a Castiel vid that opened with a segment about his brainwashing and the line "How many times have you torn into my head and washed it clean?" and my mind immediately jumped to "What if Snoke had done something like that to Ben?" and after the initial angst I realized that could lead to some heckin soft Reylo content. It was a stray thought but the image got stuck in my head and I just couldn't resist writing it
Background note: I headcanon that Ben's leg wound up crippled from the TROS final battle cause I think about him limping to Rey's body every. single. day. and it haunts me. Did that necessarily need to be in this fic? Nah. Did I put it in anyway? Yes, because there's never too much whump
"Let me help you."
Ben blinked back to the present, looking up the rocky slope to see Rey offering her hand. He was leaning against a tree at the base of the slope, taking his weight off the right leg that stubbornly refused to heal after the fight with Palpatine. He had a cane, but he had left it at home, and as much as he hated it, as weak and vulnerable as it made him feel, he was regretting that. He wanted to take her hand if it meant getting back some of that support, but… he knew what she would do to him at the end of this walk.
The memories, fragmented and hazy, flashed through his mind. Screaming. Writhing. Strapped to a table. Snoke looming over him, fingers stretched towards his face like hooked claws, his power tearing through Ben's mind, shredding every ounce of warmth and happiness it found.
He snapped out of it at Rey's call, sucking in a breath he wasn't aware he was holding. She had moved closer, now just below his eye level, one hand hovering just over his arm as if she'd wanted to touch him but had stopped herself. "It's all right," she said. "Snoke can't get you anymore."
"But you can," he muttered.
He pushed off his tree and past her, limping up the slope on his own. She let out a breath and followed, staying a couple steps behind even though he knew she could be up and gone long before he even reached the halfway point. He set his jaw and forced himself to accept the hovering, focusing his energy just on not falling flat on his face.
He made it with only a couple near misses, breathing harder than he cared to admit, stabbing pain shooting through his leg. Rey paused a few feet away, scanning the woods. "This way," she said after a few moments, gesturing off to the right. She set off, leaving him to follow this time.
Finally, the trees gave way to a small clearing. Leaves littered the ground, leading up to a pond reflecting sparkling sunshine. A creek tipped over a waterfall to fill it, ripples spreading out from the impact, partially concealing the movements of fish beneath the surface. Boulders were scattered about the shore; an animal leapt off of one as they emerged from the trees, darting around the pond and away into the shadows.
"Have a seat," Rey said, pointing at a relatively flat boulder. She sat on the one nearest it, and when he sat, stretching out his wounded leg in relief, the outer side of her knee brushed the inside of his. "Do you like this spot?"
He took another look around, silently appreciating the background noise of running water and singing birds. "It's a bit of a hike."
"You like hikes," she reminded him.
"No one is supposed to know that."
She chuckled, nearly bringing a smile to his face. Then he found himself looking at his leg, wondering if he would ever enjoy hiking again.
"Hey." Rey rested her hand on his other knee. "We're not here to worry about your leg."
Ben huffed, shifting away from her touch. "Right. Because the real reason is so much more appealing."
"This was your idea," she reminded him.
"No, it was my mother's idea."
"And you agreed."
"I always seem to do that with her," Ben muttered.
"Is that your bitterness?" Rey asked. "Or Snoke's?"
Ben opened his mouth to respond, then stopped. He searched through his memories, but with every one he found, there was doubt. He never could tell anymore if a memory was real or fake, if the anger within it had truly been his or just another of Snoke's twisted alterations. The man had had years to tweak Ben's memories from afar, and time after that to rip them apart up close and personal. It had only been a few months since his death, and Ben found himself doubting every word he spoke even about the memories made since that moment, always haunted by the idea that Snoke hadn't been the only one playing around in his mind.
And here he was, about to let someone else do exactly that.
"You know why you agreed to this," Rey continued, voice low, "and it's not because of anything your mother or anyone else said."
He swallowed. "I know," he said. "Let's just… get this over with."
It was only the first of who knew how many sessions, he knew, but the sooner it was over, the sooner he could go back to pretending the rest of them would never have to happen.
"Close your eyes," Rey murmured, already doing the same. "Try to relax."
That's not going to happen.
Still, he did his best to attempt some vague imitation of relaxing. He crossed his arms tightly, tensing but not flinching away when Rey put her hand back on his knee. Closing his eyes, though, that came last, and it took several deep, slightly shaky breaths to finally convince them to both close and stay closed. The moment he did, he suddenly felt tiny, like Rey was twice his size instead of the other way around, as vulnerable and helpless as he had been when Snoke tied him down and went to work crafting his new Vader.
Then she was brushing up against his mind. Gently, of course, but every instinct he had screamed that she was a threat, that he should blast her backwards and run, run to where no one could ever find him. "Relax, Ben," Rey murmured. "That'll make this easier."
If you stop struggling, this will be far easier.
Snoke's voice cut through his mind like a saber cut through flesh, slicing whatever fragile control he'd mustered to shreds. He jerked away from her, trying to scramble to his feet and get away, but in his haste, he put all of his weight on his injured leg and it buckled beneath him, dropping him to the ground. He barely managed to catch himself, biting back a cry of pain.
"Ben!" Rey exclaimed, rushing to help him.
He threw his hand out instinctively, desperate not to be touched, desperate to just be alone. "No! Just- just go. Please."
She froze, staying put for an eternal moment. Then she drew back, withdrawing into the trees.
Only when he was certain she was gone did he let himself collapse again, rolling onto his back and clutching his throbbing leg, clenching his eyes shut and cursing his weakness.
Rey didn't go far. She walked just enough that he wouldn't feel her presence looming over him and stopped, turning back. She could just barely see him at this distance, lying on the ground, his chest heaving.
It wasn't exactly a shocking realization, but this time was different. She had seen him break down before, when he was still trying to be Kylo Ren, but those times had been so angry. He had been screaming at her, at Han, at Luke, at everyone who tried to convince him that he had been a gentle boy who had always been so loved, that it was Snoke who had darkened his every memory to something hateful. He attacked in fits of rage, attacked with words and the Force and everything he had, desperate to quell the confusion within him even at the cost of killing them.
This time, however, there was no confusion. There was no anger or betrayal or any of the bitterness Snoke had instilled in him. He hadn't even been trying to hurt her. There was just fear. Pure, raw fear. The fear of a young man who had been used and violated for so, so long, and no longer trusted even the gentlest of touches.
She crossed her arms, remembering the time he had tried to invade her mind. It had been terrifying, and he hadn't even gotten very far. Looking back, she had felt the same terror in him even then, even when he didn't remember what Snoke had done to him. And now that he knew, now that he remembered…
How do you convince someone who's been abused beyond imagining that you're not going to do the exact same thing?
She ran a hand through her hair, running through any and every option she could come up with, and only when she had a plan did she return to the clearing. "Ben?"
He was sitting up now, head buried in his arms and resting atop his boulder. "Go away," he said, his voice muffled.
She sank onto her knees at the edge of the clearing. "You know I can't do that."
"Yes, you can."
"You need healing," she pressed gently. "I can give that to you."
He lifted his head, keeping his back to her. "I'll heal on my own."
"And how long will that take?" Rey asked, careful to keep her tone soft, not pushing him, not belittling him. "Months? Years? Decades? Will you even heal fully before you die of old age?"
He shifted, drawing his legs up to his chest, wincing. "I'll take the risk."
"Ben." She licked her lips, longing to take away his pain. "I know how afraid you were before you remembered Snoke tearing through your every memory. I can't imagine how afraid you must be now, but I do know that the idea of anyone else in your head must be the most terrifying thing you can imagine. I don't want to hurt you any more than you already are hurting. I don't. But you do need this, and that requires that you trust me. Even if it's just a little bit."
He turned his head slightly, just enough that she could see the profile of his face. "I want to," he admitted in a tiny, broken voice. "I can't trust my own mind, and that should be worse than any torture you could inflict. But I… I just can't."
Rey took a breath and inched closer, staying on her knees. "What if I were to warn you of what I was doing next?" she suggested.
He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "How do you mean?"
"I need to focus so I don't accidentally hurt you, so I won't be able to talk much," she said. "But my hands will be free. All it would take is a touch."
"A touch," he said slowly.
She nodded, inching closer again, and lifted her hand to her head to demonstrate. "A tap on your temple means I'll be moving forward in time," she explained, "and a tap by your ear means I'm going backwards. I can give you a few seconds after each touch to decide if you can't handle any more for the day."
"And you would do this after every memory?"
"Yes. You would be in control every time. I will never move on without your consent."
He finally turned his head to fully face her, and she saw the war in his eyes. "Ok," he said, sounding like he was forcing the word out. "We can try that."
She smiled, shuffling the rest of the way to his side. "Do you want to stay on the ground?"
His leg twitched at the implication of standing. "Yes."
"Ok." She leaned on the boulder in front of him, lifting her hands to his face. In her left, she cupped his cheek, keeping him steady. She hovered the tip of her right middle finger midway between his temple and his ear. "Pick a memory," she said. "One that you know Snoke changed. Bring it to the forefront of your mind. We'll start there."
He watched her hands warily. "I have one."
"I'm going to close my eyes now," she told him. "You don't have to. And remember that even one healed memory is better than none – if that's all you can take today, then that's all I'll do. Ok?"
He nodded, clutching the edge of the boulder in a white-knuckled grip.
Rey closed her eyes, touching the tip of her finger to that midway point. "I'm going in now," she said, waiting for his shaky nod before returning to his mind.
The memory greeted her instantly, pushed as far to the front of his mind as Ben could get it, taking her back to the familiar cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Han sat in the co-pilot's seat, pushing a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair, with Ben piloting the famous ship, no older than seven or eight.
"No, no, no," Han snapped, knocking Ben's hand away from the control he had been reaching for. "If you press that, we would blow up before ever taking off."
Ben snatched his hand back. "Maybe if you actually told me what to do, I could do it!"
"I have told you, but you've already forgotten."
"You have not!"
"Don't talk back to me, boy."
The memory was tinted red, a shaded cloak Snoke had draped it in to push Ben to the dark side. Rey searched the memory, letting it play over and over, searching for a tear in the cloak, anything that exposed even the slightest hint of the truth beneath the lie. She ducked her head, face scrunched up in concentration, all too aware of Ben trying not to tremble in her hands.
A tiny flicker when Han smacked Ben's hand. There was the briefest image of his arm out of sync with the rest of the memory, the limb ghostlike in its transparency, reaching out for something, but not to hit his son. Rey zeroed in on that split second, pushing through the cloak to reach it, tearing back the red shade.
Light spilled through the enlarged hole, true color chasing away the dark red. Voices bled through, jumbled and unclear, but the love in their tones was distinct. A tear slid down Ben's face, slipping along the edge of her hand, and she wiped it away as she grabbed those voices and dragged them out of hiding, shaking the remnants of the cloak off as she went.
Slowly, the true image came into view, solidifying in Ben's mind. Han still sat in the co-pilot's chair, but Ben wasn't alone in the pilot's chair – he sat on Chewie's lap, held securely in place by a large, furry arm.
Ben leaned forward, pointing at a big shiny button. "What's that?"
Han nudged his hand away. "Nothing you're allowed to press just yet," he answered with a smile. "I took care of takeoff, so all you have to do is steer. Just hold this here and turn whatever direction you wanna go. Simple."
Ben hesitated. "What if I hit something?"
Han gestured to the stars out the window. "There's nothing to hit, kiddo. Just fly."
He nodded, taking hold of the yoke like Han showed him. Taking a breath, he leaned into a left turn. "That's it, Ben," Han said proudly, ruffling Ben's hair. "Wanna go faster?"
Although still nervous, Ben lit up. "Yes!"
Grinning, Han gradually ramped up their speed until they were cruising just below lightspeed, Ben gaining confidence with every passing second. He threw them into a barrel roll, ignoring Chewbacca's nervous rumble, and he and Han let out identical laughs. "This is awesome!" Ben yelled.
Han looked over at his son, his expression glowing with all the love in the galaxy. "Yeah," he said. "It is."
Ben barely noticed Rey pulling out and lowering her hands. He was lost in the happy memory, a rare smile playing across his lips. "I remember now," he said, savoring every syllable of that sentence. "It was my seventh birthday. I'd been begging to fly for months, but Mom kept saying no, and Dad went behind her back for that lesson. Mom started giving him hell when we got back, but she wasn't mad for long when she saw how happy I was."
Rey reached up to brush away another tear, and while it startled him out of his reverie, he didn't flinch away. "That's sweet," she said, smiling.
He narrowed his eyes, realizing something. "You're going to know everything about me by the time we're done, aren't you?"
Her smile turned mischievous. "Yep."
"The way you said that is definitely going to make me trust you."
"Sorry," she said, not sounding sorry at all. "Do you want to go home? Or do you want to continue?"
Fear flickered through him, enough to make him suddenly acutely aware of how he had relaxed, that at some point he had stopped trembling and his heart had slowed to normal and he had stopped curling in on himself and clutching the boulder, but this time, the nerves paled in comparison to his longing for the release of another happy memory. "No," he answered immediately.
Rey softened, pride in her eyes. "All right."
When she reached for him, cupping his cheek in her hand and lightly touching a spot just beside his ear, he found himself leaning into her touch. His chest still tightened, wary of someone in his mind, but she was warm and gentle, memories of his childhood laughter bubbling up at her touch. "You were a cute kid," she murmured, her fingers starting to run through his hair.
"It got me a lot of extra cookies," he joked.
She laughed, and for a moment, he almost didn't care that she was in his mind, working on one of his earliest memories with his mother. Birdsong surrounded them, the creek bubbling along into the splash of the waterfall, a faint breeze rustling the leaves above them, and she was still playing with his hair, occasionally tapping back and forth as she sifted through his memories, his peace growing with every recovered moment of happiness.
Slowly, Ben's eyes drifted shut.
Maybe coming out here won't be so bad after all.
A/N: Might expand this eventually. There's just... so much potential. Potential for angst, for fluff, for everything really. I wanted to add a scene of him falling asleep in the sun on that boulder but it didn't fit, so if I end up never writing it, just imagine him napping on the sunwarmed rock while Rey plays with his hair