A/N: So. The leaks of the novelization are killing me. And this is how I'm (not) coping. And I would just like everyone to know that I wasn't gonna write this but a friend told me to do it anyway so I knocked this out in like 2 hours in the middle of the night when I was severely emotionally compromised by the new HD clips NOW SUFFER WITH ME GUYS
It would be okay if she left him behind now. Got on with her life without a backward glance at him. It's what she should do.
And it was what she had done.
Well. Not quite.
And not by choice.
"Come on, Ben, you can make it," Rey pressed.
Wrapped in her arms, leaning on her as much as she was leaning on him, both clutching the other in white-knuckled grips, he wanted to believe her. Finally, after so many years of searching, of struggling alone in the darkness, he knew he had found safety, found a home, and that home was Rey. Despite everything that had come before, she had taken him into her heart, and for the first time in far, far too long, that gave Ben something to live for, a reason to thrive where he had merely been surviving for so many years.
He wanted to go with her.
Lying on his side on the cold stone ground, Ben looked towards the way out, the path he had sprinted down so brazenly only minutes before, blaster in hand and adrenaline driving him towards the only task that mattered: Helping Rey.
He had been tired then, his side still tingling from being stabbed, body aching from slamming into the chains and the ensuing reckless descent, out of breath from the running and the spat with the Knights of Ren. But he had been tired before – he could push through it easily enough.
What he felt now was a deadly combination of bone-deep exhaustion and burning agony. Palpatine had drained nearly everything from him, knocking out what little was left by throwing him over the edge, and Ben had dug into reserves he hadn't known he'd had to drag himself to Rey's body and pull her out of death's clutches.
"Rey," he rasped.
He could hardly put weight on his right leg, his left barely any stronger, and every breath brought a new stab of pain. She was hardly any better off, still weak from dying, weak from pouring as much healing energy into him as she could before he stopped her. It hadn't been enough, hadn't been even remotely close to enough, but she had to live. She had to. So Ben stopped her.
Still, she tried. Tried to give him more. Tried to haul him out. But they were both weak, exhausted, wounded, and he was twice her size.
No matter how much he wanted to live, no matter how much she wanted him to live, it was always a doomed effort.
They sank to the ground together, Rey into a crouch, Ben to one knee, and even that was too much to maintain. Almost too weak to even tremble with effort, he fell further, saved from hitting the ground only by Rey dropping to her knees to catch him. She held him up, holding him against her, one hand running through his hair as she panted, looking for help that would never know to come. "Just- just rest for a moment," she said. "We can rest for a moment."
He looked at her, at her fear, hidden in her eyes by the thinnest veil of composure, but plain as day to him through their bond. "A moment isn't going to help."
He rolled onto his back, closing his eyes, remembering what she had felt like in those precious moments of togetherness. He remembered her arms around him, strong and protective; her hands holding his, running through his hair, gentle and warm; her lips on his, thanking him, forgiving him, saying everything words couldn't communicate; her energy filling him, stitching him together, the purest form of connection, two souls coming together without any barrier between them.
He didn't know if he loved her. Their connection had been fraught with strain and conflict, and he had been without so much as a friendly acquaintance for so long he had all but lost the ability to discern between friendship and budding romance. He wasn't even sure that their bond could be diminished to such black and white terms. Love. It didn't seem to capture the way the most powerful invisible force in the galaxy had decided their fates were one, that they were two halves of a whole, that they were one soul split in two and destined to find each other.
What he did know was that she was part of him. For better or for worse, their first meeting a year ago had awoken something in him, some part of his soul that had always reached for something it could never find before her, and he had felt her every day since then. Most days, she had been a distant presence, a frustrating weakness. But some days – the best days – she was right beside him, a source of strength and companionship, the one person in the galaxy who could truly understand him.
It was those days he remembered as he began to drift away.
"I'll come back for you," Rey promised, cupping his face in her hands, squeezing just a bit too tight.
Ben didn't begrudge her that. What was the faintest amount of additional pain compared to the chance to be held by the woman who had changed his life? "I know."
It had been a long time since he had been able to trust so simply. Just minutes before, he had been so sure she would leave him. He still knew that she should leave him. But she had always defied the odds, defied expectations, and maybe that last time, when she had smiled brighter than any sun and dove into their first kiss instead of leaving, she had finally convinced him that defying expectations included caring for someone the galaxy saw as a monster. So he relished those words, so little to most, so huge to him. She said she would come back, and he knew she would.
He just didn't know if she would come back in time.
As if sensing where his thoughts were headed, Rey kissed him again. But where the first had been joyous, this one was desperate. It was a promise and a plea wrapped in one touch, a promise that she would run faster than her tired legs could carry her, a plea for him to hold on.
He held on to her. Lifted his weary arms to hold her, to brush away her tears, to bury his fingers in her hair. His wounded lungs needed air, but he needed her more, needed to say goodbye, needed to reassure her that however this ended, he wouldn't blame her, so he held her.
"I'm coming back," she whispered.
I'm coming back.
Her voice rippled over their bond, and again, it was both promise and plea.
Ben forced his eyes open. Every breath scraped his lungs, each one shallower than the last, each one harder to take, and with each one, he knew the end came nearer. With each one, he knew Rey came nearer.
He didn't want to die in this cave.
No one in his life had ever meant to leave him.
He was going to die in this cave.
They always left him.
Even Rey's defiance had its limits.
I'm coming back.
Rey ran. Finn was behind her, Finn who had somehow known of their struggle, bringing Poe and Chewie and BB-8 with him, and the moment they had seen each other, she had spun on her heel and raced back into the shadows, sprinting through the stone on shaky legs, her heart thundering in her chest.
Her voice echoed in the vast emptiness around her, joined only by their footsteps, no hint of a response.
After a lifetime of loneliness, finding this connection to Ben had been a blessing. Not her connection to Kylo – that had been a curse, a bond she was glad to be rid of. But Ben? The broken boy who had listened to his mother's call, who had risked life and limb to come to her aid, who had saved her through sheer selfless goodness even after she drove his saber through his side? That was a man worth saving. A man who deserved saving.
That was a bond she couldn't bear to lose.
She could feel him fighting to hold on.
No one in her life had ever meant to leave her.
She could feel him slipping away.
They always left her.
She felt the moment her soul tore in half, a gash so recently sewn together torn open once again, leaving her bleeding in a way she hadn't known it was possible to bleed.
She screamed his name, the single syllable bursting from her in a desperate cry, perfectly clear despite her breathlessness, and remembered feeling that same pain in him, the ache of abandonment, the fear of being left behind.
She couldn't do that to him. She could bring him back. She would. He had saved her, and she would save him. There was no other way this could end. There was no other way she would let this end.
She turned the final corner. Found reserves of strength she hadn't known she'd had. Flung herself onto her knees. Skidded the final few feet to his side.
Where she found only an empty pile of clothes, her hands clutching only cold fabric where she had once felt his precious heartbeat.
I left him.