Rey's finger's curled into the fabric of Ben's torn shirt as she stared down at him in disbelief. One minute, they'd won. They were kissing. She was smiling. He was smiling, giggling even. She'd never seen him smile before and it was perfect. Everything was perfect.
And then, all at once, it wasn't.
Ben got this look on his face, like he was in pain, and her thumb ran across his cheek and she opened her mouth to ask what was wrong, but she never got the chance. All at once, he was swept away, like a lifeless scrap of paper in a Jakku sandstorm. He fell backwards and she reached out to catch him, confusion etched across her face, concern and worry and dread bleeding out from her spine down to her fingertips. She held his hand tightly in hers, as if she could will the warmth back into, because it had already grown so cold.
She lowered him to the ground, her eyes filling with tears. "Ben…?" the word hung on her lips, half formed. She put a hand on his shoulder and gave it a push, a nudge, only once. As if, for a moment, she had convinced herself he was merely sleeping and, perhaps, she could rouse him.
He didn't wake.
Rey shut her eyes, his hand still in hers, and traveled along the bond they had foraged (Snoke may have created it, but they had strengthened it, unknowingly, travelling across the worn paths that linked their minds.) She reached out along it, holding it in her hands—a single golden rope that linked them across the force—but found nothing. The bond that had linked them had always been taught, rigid, something solid between them. But now, in the Force, Rey's half lay pooled at her feet: broken.
The bond was broken. Rey had expected it to be a painful, agonizing thing. The Jedi Texts described that, in some instances, it was similar to breaking a bone. There had been a selfish part of Rey that had hoped it would be painful, however the bond broke (whether she killed him or the other way around). If nothing else, that pain would've served as a testament to the reality and validity of all she had felt for him. But there had been no pain in his passing, no snapping as death claimed him in it's cruelty.
Perhaps that had been Ben's final gift to Rey: a peaceful parting, a painless severing of their Bond. Rey wanted pain. She wanted snapping and breaking, something physical to distract her from the grief that already threatened to run rampant through her. But there had been no agony; only a gentle release. It felt like wisps of smoke, or perhaps a balloon, drifting softly up towards eternity.
Drifting far away from her.
Rey grit her teeth, a show of courage or anger, and ever so gently put a hand on her cheek as frustrated, heartbroken tears slid down her own. "Ben… you can't," she demanded.
Can't what? Die? Leave her alone? Abandon her? Save her? Yes he could. And he had. He had done all of those things. Done. Past tense. He was dead. Gone. Over. It was over.
She leaned over him, her hand still holding his, still squeezing his, and she opened her mouth but no sound came out. Her shoulders shook and tears dribbled down her cheeks shamelessly, but there was no sound. She screwed up her face, eyes squeezed shut tight, choking on air until she managed to breath enough to whisper, "Please… please… you can't be dead. It's not fair," And it wasn't fair. Not at all. Everybody had gone. Han first, then Luke, and finally Leia. This found family of Skywalkers had dissolved right at her fingertips. But not Ben. She didn't want Ben to go. She hadn't had enough time with him. Ben wasn't supposed to disappear. Ben wasn't supposed to die and certainly not for her.
"Come back…." She whispered, to no one in particular, because nobody was left in that dark cavern except for her, and the hollow body of somebody she once loved.
"It's time to go home," Leia urged, that soft smile on her face, as she looked up from where their hands had intertwined.
Ben hesitated. "I'm not sure I'll be welcome," he said at last and Leia's face turned sympathetic.
"You are welcome. We all want to see you," the General encouraged, her hand tightening around his.
"We?" Ben asked, swallowing thickly, trepidation written all over his normally stoic features. "Dad-?" the question dried out on his lips and died.
"Is very proud of you. He loves you. He has always loved you. And he forgives you, for everything. As do I. We only wanted you to come home, and you have. Ben, we are proud of you," Leia completed, putting a gentle hand on his face and Ben felt a sudden grief rise up in his chest—it was a gesture so familiar. Rey had held his face in just the same way just moments ago. He wanted to twist around, to search for her, but he resisted. There wouldn't be any point in searching. She wasn't there. He wasn't with her anymore.
Leia saw the pain across his features and exhaled slowly. "We are proud of you," she repeated, almost resigned and Ben felt tears prick at his eyes. After everything he had done, he felt so unworthy of her love.
Sensing this, Leia lifted her head and met his eyes with a stern expression. "Ben," she began. "You have been, you will always be worthy of my love. My love for you is unconditional. I love you because you are mine,"
Ben felt his throat constrict. "Mom…" he whispered, and she pulled him into her arms and held him tightly. He hadn't been held in so long. Rey held him as they embraced, as they kissed. And he had held her when she was… when she was dead. And perhaps, even now, she was holding him. Her grief was strong in the Force. He hadn't expected her to grieve so powerfully. He was hardly someone worth grieving over and yet… it made sense. So many times, she reached out to him, asking him to stand beside her, to come home with her, back to the Light. In some ways—in many ways—he had been important to her. Important enough to grieve over him.
Slowly, Leia pulled away and straightened up, releasing her son. Ben's head was bowed, his face twisted up in confusion and grief and realization.
She had loved him, as he had loved her.
On the ruins of the Death Star, she had spared him, she had healed him. He had been so undeserving of it, and yet, she had done it. On the ruins of the Death Star, she saved him, she saved his soul, preparing him, finally, to accept his father and embrace the light within him. Some part of her had forgiven him, had loved him enough to extend her hand to him over and over and over.
"She's heartbroken," Leia observed, bowing her own head in reverence. After a moment, she lifted her eyes to watch her son. "You finally realize it now,"
"She loved me," Ben confirmed, still unable to lift his eyes.
"We all loved you," Leia said, once again taking his hands. She could feel Ben's own heartbreak echoing out and reverberating in the Force that surrounded them. Wanting, desperately, to offer her son comfort, she released his hands and took a hold of his face, forcing his eyes to meet hers. "No one is ever truly gone," she said. "If you wish, and you wish very strongly… perhaps you will meet again," Slowly, she let him go. "Ben… Let's go home," she urged.
Sluggishly, Ben nodded and followed behind her, up the hill towards Eternity. But then, he stopped. Dying had been so easy. After all he had done, it had been a release. He had welcomed it. But now… "I don't want to go," he said softly and straightened up.
Leia paused and turned towards him as he turned back for the first time, and watched Rey, far away, hold his body and resign herself to leaving alone.
"I want to stay," Ben said, his voice cracking. "I want to stay with her,"
Leia smiled wistfully. "Then stay," she said and Ben turned around, surprised, confused.
"But the Force-" he began.
"The Force can kiss my ass," Leia snorted.
"Mom-" Ben hissed in warning, his eyes narrowed, but she cut him off once more.
"Ben. We waited so long for you to come home. I think we can wait a little longer," taking his shoulders, she bent him down and kissed his forehead. "I'll be with you, always. We all will. I love you, Ben. So much,"
And Ben, still stooped, kissed her forehead in return. "And I love you too, mom," he said softly.
Rey rose to her feet slowly, shakily, after the sky above her fell silent. It was time to go home. Wiping her tears away and steeling herself with resolve, she straightened and observed the X-Wing, regarding it for a moment before returning to Ben's side.
She wouldn't leave him here. He deserved better than that. He deserved something proper, dignified, he deserved to be buried alongside his mother and father. Kneeling, she wrapped her arms around him, and the thought shook her to her very core, threatening to push her back into tears: They'd bury Leia too, when she returned.
She took a hold of his hand once more and gave it one last squeeze, just for the sake of comforting herself, a quiet promise not to abandon him here. Then, suddenly, there was a soft intake of breath. His fingers twitched.
Rey watched, almost horrified at first, as the color returned to Ben's face. For a moment, she feared she'd either lost her mind, or the Dark Side had brought Ben back as it had brought Palpatine back. But when his eyes flickered open, there was no milky, white film across them, only confusion.
Rey inhaled sharply as the Force swirled around her. The Force had done this. The Force, or somebody else, Leia mused, somewhere distant. "Ben?" She asked softly, wiping the tears from her eyes because, honestly, he'd seen her cry enough and it was becoming humiliating. She had to fight the urge to laugh because she was happy, she was so happy!
His eyes met hers and searched them for a moment, before realization hit him and he suddenly felt tears brimming in his own eyes. His expression tightened and he pushed himself upright. Then, deciding to forgo a second round of staring, he leaned forward and kissed her, softly, wishing to convey every unspoken feeling in one gesture.
"I didn't expect you to be so heartbroken," he said softly, pulling away.
Rey pulled away, too, and, for a moment, Ben feared he made a mistake. But Rey puffed out her chest and said, defiantly, "I wasn't heartbroken," in a feeble attempt to recover her mangled pride.
Ben's heart swelled as he watched her, because they both know this wasn't the truth. Ben reached, rather childishly for her hand and she took it. "No, of course not," he deadpanned, swallowing against the tears that threaten to spill over because he is alive and she loves him. Abruptly, he pulled away from her and rose to his feet, wincing at the stiffness in his joints.
"So," he said, stepping aside so as to give her space (suddenly feeling deeply self-conscience). "How do you plan on explaining me to your Resistance?" he asked.
Rey, who was too overcome with emotion to notice (or care) about his sudden attempt to distance himself, stepped in front of him and closed the distance he had set between them. "I'll tell them," Rey began, taking his hands. "that Ben Solo has finally come home," she said and pressed one more kiss to his lips.
J. J. Abrams can kiss my ass, Rey and Ben deserved better.