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The Edge Between the Sand and the Stars

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When Rey is a child she dreams of a woman.

 

It is not her as an adult, though later she will wonder; nor is it her mother. Even as a baby of five or six years, Rey knows to separate her indistinct memories of calloused hands and a sweet singing voice from the woman in her dreams. And she knows this woman is older than her mother, with slighter shoulders, darker hair, a more worn face - and that she does not dress like Rey's mother. She dresses like a woman of the desert: loose layers, scarves. Her face is wind-burned, sand-burned, sun-burned.

 

Rey remembers very little of her mother. She knows the desert woman better.

 

At first the desert woman is by her side every night. When Rey curls up under a ragged blanket, shivering in the sharp cold of Jakku’s nights, the desert woman rocks her into waking sleep; strokes her hair, smooths strands off her forehead, and says, my loved one. And when Rey stops crying for her mother, real tears that will make her eyes sticky and her face sore tomorrow, the desert woman says: what shall I teach you tonight?

 

It is a question and it is not a question. The desert woman always knows what she will teach Rey, but she likes it best when Rey asks. Her lessons are half Rey's requests - the proportion increasing as Rey learns the limits and the dangers of Niima Outpost life - and half the desert woman's own ideas.

 

Until she is six, Rey's last question is always: what is your name? and the desert woman does not answer.

 

When she is six, Rey has learned that names are power, are currency, of a sort. Rey's name is all she has, as the desert woman's true name is all she has, and Rey understands, now, that there are a million ways to barter that power. And that sometimes, it is best to keep a little something in reserve, like the small, valuable components that she picks out with her quick young hands and her quick young eyes and keeps in a hidden belt the desert woman taught her to make, close to her skin, in case of a day when Unkar Plutt says she has not done enough.

 

What shall I call you, Rey asks the desert woman, when she is six.

 

The desert woman smiles, and she says - my loved one, call me your blood. For we are deserts' daughters, under these bright stars.

 

My blood, Rey says, and the desert woman kisses her forehead. It burns like the hopeful fires on the homesteads to the east; Rey leans into it, for she wants to be set alight.

 

The desert woman comes every night, until Rey is seven.

 

***

 

The first thing Luke said to Rey wasn't 'who are you', or 'why are you here', or even 'you should have commed ahead, I'd have put the kettle on'. All of these things would have made more sense than what he did say, which was:

 

"You're kin."

 

"Sorry," said Rey, outstretched handful of lightsaber wavering. "What?"

 

Luke ignored the lightsaber. "You're kin," he said, and pushed the lightsaber aside very gently, peering into Rey's face with blue eyes that could see out the other side of the stratosphere. "But I don't understand how."

 

"Would you like your lightsaber back?" Rey asked. It was not really a question, and neither was the way she shoved it at him.

 

"It's no longer my lightsaber," Luke said tranquilly. "Nor is it the most important or the most interesting question at hand."

 

"What in all the nine galactic hells do you expect me to do with a spare lightsaber?" Rey demanded, waving it at him.

 

"Use it," Luke said obliquely. "When necessary." He leaned back a little, and squinted. "You're not Han's daughter."

 

"I - no! No, I'm bloody not!"

 

"Or Leia's," Luke pursued.

 

Rey passed beyond the point of speech, and into indignant sputtering noises.

 

"And I would know if you were mine."

 

"Thank you very much!"

 

"But the fact remains." Luke paced a small circle, grey cloak floating out behind him. "You are kin to me. And I don't know how."

 

"Well, that makes two of us!" Rey yelled, flinging her arms wide in frustration and nearly throwing Luke Skywalker's legendary lightsaber off a cliff.

 

Luke stopped pacing and eyed her quizzically.

 

Rey pointed the lightsaber at him, fairly shaking with rage. Was this the Resistance's saviour? The wielder of untold power? The dealer of life and death? The most brilliant pilot the galaxy had ever boasted? An old man in a grey cloak on an island, fixating on the family of a know-nothing scavenger with a spark or two of the Force?

 

Was this what she'd hunted across a galaxy to find - what General Organa had searched for and Poe surrendered his freedom for?

 

"You," she said, and fought to get her emotions under control. "You - You are."

 

"Yes?" Luke said mildly.

 

"General Organa said I should smack you for her when I saw you," Rey said, through gritted teeth. "I'm beginning to understand why."

 

Luke smiled, and pulled his cloak up against the oncoming rain. "Leia has such a way with words," he said. "You snarl like she does. Come and have a cup of berry leaf tea."

 

Rey bit her tongue hard, and stamped after him down a path marked out with rough walls of grey stone.

 

Kin, part of herself said, as she followed Luke into a smoky circular broch, half-collapsed but still structurally secure, laid out for an anchorite or a desert wanderer's practical comfort. Family.

 

And very quietly, very deep down inside, some part of Rey said: Blood.

 

***

 

You left, Rey says to the desert woman, seven years old, tearstained and accusatory.

 

I never leave, my loved one, says the desert woman, who Rey has not seen for a whole night, who she prayed to see as she went to bed early. I am part of you.

 

I don't kiss my own cheek, Rey says. I don't hug myself when I'm sad. I don't know everything you know.

 

Oh, my loved one. Everybody grows up.

 

What does that mean, Rey says, tiny dream-fists balled up in denial.

 

It means one day you will know everything I know, says the desert woman. It means one day you will look for me as a friend, and not a shelter in the sandstorm.

 

I need you, my blood, Rey says.

 

My loved one, says the desert woman, and her touch on Rey's chin is soft and wistful and just a little distant. You need me less every day.

 

***

 

Luke didn't say anything else about Rey's family for some days, due chiefly to the fact that Rey dragged the conversation to the Resistance, Kylo Ren, and General Organa, and would not be budged from these points. When she faltered, she cheated by hauling Chewbacca into the discussion, thereby derailing it for at least a day and a night while Chewbacca upbraided Luke for his many and sundry failings, mostly relating to Luke's self-flagellation, and the impact of Luke's selfish behaviour on his sister, who required warriors and steadfast companions, not brothers who disappeared without adequate notice or a forwarding address.

 

Rey had had to get R2-D2 to pull up a dictionary and define 'self-flagellation' for her, as it was not a word she was familiar with, and she was still not sure she grasped the concept. Luke Skywalker moved with deliberation, certainly, but that didn’t appear to be because he was hurt. Although he frequently complained about his old bones and made Rey go and fetch water because he was too stiff and ancient, he moved about the steep hills of Ahch-To like a leaping lizard, and he wore power like spacers wore leather jackets, easy and loose. Luke had certainly not hurt himself.

 

After Chewbacca had finished haranguing Luke, and had begun energetically dismantling Luke's hermit's hut to transport his key belongings to the Resistance instead, Luke tried to ask Rey questions about her family again. Rey told him she might be willing to say something but she needed to visit the Falcon, and Luke went with her, thereby falling neatly into her trap as R2-D2 whirred out of ambush to corner him against a high cliff wall and screech at him in Binary about TEN YEARS OF ABANDONMENT, YOU KRIFFING ORGANIC BASTARD.

 

"You lied," Luke said plaintively, backed up against a wall and ducking electrocution as R2-D2 charged him repeatedly. "Why didn't I know?"

 

"Desert's daughters know how to lie to survive," Rey said, surprising herself. It was years since the desert woman's lessons had come to her lips. "Anyway, you two have fun. I really do have supplies to fetch."

 

***

 

Luke thought General Organa should to be informed of his theory about Rey at once.

 

"That will be a... difficult conversation," he said, almost apprehensively. He was gazing out to sea as if he were gazing into General Organa's remorseless eyes, his robe flapping in the biting wind.

 

Rey pointed out that, due to the very remoteness of Ahch-To, and their extreme vulnerability if the First Order should happen to pick up their signals, a conversation was impossible. It would have to be a brief data burst transmission, and even Rey could see how that might be... inadequate, for delivering news of the magnitude Luke intended to deliver.

 

Not that Rey was at all sure he was right about this kin nonsense. She would have liked to ask the desert woman, who had been the only constant source of guidance in her life, but she hadn't seen the desert woman since a very brief appearance several days into Finn's stay at the medcentre, and she might have hallucinated that. The tall, dignified figure standing among the machines and droids and smiling at Rey had glowed faintly blue, which Rey did not remember from her dreams, but Rey could never have mistaken that face. She had crossed the medcentre to lay a gentle hand on Finn's forehead, and then she had vanished, without saying a word to Rey.

 

"If you can do that and focus on the Force and talk to me, your handstands are too easy," Luke said abruptly. "Switch to one hand."

 

Rey tried to switch and promptly fell over. Luke's teaching was strange. It was not at all like the desert woman's. The desert woman was never inclined to let her pay the cost of failure; the price was generally far too high.

 

Rey picked herself up. "We could just go back," she suggested. "You could tell General Organa in person."

 

Luke looked conflicted. "I'm not done yet."

 

"What are you looking for here?" Rey demanded. Luke spent long hours in places she didn't yet know around the island, and when she reached out for his presence in the Force its steady blaze was contained by a hard shell she had never dared to touch. She was sure that part of the reason he had started teaching her bits and pieces of Jedi craft was to stop her asking too many questions.

 

"Things," Luke said cryptically. He sighed, and ran his flesh hand through his hair. "Kriffing hell. But Leia needs to know at once."

 

"Why?" Rey said, honestly baffled. "Either way, I'm still the same person. I'm still as useful. Or not. It doesn't actually matter."

 

"It will if the First Order finds out." Luke's mouth twisted, and she knew he was wondering what would happen if Kylo Ren found out.

 

Rey wasn't scared of Kylo Ren. She wanted to learn how to beat him in a fight, fair or unfair, and then she wanted to beat him to a pulp. For Finn's sake. For Han's. For Poe's. For General Organa's.

 

"I'm already a target," Rey said, carefully setting vengeful daydreams aside and reminding herself they were only daydreams, and had no bearing on what she really ought to do if she had Kylo Ren at her mercy. She flipped into a second handstand, this one one-handed. "I don't see that it would make a difference. It doesn't matter whose legs I came out of, I still cut Kylo Ren's face in half."

 

Luke huffed, and then – reluctantly - smiled. "Just so long as this Finn you're always talking about isn't a long-lost brother," he said, "we'll probably be all right."

 

"Brother?" Rey said in astonishment, and fell out of her second handstand.

 

"Ah," Luke said wryly. "Has nobody told you that story?"

 

***

 

 

In the end they told General Organa that there was something very important about Rey, and also, that they were coming home.

 

The encrypted message they received in return – so fast that General Organa must have turned it around the moment their message made it to D’Qar – consisted of the words: You don’t say, Luke. Well done, Rey. Hurry up, both of you.

 

“Better get a move on,” Rey chirped. Her mind was already running ahead, to Finn, to BB-8, to the Resistance, to Finn’s handsome pilot, who she’d only spent a few hours with – sitting in the medical bay, watching Finn breathe, puzzling out letters that every child Poe knew could read with ease – and wanted to know more of. Finn deserved someone really impressive, and she hadn’t seen enough of Poe Dameron to know if he was a worthy mate.

 

Luke eyed her. “You’re very excited to be going back to war.”

“I’m very excited to go back to my friends,” Rey retorted, and realised – with a sudden and not entirely unpleasant jolt – that she’d nearly said ‘go home’.

 

“Don’t think I’m going to let you slack on your lessons,” Luke warned her.

 

“Just so long as you teach me,” Rey said.

 

They left just after sunset, because Luke said it was his favourite time of day, and because he particularly disliked the dawn. Rey didn’t care, personally, but she knew that Luke found a certain peace sitting on the cliffs of Ahch-To, watching the sun fall below the horizon, and she couldn’t begrudge it him. There was a grief about him sometimes – a whisper, a hint in the corner of her eye.

 

She sat with him on the cliffs and meditated. In the circle of broken flat stones where Luke liked to sit, it was easy; as easy as meditating with General Organa.

 

The last sliver of the sun’s orange light slid beneath the waves, and the sky purpled with the oncoming night.

 

To Rey’s surprise, Luke unfolded himself and stood up first, with a creak and a melodramatic groan.

 

“Time to go,” he said. He sounded sad.

She stood up. “Have you got everything?”

 

His eyes lingered on her. “I have some of what I came here for, I believe,” he said, “and it may be enough. And there are other factors I did not account for, that may prove far more important.” A small, painful smile cracked his face, and Rey caught her breath. “The immanence of the Force is quite beyond you or I, Rey. We are lucky just to know that it’s there.”

 

“Lucky is one word for it,” Rey said, and patted him gently on the shoulder. She didn’t know why she felt like being kind to him; only that he was an old man, and sad, and when she thought about it she knew that he had been aware of his blood-brother’s death long before she told him of it, and that he had grieved that loss and others in silence and loneliness. “Come on. We’ll lose the light and you’ll fall down the stairs and General Organa will be really angry with me.”

 

Luke snorted.

 

Rey pulled them out of atmo, and then Chewbacca wrested the controls from her and told her to go and sleep, trainee Jedi were the worst for running themselves ragged and he wasn’t going to have any self-sacrificing nonsense from her. Rey, who had learned when it was worth arguing with Chewbacca – almost never, in her increasingly wide experience – obediently gave up the controls and left for her bunk. The Falcon already looked curious, with an extra person’s belongings strewn about it. Luke had dropped his grey cloak on top of the dejarik table.

 

As she went, Luke stepped past her, nodding and wishing her a good sleep. Rey glanced back as she walked away, and caught sight of Luke settling into the pilot’s chair.

 

Chewbacca growled at him. Rey checked her footsteps, in case she needed to rescue the last Master of the Jedi Order from an angry Wookiee. She knew Chewbacca had not forgiven Luke yet, and that they had not spoken of anything more serious than Luke’s habit of feeding the birds on Ahch-To, or the loose negative power coupling that had always been a problem on the Falcon. They had not discussed Han or Kylo Ren, and since Chewbacca’s first howled lecture nothing had been said of Leia.

 

“Tell me about it,” Luke said heavily. “Chewie. Tell me what happened.”

Rey froze, and then, suddenly, she heard Luke in her ears – but his voice was quite different. It was as if she heard the desert woman again; the same tone, but a different inflection, a different accent, and the voice spoke directly to her, without the distortion of distance or acoustics. Rey, you nosy child. Go to bed. Chewie won’t hurt me.

 

“Sorry, Luke,” Rey yelled.

 

Chewbacca roared at her to fuck off and sleep.

 

Rey stifled a wholly inappropriate giggle, and fucked off to her bunk to sleep.

 

***

 

Rey couldn't escape Luke and his never-ending interest in her forebears once they were in hyperspace; if nothing else, she couldn't pitch him out of an airlock without destroying the Falcon, and Chewbacca bellowed if she even thought about meddling with their carefully plotted, calculated, obscured course. She had run out of ways to deflect Luke using the war, and he was just as good as deflecting her enquiries about the Force using the mystery of her parentage as she was at deflecting his queries about the mystery of her parentage using the war.

 

"Where are you from?" Luke said, sliding into the co-pilot's chair one watch when Rey was doing nothing but staring at the instruments and the light-bleeding edges of hyperspace. "Desert's daughter."

 

"Jakku," Rey said, accepting the inevitable with no grace at all.

 

"Were you born there?"

 

"No," Rey said, and after a moment added "I think."

 

"You don't know?"

 

"My family left me there," Rey said, and that old hurt throbbed between her ribs. She picked at the plasleather covering of the pilot's seat, tearing it away from the piping, piece by piece. "When I was five."

 

"Alone?" Luke's tone was calmer than it was gentle, for which Rey was grateful.

 

"Yes," Rey said. She honestly wondered what else Luke could have interpreted from her words.

 

"Do you remember them?"

 

"A little, sometimes," Rey said. In Maz's palace, that skinny-armed baby screaming come back, come back - she had remembered more, that little thing, that sand wisp. But that baby had had to grow, and Rey had paid for her future with the memories of her past. "Not much. No names."

 

"Where did you live?"

 

"In Niima Outpost, until I was fourteen," Rey said. "After that, in a shelter I made from an old crashed AT-AT. Not far away, but hard to find."

 

"Did you work?"

 

Rey leaned forward to press buttons and flick switches on the console, to request a sitrep on the Falcon's running. She didn't need the onboard computers to tell her the Falcon was flying as sweetly as ever, and she didn't need the Force, either. She could feel the ship in her bones; she breathed with the oscillations of its hyperdrive, and her heart beat in time with the coolant's pulse. It wasn't the same thing.

 

"Yes," Rey said at last. "For someone called Unkar Plutt."

 

"Did he have any... documentation? About you?"

 

"Yes," Rey said. "At least, he said so. I only saw it once. It might have been faked."

 

"You are strong enough in the Force that false documents would not pass you by." Luke leaned back in his chair with a sigh. "Were you a slave?" he asked.

 

Rey said nothing.

 

"Tatooine farm boy, remember," Luke said casually, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his robe. He always had more pockets, and was forever producing things from them, like a magic trick. Yesterday it had been a very small vibroblade. Two days before it had been a block of intolerably chewy spacer toffee, still in its tin. "First-generation free on my father's side.”

 

"Are you telling me you understand?" Rey said. She didn't know what she felt: she set it aside carefully, to be unpacked and understood and released into the Force as General Organa had tried to teach her later. "The answer is I don't know. Unkar Plutt let me move away, but he knew I didn't have far to go, and I wouldn't leave in case my family came back. The flimsis he showed me had my name on, but that's all the Aurebesh I can read. They could've said anything."

 

"You can't read?"

 

"No." Rey got up. "Poe started teaching me, but we had to stop so I could come and find you. For the sake of the war. Remember that?" She looked down at him, still slouching in his chair, and he looked back. "If you're not busy, can you take the next watch? I need to wash."

 

***

 

What shall I teach you tonight, my loved one? says the desert woman.

 

Rey is nine and has not seen the desert woman for three whole weeks. She only sniffles a little.

 

Teach me how to bargain, she says. My blood.

 

First lesson, says the desert woman, her gentle eyes sharp, and Rey tilts her head back to meet those eyes - a little less than she had to a few years ago. Never bargain with your own self as coin. The price is always higher than you think to pay.