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The Force Has Awakened

Chapter Text

I enter my ship and walk towards the lounge. Sitting down the couch, I pull of my goggles and the hood and scarf covering my face. I close my eyes and let out a deep sigh.

Nothing. Again.

I rub my eyes, feeling angry, frustrated, and a whole slew of other things besides, none of them pleasant.

Mostly I just feel tired.

Releasing another sigh, I get up and walk towards the hyperdrive. I sit down on top of it, only metal grates separating me from the raw power thrumming beneath. I close my eyes.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Calm and steady. Find your center. Find balance.

Slowly, so very slowly, I let go of my frustration and despair, my anger and disappointment. I release it all, until at last my mind turns clear and the Force comes into focus.

It’s everywhere, in my body, my blood, my very being. It’s in my prosthetic, my clothes, in the air I breathe. It runs through the Falcon, through the circuits and couplings, the systems and wires. It flows through the code controlling the systems, it dances with the energy of the hyperdrive.

And beyond that, the countless grains of sand, the rocks buried beneath, the animals making their home there. Even further away, the settlement of Niima Outpost, all living things a bright spark to my mind’s eye. A vibrant picture of indescribable sensation, entwined in a way impossible to put into words. It’s pure energy, it's pure life, creating and shaping everything that is, yet being created and shaped by everything that is at the same time.

It’s beautiful.

I feel the last of my tension fade away, realizing once again that in the grand scheme of things, I’m no more important than one of the countless grains of sand covering the surface of Jakku. So are my problems.

Mediating is a great way to regain perspective.

I continue to sit there for an eternity that last exactly three hours, thirty-three minutes and thirty-three seconds. Then I release my focus, check that my defenses are still in order, before I stand up and lift my arms in a delicious stretch. I feel loose and limber in a way only mediation can make me.

Walking towards the cockpit, I trail my hand along the walls, savoring every touch. The various dips and valleys, the different textures and small imperfections.

I love my ship.

Entering the cockpit, I sprawl across the pilot chair, taking up as much space as is possible in the narrow confines. I’m not planning to take off. Yet.

Artie rotates its main photoreceptor towards me without halting its delicate repairs of the auto-pilot. Which is glitching. Again. Because this is the Millennium Falcon.

Sometimes I just have to remind myself of that.

[Query – is Annoyance-Rey functional?] The indifferent beeps make me smile. I pat the top of its white and ruby colored dome, amused by the habitual flare of annoyance it inspires as always.

“I’m fine,” I say. “Just disappointed. No news. Again.” Because that’s the root of it all, really.

I tried so hard not to hope, but the Force had been urging me to return to Jakku so strongly that I hadn’t been able to help myself. Part of me had expected to discover news about my family.

The lack is an even more bitter and painful letdown than usual. I close my eyes and briefly allows myself to feel the sharp grief of losing that hope. Again.

Yet even though there was no news, the Force still feels expectant. It’s still waiting for something. It isn’t telling me to stay, not anymore. I could leave right now without a string of improbable events forcing me back. Normally, the choice wouldn’t be difficult, I despise spending any amount of time on Jakku. But if the Force is waiting...

I decide to stay the night. Better to see what has “destiny” this excited of my own free will instead of being dragged into whatever is going to happen kicking and screaming.

It won’t be related to my family. It never is. But it’s going to be something big. The way the Force seems to almost hum with anticipation makes that more clear.

I hope I won’t regret this decision. I already have a feeling I will. And still I choose to stay. My curiosity is going to get me killed one day.

“We’re spending the night. If we land in a situation before leaving, you’re allowed to say I told you so.”

This time Artie doesn’t even bother to turn its photoreceptor towards me.

[Query – is Situation; Damn Force, active?]

“I'm pretty sure it is.” Though there’s still a chance the surprise will be pleasant instead of terrifying. Then again, this feels big, and big things are usually both.

My answer makes Artie’s presence turn deeply annoyed, far beyond its normal state, before the emotion is replaced by worry. It even halts its repairs as it turns its photoreceptor towards me.

[Query – what scale does Annoyance-Rey estimate?]

That’s always a difficult question when it comes to the Force, but my best guess...

“Somewhere between the Canto Bight casino and the swamps of Mardrk,” I estimate, and feel a faint smile grow as Artie’s worry spikes even higher.

[Defensive protocols engaged; Threat Level 7]

My, its second highest defense mode. I pat its dome again, making a flash of annoyance briefly replace its worry. It’s cute how worried it is. Admittedly, it’s not without reason. I get goosebumps just thinking of what happened on Mardrk.

Having gotten all the information it needs, Artie resumes working on the controls of the auto-pilot, it’s worry lowering to the usual baseline for this mode.

I wonder what to do now that I’ve decided to stay the night. Obviously I’m not going back to Niima Outpost, seeing Unkar Plutt once is more than enough for one visit. I’m also not leaving my ship to go anywhere else.

I might’ve decided to stay the night, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

“I'm going to sunbathe,” I decide. Artie gives a disinterested beep in return, never halting its delicate repairs. It isn’t one for idle chatter.

It’s one of the things I like most about it.

I flip off the chair in a maneuver that should be impossible in these narrow confines. The Force is awesome like that.

Passing by my quarters, I grab my datapad, a spare pillow and blanket, and leave the Falcon. Walking out beneath the hull, I jump, the Force boosting me high, and land on top. Laying down my blanket and pillow, I settle down and get comfortable. It’s that small window in time where the sun has started disappearing behind the horizon and it’s actually pleasant to be outside. As soon as the sun is gone completely, the temperature will plummet.

I’m planning to make the most of it before that happens.

Activating my datapad, I continue reading the article discussing the new Hovarian TZ-type modulator and why it’s supposed to be such an improvement to all others. My own modulator is still in perfect order, but it’s always wise to have spare parts on hand.

To an outside point of view, my ship is a pile of garbage. Things are constantly malfunctioning, or just plain breaking down, no matter how many parts I replace or how many repairs I perform.

I have a different view. For one, I adore fixing machines. For another, my ship never breaks down when it truly counts.

Most important of all, this is the Millennium Falcon. I literally have no choice but to love it.

My inner fangirl doesn’t allow for anything else.


 

I shoot up straight– I yank my ship around me like a cloak, twine my very being with it until we can’t tell where I end and 492727ZED begins. Data scrolls through our mind, constant cycles of diagnostics, updates, notices, an endless stream of information demanding our attention.

The minute part of us still aware that we are also me only has room for a single thought.

What the kriffing hell is Kylo Ren doing here?

We need to perform maintenance on the fuel pumps. There is a 0.063 second delay in the conversion of fuel.

We do not know, and with him so near, we do not dare to find out.

There is an irregularity in the cooling tanks. Efficiency momentarily drops by an average of 1.47% every 2.6 cycles.

Is he here for us? Did he sense us meditating?

The electromagnetic discharge filter has decreased in efficiency by 0.000008% since our last diagnostic.

Has he found out about our past? Is he here for a different reason?

The auto-pilot has been restored to peak efficiency.

What other reason than us could he have to come to Jakku?

The sublight engines are due for a manual inspection. Automated inspection has detected no anomalies.

The Force was waiting for something. And now Kylo Ren is here.

Fuel capacity is at 78.4%.

Which means he probably is not here for us. Probably.

There is a minor power fluctuation in section D-32. Data indicates that the fluctuation is most likely caused by faulty isolation.

If he is not here for us, we cannot stop being we. He will sense us if we do.

Continuing to process data, we leave our bed and get dressed. We grab our toolbox and start making our way towards the fuel pumps to perform maintenance. We stop by R2-T3 to inform it of Kylo Ren’s presence in the system. R2-T3 plays a recording of us saying ‘I told you so’, before it switches to its highest defense mode and rolls towards the cockpit to make us as ready for take-off as is possible without firing our engines.

We cannot leave. Not without Kylo Ren noticing us.

Data indicates that the delay in the fuel pumps is most likely caused by fatigue of the filters.

We can only hope he will not sense us. We will have no warning if he does.

If the delay is not caused by fatigue of the filters, it is most likely caused by a minor blockage in fuel line 4.

When we are like this, we are almost unable to sense anything but ourselves.

Almost.


 

We perform maintenance for the next 16:13:43 standard hours. We are repairing the electromagnetic discharge filter when we hear the cries.

We ignore the cries. We need to repair the electromagnetic discharge filter.

We finish stabilizing the polarization and perform a diagnostic. The electromagnetic discharge filter has returned to peak efficiency.

We need to repair the deflector system. There is a 0.0034 second delay between priming and activation.

The cries are louder now.

Data indicates that the delay is most likely caused by a faulty connection in section Y-09.

We close our toolbox and climb down from our top so we can go inspect section Y-09. When we land down the sand, we see a luggabeast with a Teedo on top passing by us. The Teedo is dragging along a droid in a net. Model, BB.

The droid is the reason for the cries. It is cursing out the Teedo. It is trying to escape.

We need to go inspect section Y-09.

We know we will regret it later if we do not help the droid now.

We walk towards the Teedo.

Greetings, Teedo,” we call out in their native language. Our voice makes both the droid and the Teedo startle. Neither had registered our presence. None do when we are like this.

If the delay is not caused by a faulty connection in section Y-09, it is most likely caused by a faulty connection in section Y-28 instead.

What do you want, Outsider,” the Teedo says in a male voice. He recognizes us. We do not recognize him. Without the ability to sense his presence, all Teedo seem the same to us.

Are you interested in trading for the droid?” we ask. One of the Teedo’s eyes goes wide behind his goggles. That is a sign of interest.

If the delay is not caused by a faulty connection in section Y-28 either, the cause is most likely a malfunction in the deflection system itself.

“...What are you offering?

A thousand credits.” That is the average cost price for a used BB-model.

We do not like that droids have cost prices.

A thousand? Just how stupid do you think I am? This is a BB unit with a selenium drive, a thermal hyperscan vindicator, and even an internal self-correcting gyroscopic propulsion system. If I scrap it for parts, I could get a thousand just for those things alone.”

The Teedo is haggling. We do not wish to haggle.

We wish to go inspect section Y-09.

Three thousand,” we offer. That is the cost price for a new BB-model. The Teedo will not find a better offer.

The Teedo tilts his head. A sign of hesitation.

We hope the delay is not caused by a malfunction in the deflector system itself. A faulty connection is a minor error. A malfunction in the deflector system is a major one.

“...Unkar Plutt has been asking for an astromech droid for a long time. He’d pay more than that.”

Unkar Plutt would not pay more. The Teedo is still haggling.

We turn around and walk away as though we are planning to enter ourselves.

If the delay is caused by a malfunction in the deflector system, it is most likely caused by a flaw in the conversion node.

“...Wait.”

We halt and turn to face the Teedo again.

Fine, we have a deal. Three thousand credits for the droid.”

We take out a chit and register three thousand to it. After the validation is complete, we walk towards the Teedo. The Teedo dismounts the luggabeast, grabs the chit we are holding out, and pulls the net off the droid. The droid rolls out of his reach, slides a taser out of one of its compartment and makes it spark. A sign of warning.

Good doing business with you, Outsider,” the Teedo says as he mounts the luggabeast. “ May your water never run out.”

May yours always remain pure,” we return the traditional farewell on habit.

The Teedo leaves.

We can go inspect section Y-09 now.

We look towards the droid. It makes its taser spark again. Another warning.

“You’re free,” we inform it, before turning around so we can go inspect section Y-09.

[Query – why did you buy this unit from Organic-Pile-Of-Waste?]

“To free you,” we say without halting our walk. We hear the droid come closer.

[Query – what is your Designation?]

“Rey-492727ZED.”

[Greetings, Designation; Savior-Rey.]

We ignore the droid as we enter ourselves.

We stop ignoring it when it enters us as well.

“Why are you following me?” We do not wish for it to follow us. We do not wish to have an unknown presence inside ourselves.

We wish for it to leave.

The droid waggles in place. We suspect that is a sign of uncertainty.

[...This unit does not know Planet; Jakku, well. This unit fears it might get captured again if it leaves. This unit is also waiting for its friend to arrive. Query – may this unit stay with Savior-Rey until its friend arrives?]

We do not wish for it to stay.

We will regret it later if we send it away now.

“I might take off at any moment. If you don’t mind that, you can stay. Though you’re not allowed to wander around unsupervised.”

[Directive accepted. This unit will stay with Savior-Rey, either until its friend returns, or until Savior-Rey leaves Planet; Jakku.]

We frown, our attention drawn away not just from the droid, but from our data as well. We… sense the Force? How? We never sense the Force when we are like this. Not the way we are sensing it now.

The Force is pleased.

We return our attention to the droid. We realize that the droid is what the Force has been waiting for.

We cannot determine why the Force has been waiting for this droid. Not when we are we.

Kylo Ren is still in the system. We cannot stop being we.

We return our attention to our data and resume walking towards section Y-09.

The droid follows us.

[Query – how long has Savior-Rey been on Planet; Jakku?]

We ignore the question, as well as the ones that follow. Arriving at sector Y-09, we lift the grate so we can inspect the relevant connection.

It is faulty. The casing has a significant fracture. Most likely cause, the repeated stress of transitioning between realspace and hyperspace.

We open our toolbox and start our repairs.

We remain aware of what the droid is doing. It is an unknown presence. We must ensure it does not tamper with our systems.

The droid is no longer asking questions. It is inspecting us instead.

It makes no attempt to establish a connection with our systems.

The droid starts talking again when R2-T3 arrives. R2-T3 does not respond to its greeting.

[Query – why is Designation; Small-Annoyance, here?]

The droid lets out a string of intelligible beeps. We suspect that it is insulted by the designation given to it by R2-T3.

“It's waiting for its friend to come,” we answer without halting our repairs.

[Adjustment of Query – why is Small-Annoyance inside Gorgeous-Thing?]

"It's staying here until either its friend returns, or until we take off."

R2-T3 lets out a string of intelligible beeps. This particular string expresses aggravation.

[This unit does not approve of Annoyance-Rey's lax security. Threat Level 8 is active.]

“We’ll keep an eye on it."

R2-T3 lets out another string of intelligible beeps. This is its version of an disgusted sigh.

[This unit often wonders why it allows Annoyance-Rey to stay.]

We are almost finished with our repairs.

[Query – what is this R2-unit's Designation?]

[This unit will be, Designation; Your-Worst-Virus, if it registers any of Small-Annoyance’s equipment near Gorgeous-Thing.]

The droid rolls away from R2-T3. That is a sign of fear. Or caution.

[Query – what is, Designation; Gorgeous-Thing?]

[Gorgeous-Thing is the Designation of, Starship; SERIES YT-1300 – CLASS Light Freighter – ID 492727ZED. This unit warns Small-Annoyance that if it registers any tampering with Gorgeous-Thing’s systems, it will fry Small-Annoyance’s main circuits.]

R2-T3 slides out its taser makes it spark in warning. The droid rolls further away from R2-T3.

[Designation; R2-Violence, assigned. Query – is R2-Violence's personality programming faulty?]

We ignore the question aimed at us. We have finished our repairs.

We need to inspect the hyperdrive motivator. We have registered a minor anomaly. We cannot afford to have any problems with our hyperdrive, no matter how minor.

We must remain ready to depart in an instant.

We place the floor grate back and walk towards the hyperdrive.

Our path is blocked by the droid. We try to move around it. It moves with us.

[Query – is Savior-Rey leaving this unit alone with R2-Violence?]

We are fairly certain the beeps are panicked.

“You’re not allowed to wander around unsupervised,” we remind it. “You have to stay either with me, or with R2-T3.”

R2-T3 makes its taser spark again.

[This unit will stay with Savior-Rey.]

“Then let me pass, and follow.”

The droid moves aside. We resume walking towards the hyperdrive. The droid follows us. R2-T3 does not.

[Query – is Savior-Rey’s programming faulty as well?]

“No.” Our software is performing at peak efficiency.

Our hardware is not.

The droid continues to ask questions. We ignore them. When we are like this, we are only interested in maintenance.

The minute part of us still aware that we are also me really hopes that Kylo Ren will leave soon.

Chapter Text

[Unit; BB-8] does not like [Planet; Jakku]. [Planet; Jakku] is covered in sand, and [Unit; BB-8] does not like sand. Sand always gets into its compartments whenever [Unit BB-8] opens one, no matter how careful [Unit; BB-8] is. And [Unit; BB-8] has needed to open several since its arrival on [Planet; Jakku]. [Unit; BB-8] will need thorough maintenance to get rid of all the grains clogging up its systems. [Unit; BB-8] is glad to have found shelter inside [Starship; ID 492727ZED].

[Unit; BB-8] is not glad that [Unit; R2-Violence] is inside [Starship; ID 492727ZED] as well. [Unit; R2-Violence] is rude and violent. It threatened [Unit; BB-8] without reason. [Unit; BB-8] has no intention of tampering with [Starship; ID 492727ZED]. That would be very rude after being saved by [Savior-Rey].

[Unit; BB-8] likes [Savior-Rey]. [Savior-Rey] saved it from [Organic-Pile-Of-Waste], and is even allowing [Unit; BB-8] to stay with her while it waits for [Friend-Poe].

[Friend-Poe] told [Unit; BB-8] he would come back for it. [Friend-Poe] has never lied to [Unit; BB-8]. Previously gathered data indicate that [Friend-Poe] will return. [Unit; BB-8] will wait on [Planet; Jakku] until [Friend-Poe] does.

[Unit; BB-8] has deleted the calculations concluding that [Friend-Poe] will not return.

[Unit; BB-8] returns to thinking of [Savior-Rey] instead of thinking of when [Friend-Poe] will return. [Savior-Rey] is a strange organic. Compared to available data on [Species; Human], [Savior-Rey] shows a significant lack of facial expressions, and speaks with a significant lack of tonal variation.

[Savior-Rey] does not speak much, ignoring most of the queries posed by [Unit; BB-8]. Queries related to [Starship; ID 492727ZED] have the most chance of being answered by [Savior-Rey], but even then, [Savior-Rey] only answers an average of one query every 2028 seconds.

[Unit; BB-8] has set an internal timer to send out one query related to [Starship; ID 492727ZED] every 2028 seconds. The next query will be to inquire how [Savior-Rey] came to be in possession of [Starship; ID 492727ZED]. [Unit; BB-8] is curious. [Unit; BB-8] is also a little wary.

[Starship; SERIES YT-1300 – CLASS Light Freighter – ID 492727ZED] is the Original Designation of [Starship; Millennium-Falcon]. [Starship; Millennium-Falcon] is the starship stolen from [The-General’s-Husband].

[Unit; BB-8] hopes that [Savior-Rey] did not steal [Starship; Millennium-Falcon] from [The-General’s-Husband]. If [Savior-Rey] did steal it from [The-General’s-Husband], [Unit; BB-8] will have to steal it back. [Unit; BB-8] does not wish to do that.

[Unit; BB-8] likes [Savior-Rey].


 

Seven Years Ago

That is the Millennium Falcon.

I stare some more. But no, the image doesn’t change. That really is the Millennium Falcon. As in, the ship of Han Solo.

How the kriffing hell did Unkar Plutt manage to get his grubby hands on Han Solo's ship?

“Stop staring and get back to work.”

I duck beneath the swipe on Force instinct, avoiding what would have been a brutal smack to the back of my head. The action pulls me out of my stupor.

Unkar Plutt is scowling down at me, as always. The scowl is a little deeper than usual because I dodged his hit, but only a little. By now, he’s gotten used to his inability to hit me, though he doesn’t like it.

After years of him smacking me like a disobedient pet whenever he felt I was “being lazy”, I take vicious satisfaction in dodging every single strike. Not a Jedi thing to do, but I don’t care in the slightest. Small pettiness like this is what keeps me sane.

“Where did you get the ship?” I ask instead of doing as I’m told.

“Took it off the Irving Boys as payment for cheating me. Now get back to work,” he repeats with an even deeper scowl.

“Does it need any repairs? I can do that.”

Unkar Plutt squints down at me with suspicion. Understandable. While I enjoy tinkering with machines, I never offer to do any work on my own. The fat blob forces me to do more than enough already.

But this is the Millennium Falcon.

“...No, it doesn’t. Probably going to scrap it for parts–”

“You can’t do that!” The panicked yell escapes me without thought because he can’t do that, he just can’t!

This is the Millennium Falcon.

Unkar Plutt scowls deeply, his hands balling into fists in a way that means more attempted smacks are imminent. I lift my chin defiantly and glare at the fat blob. I won’t allow him to scrap the Millennium Falcon.

“It’s my ship. I’ll do whatever I damn well want with it.”

“If you scrap it, I will sabotage every single piece of machinery you own.”

“Why you little–”

I dodge his strike in a fluid movement that brings me behind his back. The desire to kick him is near irresistible, but I know that if I give in to the urge, Unkar Plutt will not only make my life an even greater living hell, he’ll scrap the Millennium Falcon for sure. That has to be avoided at all costs.

The fat blob turns around with enraged glare.

“You will not scrap it,” I command with the Force. I discovered long ago that mind tricks don’t work on the Unkar Plutt, but using the Force still adds an intimidation factor I desperately need. The disadvantages of being a scrawny twelve year old.

“Girl, you are this close to being kicked out,” he threatens like it’s supposed to scare me.

“If you scrap it, I’ll walk out on my own. Good luck finding another slave as skilled as me,” I dare him.

The fat blob’s many chins wobble with pure fury, the emotion so strong I can feel it even without reaching for his presence.

“You ungrateful brat. I feed you, clothe you, put a roof above your head, and this is how you repay me?”

I repay him by being worked to the bone. And my punishment for failing to do so is a temporary loss of food, clothes, or the roof above my head.

There’s a reason I call myself a slave.

I bite back the desire to say just that. If I keep taunting him, it might provoke him into starting to scrap the Millennium Falcon this very instant. Instead, I give him my fiercest glare, wordlessly telling him I mean every single word I just said. Sure, walking out will mean a mad scramble for survival for me, but I know I can do it. In fact, the only reason I’m still working for the fat blob is because I’m waiting for a decent growth spurt. The moment I’m no longer the size of a Teedo, I’m gone.

Unkar Plutt lets out a sound of pure disgust.

“Fine, I won’t scrap it. Now get back to work!”

I feel a huge smile grow. I did it! The Millennium Falcon is saved!

“Alright,” I agree, before spinning around and running back to Niima Outpost. I’ve pushed the Blobfish enough for one day.

I can’t help but keep glancing back at the Millennium Falcon. I know it’s not the real Millennium Falcon of course, it’s just the same model of ship.

I don’t care about this fact in the slightest. To me, this is the Millennium Falcon. And I’m going to steal it from Unkar Plutt.

My original plan was to wait until I’m no longer a midget, before getting off this junkyard by paying passage on a ship with money stolen from Unkar Plutt. Now, my plan is to learn how to fly the Millennium Falcon, and then I’m going to fly away with it.

I’m going to explore the galaxy in the Millennium Falcon.

For the first time in years, I’m glad to have been reborn in the Star Wars universe.

Chapter Text

Kylo Ren is gone.

We halt our maintenance of the passive pulse generator, turning all our attention to the sudden absence.

Kylo Ren is gone. We are certain that he is gone.

We stop being we.

Quickly ensuring that my defenses are in order, I reach out in a way I couldn’t do before and search for his presence, every part of me on high alert. After failing to find him, I check again. And again. And again.

The outcome remains the same.

Kylo Ren is gone.

I yell with joy and jump to my feet, spinning around with glee and laughing like mad because he’s gone, he left, he didn’t find me and he is gone, gone, gone!

Today is a beautiful day.

[Query – did Savior-Rey’s software crash?]

I laugh even harder and bend down to pick up the droid, mentally supporting its weight and barely aware of how it makes the Force sing with importance as I twirl around once more.

“He’s gone, he’s really, truly gone!” And he didn’t find me!

I spin around again while cackling like mad.

The droid lets out a few congratulatory beeps, its presence turning even more bewildered. I look into its photoreceptor with a wild grin.

“He's gone!” This needs to be repeated. A lot.

I cackle again and twirl towards the cockpit.

“Artie, he’s gone!” I yell while dancing towards its presence. Artie already knew that of course, me laughing like a loon can’t mean anything else, but again, this needs to be repeated a lot. Because he’s gone! He’s really, truly, undeniably gone!

The verbal confirmation of the priceless gift that is Kylo Ren not being here is enough to make Artie relax completely.

[Defensive protocols disengaged,] I hear it say right before spinning into view.

“He’s gone, he’s gone, the asshole is gone, gone, gone!” I chant, feeling like I could burst from pure happiness and the sweetest rush of relief. The Force heightens those emotions in the most wonderful of ways. And I can allow myself to feel them! Because he’s gone!

[Query – what is, Designation; The-Asshole?]

“A monster,” I answer without hesitation, still grinning like mad. He’s gone, he’s really gone, Kylo Ren is gone!

Thank the Force.

I put down the droid and perform another victory dance.

[Query – prepare for take-off?] Artie feels so very hopeful.

“Hell yes, we are blowing this rock!” I reply without halting my victory dance.

Artie beeps with pleasure, radiating satisfaction as it starts strapping itself in.

It’s the droid’s sudden fear that pulls me down my high. Well, it pulls me down a little.

“What’s wrong?” I ask. I’m still unable to stop grinning, but now I feel a little concerned as well.

Most of me is still consumed with pure happiness.

[Query – is Savior-Rey leaving right now?] The beeps sound just as frightened as it feels. My expression softens as I remember just why this droid is here.

“I did say I could leave at any time,” I remind it gently. Unfortunately, it makes the droid turn even more afraid. It waggles in place and gives me a hesitant look.

[...Query – what should this unit do now?] Oh, it’s completely unfair how woeful it is. I feel like I’m kicking a baby mammal.

But I am not staying on Jakku. Still, I can at least make sure the droid is... not safe, Jakku is never safe. But I can make sure it’s taken care of until its friend returns.

“I can introduce you to some droids in Niima Outpost. You can stay with them while you wait for your friend.” That would greatly lessen the odds of it being captured again. It won’t eliminate them, but it will lessen them. That’s the best I can do, really.

Hopefully its friend will show up soon.

The droid waggles in place again, before it lets out a soft whir, its presence turning dejected and resigned.

[Directive accepted. This unit will wait for its friend in Settlement; Niima Outpost.] Not just a kicked baby mammal, an abandoned one.

I know exactly how that feels.

“Come on, it's not that bad. You won't be here for long, just until your friend returns.” My attempt to reassure it has the opposite effect, sharp doubt flaring high.

Oh no.

“Your friend is coming, right?”

[Affirmative!] The droid is trying very hard to convince itself of that. I grimace. I had no problem leaving it here when I thought its friend was coming, but if that isn’t actually going to happen...

“If you want, I can drop you off somewhere else instead,” I offer.

[Objection! Small-Annoyance is not allowed to remain with Gorgeous-Thing.]

“I’m not offering to let it stay, just to give it a ride,” I argue back, as I need to do every time I try to pick up a passenger. Honestly, Artie is ridiculously possessive of our ship. Coming from me, that’s really saying something.

Artie lets out a disgusted scoff, its annoyance flaring even higher. It’s already resigning itself to the inevitable.

[This unit does not approve of Annoyance-Rey’s fondness for strays.]

“And I don’t approve of your inability to share. We can’t all have what we want.”

[This unit would like to remind Annoyance-Rey of Incident; Thieving-Scum Disaster.]

I roll my eyes with a smile.

“You need to let this go,” I give my customary reply, because Artie really does need to let this go. It’s been almost five years.

Artie, of course, replies with its own customary reply to me saying this.

[This unit will not let this go. Neither will this unit let go of Incident; Cheating-Vermin Fiasco, Incident; Jungle-Jackass Debacle, Incident–]

“And how long has it been since we last had an incident with a passenger?” I interrupt it before it can rattle off all the “incidents” it has listed in its database, this time ordered from worst to least worst. “A major one,” I add before Artie can bring up Melody. We didn’t have any kind of incident with her, but Artie can find something to complain about for every single passenger we’ve had.

[Standard Time; 4 months, 17 days, 8 hours, 34 minutes, 42 seconds. This unit would like to avoid resetting this counter.]

Amazing how it can turn that matter of fact statement into a dirty accusation.

On another note, it’s only been four months since N’Tongo? It feels longer.

[This unit will wait on Planet; Jakku until its friend comes back for it.] The determined statement pulls my attention back to the droid. It no longer feels frightened, just resolved.

That doesn’t mean it’s no longer scared.

“You sure?” I ask, not holding any real hope of it changing its mind. Its resolve is unyielding.

[Affirmative!]

I sigh, disappointed it didn’t take me up on my offer. It doesn’t feel right to leave it behind like this. Not when it doesn’t truly believe that its friend will come back for it. But it’s its own choice.

“Alright. Follow m– is your antenna broken?” I interrupt myself, confused by how I could’ve missed this. Well no, I know how I missed this. When blending with my ship, I’m oblivious to anything not related to it. But how did I miss this after I stopped blending?

By being distracted by the priceless gift that is Kylo Ren not being here. Right.

[Affirmative,] the droid replies in a tone that questions my intelligence.

“Well, we can’t have that. Here, let me take a look. I might have a spare that fits.”

Startled joy replaces the droid’s resolve, and it happily moves closer so I can inspect its broken antenna, and more importantly, the antenna’s port. Fortunately, the port is a common one.

“You’re in luck, I have a spare that fits. Come on, let’s get you fixed up.” I start walking towards the storage where I keep all spare parts for Artie, the droid trailing after me. “We’ll leave after I drop it off,” I assure Artie over my shoulder

Artie lets out another disgusted sigh. Its special way of giving me its blessing.

[Query – why did Savior-Rey change personality modes?]

It’s hilarious how droids talk about organics like they’re machines as well.

“Don’t you know? Organic software has more bugs than the whole of Kashyyyk,” I tease. The droid lets out a startled laugh.

[Organics are strange,] it agrees, as amused as it is sincere. I chuckle.

[Query – how did Savior-Rey come to be in possession of Starship; ID 492727ZED?]

“Why are you so interested in that?” I ask. It’s asked me that... seven times now. It asked a lot of other things related to my ship as well, but that’s the only question it kept on repeating.

[This unit is curious,] the droid lies. Well no, it really is curious. It’s just that it has another reason for wanting to know as well. One it apparently doesn’t want to share.

“It was a gift from the King of Pandoria,” I lie as obviously as I can. If it won’t tell me why it wants to know, I won’t tell it how I got my ship.

[...Query – is Savior-Rey lying?]

“Yes I am,” I say with a grin, amused by its confusion. And here I thought I was being obvious.

The droid’s confusion is replaced by a sharp burst of exasperation.

[Organics are strange.] This time there’s no amusement to be found. I chuckle.

Arriving at our destination, I open the compartment and carefully rummage through Artie’s spare parts. Luckily, it doesn’t take long to find an antenna that fits.

“Got it. Now, stand still so I can plug this in.”

The droid obligingly stands still, annoyance replaced by anticipation as I unplug the broken part.

The moment the new antenna snaps into place, the droid lets out a beep of joy and spins in place with pure happiness. I stand up with a smile.

“Feeling better?” Having no antenna is the droid equivalent of being deaf. Not exactly pleasant.

[Affirmative!]

“Good. Ready to brave Niima Outpost?”

I grimace at the way that makes its joy crash with renewed fear, but I don’t take the words back. I want to get off Jakku as soon as possible.

[...Affirmative.]

It really needs to stop imitating a kicked baby mammal.

The droid remains silent and scared as I gather my cloak and goggles, pulling up the hood and covering my face with a scarf. We leave my ship.

[Defensive protocols engaged; Threat Level 2.] That's the last thing it says, the rest of the walk to Niima Outpost happens in silence.

The closer we get, the more frightened it becomes.

This is just heartbreaking.

I halt when we reach the gates and look down, meeting its photoreceptor.

“You sure you want to stay?” I try one last time. The way the droid’s fear is replaced by stubborn determination makes it clear that the attempt was in vain.

[Affirmative.]

I sigh, really wishing it would take me up on my offer. That obviously isn’t going to happen, though.

“Your choice. Follow me.”

I start walking towards the droid quarters, mostly ignoring the Force cacophony caused by the crowd of people. I only keep an eye out for any aggression aimed at us. Fortunately, there’s none.

The droid, its resolve replaced by fear once more, keeps very close to me.

We’re halfway there when the droid halts, fear replaced by shock. When I look down, I see its photoreceptor aimed at something to the side.

“What is it?” I ask while glancing in the direction its looking, but my gaze is drawn back to the droid before I can figure out what drew its attention.

The droid is becoming angry.

No, not angry. Furious.

[Alert! Thief in the vicinity! Alert! Alert!]

That’s not exactly a helpful descriptor when it comes to the people here.

“That’s not–”

[Adjusting defensive protocols; Threat Level 6,] the droid interrupts before I finish saying how useless that description is, and races off with a cry of rage, its sheer speed making sand fly in its wake.

I’m so caught off guard by this turn of events that for a moment, I can only stare. Then I quickly run after it, thought without boosting myself beyond my natural limits.

The droid is charging towards a drinking spot for mounts, where a happabore is lapping up the water contently, There’s also a human male kneeling at the edge, desperately gulping down the unfiltered water. Brave man, he’s going to feel that after it hits his digestive system.

The man is the target of the droid’s fury, and it lets out another cry as it nears him, making the man jump to his feet while spinning around, presence snapping to high alert. Now that I’m paying attention to him, I can make out his fear, confusion, exhaustion, and so much thirst. Seeing him up close also reveals that he’s not a local. So, not a brave man. Just a desperate one who has no idea of the horrifying sickness that water is going to cause.

The droid rams him in the legs at full speed, only the man’s armored boots saving him from broken bones.

They’re not enough to save him from falling.

With a startled yell and flailing arms, the man falls down the basin with a dramatic splash, water flying everywhere. It’s even enough to make a few locals openly glance his way, though that has more to do with the loss of the water than the impressive fall. They soon look away of course, returning to keeping an unobtrusive and wary eye on the proceedings instead. On Jakku, it isn’t polite to interfere in other people’s business. It’s also liable to get you involved in things you really don’t want to be involved in.

I halt next to the still furious droid, rather amused by this whole thing. My sense of humor has always been warped.

The man is getting back to his feet, coughing up water and even more confused than before. He’s also understandably frightened and wary.

[Thief! Thief! Thief!]

“And what exactly did he steal?”

[Designation; Filthy-Thief, stole Friend-Classified’s Special-Jacket.]

Friend-Classified? A question for later, this needs to be resolved first.

I look over the distinctive jacket the man is wearing. It’s distinctive because the rest of his outfit consists of an undersuit, a utility belt, and Stormtrooper boots. I sense a story here.

First things first.

“You’re absolutely certain that it’s your friend’s?”

[Affirmative!]

“What the hell?” the man demands after he stops coughing up water, clearly not having understood anything the droid said.

“Apparently you stole that jacket,” I translate, taking pity on the poor thief. Sure, he’s a thief, but it’s clear that he’s been through some rough times. Times that are only going to get more rough after that water hits his system.

“What? No, I didn’t!” He’s not lying.

[Liar!] The droid punctuates this accusation by sliding out its taser and making it spark threateningly. The man responds by taking by taking a quick few steps back, causing him to bump into the happabore. Who promptly nudges him out of the way so she can continue drinking.

The force of that five ton nudge sends the man falling down spectacularly once more.

“He’s not lying,” I tell the droid while the man resurfaces with a splutter.

[Objection! Special-Jacket belongs to Friend-Classified. Filthy-Thief is not the owner.]

“I don’t know how he got the jacket, but he’s telling the truth about not stealing it.”

“You’re BB-8.”

I raise a surprised brow at the recognition accompanying that statement. The man genuinely knows the droid.

The droid called BB-8. Which I didn’t know because I didn’t bother to ask. The fact that I’d gotten used to thinking of the droid– thinking of BB-8 as 'the droid' while blending with my ship is no excuse. Everyone deserves to have their name known.

Well, almost everyone.

But while the man knows BB-8, BB-8 doesn’t know him. Its anger is replaced by startled confusion, quickly followed by wary suspicion.

[Query – how does Filthy-Thief know the Designation of this unit?]

“It wants to know how you know its name,” I translate. “It also wants to know how you got that jacket. It belongs to a friend of it.”

I really hope that the sudden appearance of this jacket means that BB-8’s friend is still coming after all.

The man briefly closes his eyes, the grief that had been simmering low flaring high. Oh no.

“Poe Dameron, right?” The softly spoken question makes BB-8 reel back with shock.

[Query – how does Filthy-Thief know the Designation of Friend-Classified?]

“I didn’t understand that, but Poe got captured by the First Order,” the man says before I can translate, the mention of the First Order making me reflexively scan my surroundings.

Nothing out of the ordinary is happening. Good.

“I helped him escape, but our ship crashed. Poe... Poe didn’t make it.” The words are accompanied by equal parts guilt and sorrow.

That sorrow is nothing compared to the way BB-8’s heart breaks, a pain so all-consuming I can’t help but wince just from experiencing it second hand.

“I tried to save him. I’m sorry.”

[...Defensive protocols disengaged.]

BB-8 retract its taser and rolls away, its dome hanging low. I watch with worry as it halts some distance away, but I make no attempt to go after it. Everything I can think of to say seems hollow when faced with the soul shattering grief consuming it. It's also clear that it wants to be alone. Respecting its wishes is the best I can do for it.

I return my gaze to the man as he wades closer, his own sorrow dominant above a chaotic mix of guilt, exhaustion, bitterness, and anger.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” I offer, because it’s clear that this Poe had been a friend of his as well.

The man startles, his attention drawn away from BB-8.

“...Thanks,” he says, oddly stunned and grateful by my condolences. It doesn’t take long for grief to regain the upper hand, though. He lets out a huff that feels like a sob. “It’s funny, I only knew him for... can’t have been more than half an hour.”

Yet it feels as though he’s lost someone he’s known for years.

I keep quiet, not really knowing what to say to that. Not wanting to intrude on his grief.

The man heaves himself out of the basin, the water clinging to him immediately starting to evaporate now that it’s no longer being protected by the basin’s forcefield.

I hesitate. It’s kind of rude to do this while he’s grieving. But my curiosity wins out.

I want to know the story behind him.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“FN-2– Finn. My name is Finn.”

I stare. Proud possessiveness rose when he said his name, but that's not why I’m so surprised.

His story is getting more interesting by the minute.

“Nice to meet you, Finn. So why would a Stormtrooper help a prisoner of the First Order escape?” I haven’t even finished my question before Finn almost falls into the water again, wide eyes meeting my own as panic overtakes all else.

My warped sense of humor is quite pleased with his reaction.

“How– I’m not a Stormtrooper, of course I’m not, why would you think I am, I don’t look like one. Do I?”

I grin. It might’ve been a little mean to do, but his reaction is more than a little funny as well.

“The first clue was your boots, though that isn't too suspicious on its own. Combined with you starting to introduce yourself with a serial number, however, it is. You might want to work on that.” Without the slip up, I honestly wouldn’t have pegged him as a Stormtrooper. He doesn’t feel like one. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” I add, infusing the words with sincerity as his panic spikes even higher. My sense of humor might be warped, but that doesn’t mean I want to make him have a mental breakdown.

My sincerity is enough to calm his panic. Unfortunately, the whirling mixture of shame, anger, bitterness and self-loathing that replaces it isn’t much better. It seems a mental breakdown is inevitable no matter what I do.

Given that he’s a recently defected Stormtrooper, this is understandable.

“Right, no introducing myself by designation,” he says to himself, before closing his eyes. “Finn. My name is Finn.” Proud possessiveness rises again as he says his name.

After defecting from the First Order, he’s more than earned it.

“So what made you decide to leave the First Order?” I ask, curious. Most Stormtroopers are so brainwashed the notion never even occurs to them, never mind actually going through with it. Finn is a very brave man indeed.

There’s also something about him. Something I can’t quite put my finger on.

Indulging my curiosity, I reach for his presence, wading through the chaos of emotions as I try to figure out just what it is about him that tugs at my senses.

“...You know, I could still be a Stormtrooper. An undercover one.”

And happabores can fly.

“You really think you should be telling me that? I might just believe you,” I tease.

The return of Finn's panic makes me realize that, in my current state of being covered up from head to toe, I have failed to convey the right effect.

“No, I did leave, I swear! It’s just, you’re very quick to believe me?”

“I’m amazing at being able to tell when people are lying.” Courtesy of the Force.

Speaking of which.

Having finished examining him thoroughly and still unable to find just what it is about him that itches at me, I poke at his presence. I myself don’t feel anything new when I do, but Finn actually twitches, paranoia flaring high. I stare at him in astonishment.

Finn is Force-sensitive. How unexpected.

It’s rare, very rare, for me to meet another Force-sensitive. When I do, the results are always spectacular. Either in incredibly good, or in unbelievably bad ways.

I’m really hoping this is one of the good times.

“Did you feel...” he trails off, eyes darting around as he nervously examines every inch of our surroundings.

“Feel what?” I return while letting go of his presence, the question light and casual, and not suspicious at all.

“...Nothing,” he says, and while he calms down a little, he remains on high alert.

“So why did you leave?” I ask, both to satisfy my curiosity and to return to a safer topic.

“Thought I’d try something new,” he says with a sudden burst of wry humor.

“And is freedom everything you expected it to be?” I ask with a grin, but realize just how tactless that question was when his emotions begin to boil in a furious storm.

“Can't say I ever expected to share a drink with... whatever that is,” Finn says with a nod at the happabore, doing an admirable job of containing his rising hysteria.

“A happabore,” I supply, debating on whether to project calm or not. On one hand, it might head off the imminent breakdown. On the other, with Finn being Force-sensitive, it might make everything worse it instead.

Finn snorts, disbelief, fear, panic, and hysterical humor all vying for dominance in a chaotic cacophony. This right here is why I prefer droids to organics. They only feel one emotion at a time, two at the most. Much less headache inducing than this turmoil.

“Less than twenty-four hours ago I was on my first combat assignment. And then I committed treason. High treason even. I... I broke out a Resistance pilot. I broke out a Resistance pilot. I... I need to get out of here. Right Now. I need to get out of here right now.”

Projecting calm it is.

“You’re safe. They can’t get you here,” I declare, infusing my words with feelings of calm and safety.

“You can’t know that,” Finn returns, and while his hysteria doesn’t lessen, it doesn’t grow worse either.

“I can,” I assure him, adding sincerity to the mix. Putting words into action, I stretch out my presence and examine Niima Outpost much more thoroughly than my cursory inspection from before. As expected, there’s still nothing–

...Damn it.

I take hold of Finn’s and BB-8’s presence, and begin projecting nothing important to see here very strongly. The effect is immediate, the wary interest aimed at us fading away. This isn’t the same as blending, which effectively turns me into part of whatever scenery I happen to be. It’s just a strong suggestion that we aren’t important.

“I stand partly corrected. The First Order is here.” A platoon of Stormtroopers, having just arrived at the edge of Niima Outpost. Not exactly hard to get away from. “You’re still safe,” I add as Finn chokes and blind terror overwhelms all else.

“The First Order is here?” he whispers, not in disbelief but with a desperate hope that he somehow misheard me. I give him a sympathetic look. Given that it’s been less than a day since he defected, this really is his worst nightmare to life.

“You’re safe,” I repeat, though I can’t emphasize the sentiment as much as I’d like to without messing up my projection. “I have a ship ready for takeoff, I can drop you off somewhere else.”

Overwhelming relief crashes through his panic, so strong it almost makes me feel a little light headed. Holding someone’s presence always makes their emotions feel more intense. Though in this particular case, I’m pretty sure I would’ve been just as affected even without it, that’s how strong the feeling is.

“A ship is good, great, perfect, yes, let’s do that, let’s go to the ship, let’s go to the ship right now.”

I know this is serious, but I can’t help but smile at his panicked babbling. Finn is cute.

“Follow me,” I say, and walk towards BB-8. Finn needs no further encouragement, sticking to my side like glue and keeping a ruthless control over his panic. Whatever else can be said about Stormtrooper brainwashing, I can’t deny the discipline over emotions it installs.

BB-8 lifts its photoreceptor as we near, still consumed by sorrow that cuts to the soul. I bend down in front of it. I wish I didn’t have to do this while it’s still struggling with its grief, but the arrival of the Stormtroopers leaves me no choice.

“The situation has changed. The First Order is here, so I’m going to take off now. The offer for a ride still stands,” I say, really hoping it will agree to come.

BB-8 hesitates, indecision mostly replacing its sorrow. Mostly.

It lets out a soft sigh, unending sorrow overtaking all else again, before being replaced by unyielding determination.

[Directive accepted. This unit will leave Planet; Jakku with Savior-Rey. Defensive protocols engaged; Threat Level 4.]

I’m so glad it changed its mind. I really didn’t want to leave it behind on this Force forsaken rock.

“Great. Let’s go. And keep quiet, both of you,” I aim towards Finn as well. While projecting isn’t as difficult as blending by far, it still requires me to concentrate.

Finn has no problem whatsoever with doing as he’s told. It’s taking all his focus just to keep his panic under control.

[Query – why?] BB-8 does not share Finn's restraint.

“I don't want to attract attention,” I answer while keeping track of the Stormtroopers now making their way through Niima Outpost. Now that I’m aware of their presence, it’s impossible to miss them. They have a very distinctive feel.

Wasting no further time, I start marching towards my ship. I keep a brisk pace, but I don’t run. A projection like this only works without suspicious behavior. Act unusual, and it will break.

“Can’t we go any faster?”

Unfortunately, Finn doesn’t know that.

“No, we'll attract attention if we do,” I answer, most of my attention on the Stormtroopers.

“Why–”

“Remember how I said to keep quiet?”

Finn shuts up. Good.

It takes more and more effort to keep up the projection as we leave Niima Outpost, and soon we’re too far away for me to affect the whole of it. Instead, I focus only on the Stormtroopers. Hopefully nobody else will point us out to them, that would pierce through the projection without fail.

Fortunately, people on Jakku, local and traveler alike, very emphatically do not handle authority well. Unless enough credits are involved of course, but the First Order isn’t in the business of making nice with the locals.

Still, even if we do get spotted, the worst that can happen is us being chased. Either by Stormtroopers or by nearby TIE-fighters. A little harder to get away from, but not by much, even when adding in the need to protect BB-8 and Finn. I’d still rather avoid that, though.

Now that we’re far enough away that we can’t be overheard, I activate my comm.

“Artie, get ready for take-off. We’ve got company, a platoon of Stormtroopers. And BB-8, the droid from before, decided to take me up on my offer after all. I’ve also picked up another passenger.”

Artie lets out a disgusted sigh, before it plays a recording of me saying I told you so. I break the connection at the assurance that it will have everything prepared for immediate departure.

The Force is with us, no one spots us before we arrive at my ship, parked quite a distance away.

“The lounge is to the right, strap yourselves in,” I say the moment we enter, manually sealing the entrance behind BB-8 and Finn, before I run towards the cockpit, yanking off my hood, scarf and goggles along the way. Artie has already started the engines and activated the scramblers, so I mentally start lifting off.

Artie’s presence brightens in a way only flying can cause.

I stay low to the sand to avoid the scanners of any nearby TIE-fighters, ready to activate the shields, but not yet doing so. Raising the shields require me to deactivate the cloaking device first, and I want to avoid anyone spotting the distinctive shape of my ship.

Flipping into the pilot chair, I take manual control while mentally strapping myself in.

“How long until we can jump?” I ask Artie, strapped down besides me. I myself am busy checking for hostiles, both by Force and by scanner. Given that no one is currently chasing us, I’m not picking anything up mentally. The long range scanners, however, shows a medium carrier ship of Imperial make.

I’m so glad there isn’t a destroyer in the system.

The short range scanners don’t show any TIE-fighters, but that doesn’t mean much. Depending on how far out of range they are, or rather, how close they are, they’ll catch up before we can leave the atmosphere. Those things can really move.

[Standard Time; 4,3 seconds.]

“Great, we– what the hell are you two doing?” I yell down the corridor as both Finn’s and BB-8’s presence start rapidly moving towards the cockpit.

“There’s at least one squadron of TIE-fighters nearby, maybe even–”

“This is not the first time I’ve given the First Order the two-fingered salute,” I interrupt, turning around just enough so I can scowl at both Finn and BB-8 a scowl as they skid into view.

“We need–” Whatever Finn was going to say is lost, his determination shattered by stunned recognition, immediately followed by instinctive denial. “You’re Rey.”

This is not the time to be having this conversation.

Before I can repeat my order for them to get back to the lounge, the comms activate.

“Attention, vehicle. In the name of the First Order–”

I punch the engines while pulling the nose straight up. Finn and BB-8 yell as they lose their footing, and I quickly grab hold of them before they can smack into the walls. I won’t let these two idiots bang up my ship just because they’re too stupid to strap themselves in during take-off.

I glance at the short range scanner, more out of habit than necessity. Now that we’re being chased, the two fighters are easy to pin down. They’re nearby and accelerating at a pace that will obliterate the distance between us in mere seconds.

Mere seconds are all I need.

I dodge the shots fired at us with ease, holding Finn and BB-8 steady as we spin through the air.

Artie lets out a happy sigh.

The instant we leave the atmosphere, I drop the cloak and raise the shields right before jumping to hyperspace, all with Force perfect timing. As the stars blur, I set down Finn and BB-8, before leaning back in my chair and closing my eyes.

The scramblers kept their scanners from identifying my ship, and the cloaking should’ve prevented them from spotting its distinctive shape, but there’s still a slight possibility that they caught a glimpse of it. Or rather, there’s a possibility that they recorded the cloak being dropped. Which means there is a possibility they will recognize my ship when going over the footage.

Which means there’s a possibility of Kylo Ren being informed of my potential presence on Jakku.

I rub my eyes, a complicated mess of emotions. Kylo Ren’s own presence already meant that the wisest course of action would be to never return to Jakku, but when combined with the possibility of my ship being spotted, it becomes an absolute necessity.

I expected the knowledge that I’ll never be able to return to hurt. And it does hurt. It makes me feel lost, sad, pained, angry, and so much more. But mostly...

Mostly I just feel relief.

I won’t ever be able to return. I won’t have to wait anymore. Won’t have to keep hoping only to be disappointed time and time again.

I can finally say goodbye to my family.

As hysterical denial rises behind me, I swivel my chair around. Artie happily takes over control, radiating bliss.

Finn has come back into view, and he’s staring at me with wide eyes, torn between disbelief and horror. It’s not hard to guess why.

BB-8 rolls up behind him, utterly bewildered. Probably because of the impromptu hover session it just experienced.

“You’re Rey,” Finn repeats like that might somehow change what his eyes are telling him. I dip my head in a sarcastic bow.

“The one and only.”

[Query – how does, Adjusted Designation; Finn, know the Designation of Savior-Rey?]

“All Stormtroopers do. Ex-Stormtrooper,” I add when BB-8 reels back in shock and slides out its taser. After a moment of hesitation, it puts away its taser, though it continues to watch Finn with wary suspicion. It also doesn’t disengage its defensive protocols.

As long as it doesn’t attack Finn, I have no problem with how it chooses to act.

Finn himself continues to stare at me, radiating pure chaos. He lets out a snort, a chuckle, before he bursts into hysterical laughter, closing his eyes and leaning against the wall for support.

Well, there are far worse ways to deal with a mental breakdown. All things considered, this is fairly benign.

[Query – did Finn’s software crash?]

“Yes. Don’t worry, it’s temporary.” I hope.

“You’re Rey,” Finn repeats, before continuing his hysterical laughter. I feel a faint smile grow. While this isn’t fun for him in the slightest, it is rather funny to watch.

“Welcome to the real world.” My quip makes Finn choke on thin air, before he laughs even harder than before. My smile grows.

I won’t ever be able to return to Jakku. I won’t ever find out what happened to my family. But I managed to avoid the notice of Kylo Ren, left Jakku right under the First Order’s nose, and I even managed to give them the two-fingered salute by keeping Finn out of their clutches.

All in all, today really is a beautiful day.

Chapter Text

FN-2– Finn. His name is Finn.

Finn enters the lounge, sits down the bench, and buries his head in his hands as he continues to struggle with everything that’s happened.

He committed high treason. He broke out a Resistance pilot.

He broke out Poe Dameron. The person who gave him a name.

And then Poe died. Finn feels a tremble run through him.

Poe died. He died because of him. Because he wasn’t fast enough, because he failed to shoot down the fighters in time.

Poe is dead.

Finn forces his mind to turn in a different direction. He doesn’t want to think about losing Poe.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately is more fitting, it’s easy to turn his thoughts towards something else. Because he is on a ship with Rey.

He’s on a ship with Rey, and a droid carrying a map to Luke Skywalker. Finn is absolutely certain that this is reality, there’s no possible way it isn't. Only real life can be this cruel.

Finn carefully doesn’t think of what staying here will mean for his future. It helps him keep control over the frantic desire to jump into the nearest escape pod and initiate launch, no matter that doing so would be suicide when traveling at hyperspeed.

But he’s on a ship with Rey. He’s with the obsession of–

He can’t even finish that thought, irrational fear screaming at him that he’ll be found if he even dares to think that name. Probably irrational. Maybe.

Finn turns to wondering about what he should do next. And feels a violent shiver run through him, because that question is mind numbingly terrifying.

What should he do now? What can he do? How will he survive, how can he live on his own? There’s no more rules, no more structure, no more being told what to do. There’s nothing but endless choices, endless possibilities and he doesn’t know what to do, what to choose, doesn’t know how to make the right decision and he–

Deep breaths, steady and calm. No panicking again. Just breathe.

He tries to think of something else. Unfortunately, the only other things that come to mind are Poe and Rey. Both are equally distressing to think about, though in different ways. But if he has to choose– of course he has to choose. No one else will do it for him.

Not anymore.

...Except that isn’t quite true. On Jakku, Rey had ordered him to follow her and to keep quiet. She hadn’t given him a choice. She had before that, offering to give him a ride, but after that, she had ordered him.

It had been such a relief to obey. To not have to come up with a plan on his own, not having to think, just keep his panic under control and follow orders.

Finn lets out a derisive snort. He left the First Order, what, four hours ago? Five? Definitely no more than six. So, six hours at most, and he’s already longing for orders again. Great way to start off his newfound freedom.

Freedom...

Rey had said the word so easily. So casually. Like it’s the most simple thing in the world.

Like the very idea doesn’t terrify him to the bone.

Finn doesn’t regret leaving the First Order. Well okay, part of him, a large part if he’s being honest, does.

An even larger part doesn’t.

He made the decision not to kill for them, and he still stands by that. He won’t ever take a life unless it’s in self-defense. It’s the only choice he has no doubt about, the only one he knows is right.

It’s the only choice that’s easy to make.

But all the other choices, all the uncountable things he now needs to decide... those are terrifying.

Freedom is terrifying.

Finn envies how Rey can be so casual about it. She seems so at ease with the idea. Like there’s nothing even remotely scary about it. How can she be so relaxed about it?

Can she teach him how to do the same?

Finn feels a mocking smile grow. Now that is an amazingly stupid question. Not in the least because it would require him to remain with her for far longer than he’d be able to keep his desire to jump into the nearest escape pod under control. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Probably won’t hurt, anyway. Who knows, she might be able to give some pointers before he leaves.

Because he is going to leave. He’s going to get away from her as soon as possible. Given the choice between the mind numbing terror of freedom or staying with the obsession of–

Well would you look at that. Finn has found another choice that’s easy to make.

So, he’s going to leave as soon as possible. Until then, he’ll just have to resist the urge to crawl into the nearest escape pod. Finn takes a deep breath and lifts his head with determination.

He can do this.


 

Six Years Ago

I can do this. I can. I’ve been practicing for an entire year, I can do this. In theory.

No, I can do this in practice as well. I can.

I have to.

All right. Here I go.

Opening my eyes with determination, I turn on the engines. A giddy thrill runs through me as I hear them whine and feel the faint vibrations running through the hull, but I force myself to remain focused. I only have one shot at this, I can’t afford to be distracted.

After activating the repulsors, I carefully lift off and retract the landing gear, before I look to the side, lift a hand and concentrate, careful, not too hard, only need to...

I yell as I’m slammed into the chair, the Falcon tilting to the side and scraping over the sand, wrong switch, wrong switch!

I desperately try to right the nose, but it’s not use, the starboard thrusters are pushing me down the sand, and then I flip over completely and now I’m spinning through the air and I’m going to be sick, I’m going to crash, I’m going to–

Come on, focus, focus.

I reach a hand towards the switch for the back-up starboard thrusters and mentally hit it with no care for finesse–

The switch is crushed by the strength of my Force push, sparks dancing through the air. I’ve also managed to destroy the fuel adjusters below it. Damn it.

But the starboard thrusters are off and I’m no longer spinning. I’ve also managed to avoid destroying the shield switches, thank the Force.

I gently right the Falcon, and check to see if the hull integrity is still intact.

It is. I’ve lost my long range communications, though.

Cursing the fact that the auto-pilot doesn’t function within an atmosphere, and cursing the stupid glitch I still haven’t been able to fix even more viciously, I gently lift the Falcon’s nose towards the sky, before unbuckling myself one handed. I need to be quick, the Falcon will start dropping the moment I let go of the controls, because screw the faulty stabilizer that refuses to be fixed.

Pulling my legs up beneath me and taking a deep breath, I let go of the controls and leap towards the copilot’s chair, reaching out to manually activate the shields and... yes!

No, no, no, the Falcon is dropping much faster than expected, and I barely manage to hold on to the seat, preventing myself from get smacked into the ceiling and I need to get back to the controls right now.

I reach for the pilot chair and mentally yank myself towards it, almost crack my head open on the dash but that isn’t important, I have to regain control, almost got it–

All right, okay, I’m fine, the Falcon is fine, we’re flying straight and the shields are active. The worst part is over.

Seriously, who the hell thought it was a good idea to place the shield switches on the copilot’s side?

I strap myself in again, before taking a few calming breaths. The shields are up, the repulsors are on, and I charted the hyperspace course before taking off. Now I just need to leave the atmosphere and wait for the hyperdrive to finish priming.

I gently lift the nose and accelerate a little, flying up into the night sky. Flying towards the stars.

I can’t believe I’m actually doing this. I’m flying in the Millennium Falcon, and I’m about to go into space.

The thought alone is enough to make a giddy smile grow.

“What in Puntha’s name are you doing!? You get back here right this instant–”

I can’t even begin to describe how satisfying it is to break the connection. Unkar Plutt will just have to find a new slave, because I am officially gone.

I’m free.

I watch with wonder as the stars brighten more and more as the atmosphere thins. Even after all this time, part of me still have trouble believing it’s possible to travel the stars.

Except it is possible. And I’m actually doing it! The shifting gravity confirms that I’ve left the atmosphere, which means I am officially in space!

Laughing with delight, I accelerate further, before turning around and holding the Falcon steady.

I feel my breath catch.

Jakku seems to almost shine, an orb of uncountable shades of brown floating against the backdrop of space.

I really did it. I've left Jakku.

I’m really free.

And suddenly I’m crying, tears streaming down my face. I don’t wipe them away, just let them fall and blink rapidly to prevent the moisture from blurring my sight, my eyes locked onto the planet I’ve lived on for years but which has never felt like home. Only like a prison.

And now I’m free.

I’m free.

A soft ping draws my attention. I wipe my tears away, before searching for the cause of the alarm.

The long range scanner has picked something up. More specifically, it’s picked up the engines of a starship. The ship’s size is too insignificant to register, but the energy it’s expanding isn’t.

I’m guessing that Unkar Plutt has taken offense at my leaving. How tragic.

I wonder if he’s already noticed the missing money as well. I hope he hasn’t. Discovering it after I’ve already left will ruin his day even further.

Revenge might not be the Jedi way, but after eight years of being treated like a slave, I think I’ve more earned than earned the right to some vicious satisfaction.

With a grin, I verify that the hyperdrive has finished priming, before I turn the nose away from Jakku and grasp the hyperdrive lever.

I can’t believe I’m going to do this.

With bated breath, I activate the hyperdrive. And gasp with wonder as the stars streak in a moment that feels like it last forever, yet at the same time it’s somehow over before it even begins, the warping of space and time an almost physical sensation, tangible in a way I never expected it to be. Then light that isn't quite light bursts into existence, consuming the stars, impossible shades of blue dancing together in a vivid spectacle more breathtaking than anything I could’ve ever imagined.

The movies have nothing on reality.

I start laughing again, overwhelmed by impossible joy, happier than I can ever remember being. No more Unkar Plutt, no more rules, no more being told what to do! I’m free, I’m really, truly, finally free!

That freedom is the most wonderful feeling I have ever experienced.

Chapter Text

“So where do you want to be dropped off at?” I ask BB-8 while keeping an eye on Finn’s presence. For a moment, I thought he was going to have another breakdown, but he seems to have it under control now.

[Classified data.]

I raise a bemused brow.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have the coordinates for that location. Care to try again?”

BB-8 hesitates, indecision flaring high as it debates on whether to tell me or not. Or maybe it’s trying to find a way around its programming it if literally can’t tell me.

Oh well, it’s not like there’s any rush.

“You let me know when you make up your mind,” I say, before standing up. “I’m going to check on Finn.” Now that he’s mostly calmed down, there are some things we need to discuss. Like where he wants to be dropped off at. “You coming?” I ask BB-8, figuring it would rather stay with me than with Artie.

I’m right, BB-8 looks at Artie, and a burst of wariness replaces its indecision.

[Affirmative.]

Artie ignores us both of course, still radiating bliss. Almost nothing can draw its attention away from the love of its life when its flying.

Walking through the corridors, I trail my hand along the walls, savoring every sensation. After entering the lounge, I grab an empty container and place it down the table in front of Finn, before I sprawl down a chair across him. BB-8 halts besides me, suspicion rising as it gazes at Finn.

Finn himself takes a deep breath, before he gives me a look as determined as he feels.

“I want to get off this ship as soon as possible.”

I figured he would.

“Give me a destination, and I will happily drop you off,” I agree.

Unfortunately, my words make Finn falter, indecision flaring high, quickly joined by shame, anger, and not a little self-loathing. Right, recently defected Stormtrooper. Making choices is not something he’s used to.

“What’s your plan?” I amend my question to.

“My plan?” Finn returns with confusion, as well as underlying notes of relief, gratitude, and a fleeting burst of even greater self-loathing than before.

“Now that you’ve left the First Order, what’s your plan?” I elaborate.

“Stay alive,” Finn answers without hesitation, making me snort with laughter. Finn blinks with surprise, before gaining a small, almost boyish smile of bashful pleasure. It's remarkably adorable.

“Good plan,” I say, because it really is. Nice and simple. “And do you have any specific ideas on how to go about doing that?” Probably not, given his earlier reaction, but the question still needs to be asked.

As expected, Finn’s smile falters, uncertainty, anxiety and fear boiling to the surface. He lets out a tired sigh and rubs his forehead.

“Not really.”

In that case, it’s time for a crash course on how to stay alive when being hunted by the First Order.

“You basically have two options,” I say, making Finn snap to attention and focus on me with what I can only call ruthless intensity. If I hadn’t been expecting it to happen, I would’ve been more than a little startled. “Either you pick a rock in the middle of nowhere to spend out the rest of your days, or you get yourself a ship and live like a nomad.” Like me. “And get some gene therapy as well, no matter what option you pick.” I haven’t had any done, but given my situation, doing so would be pointless.

“Gene therapy won’t make a difference,” Finn counters with a grimace and rising fear, utterly convinced that he’s right about this.

“Why not?” I ask, curious as to what makes him so certain. Sure, it wouldn’t make a difference for me, but it should for him.

“If I manage to avoid being captured long enough, they’ll send–” Finn falls silent with a violent shiver, blind panic breaking through, before he forces it back down with beskar discipline.

I can’t help but perform an instinctive check of my surroundings, no matter that I know I’m as safe as I can be. Hyperspace is the only place he can never find me.

“Point taken,” I concede, because being hunted by Kylo Ren really does make gene therapy pointless. Genes can be altered, Force presence can’t be.

It can, however, be hidden. That takes a lot of practice, though.

On another note, I really shouldn’t have been surprised by the revelation that he hunts down deserters himself. That’s exactly the kind of thing the sick asshole would do.

Finn lets out a broken laugh that borders on the edge of hysteria.

“I’m going to die.”

I wince at the matter of fact statement and the resigned despair fueling it. The worst part is that I can’t refute it. Avoiding the First Order in general, yes, that is absolutely possible. Avoiding Kylo Ren? I’m living proof of how impossible that is.

I tap my prosthetic in a nervous habit I hate yet can never prevent myself from doing.

“If I’m lucky, I’ll be killed during capture.”

Okay, you know what? Screw this. That asshole isn’t even here, yet both Finn and I are acting like our fate is already determined. Like it’s impossible to change no matter how hard we try, and I know for a fact that is a complete and utter load of crap.

The future is never set in stone.

“You’re not going to die,” I tell him, infusing it with my resolve.

It doesn’t affect Finn in the slightest. If anything, he becomes even more resigned than before, and he actually has the nerve to let out a disbelieving snort. I scowl and forcefully tap his presence.

Finn jumps to his feet, banging his knees against the table and completely ignoring the pain as he frantically looks around, before his eyes zero in on me.

I myself am mentally inspecting the table, worried that Finn might’ve scuffed it. Fortunately for my peace of mind, he didn’t.

“What the hell did you just do to me?” Finn demands, half angry, half afraid, and wholly ready to rip out my throat if needed.

Huh. For the first time, I can see how he was able to leave the First Order. That is one mean survival instinct.

“Gave you a mythical smack for acting like a fatalistic moron. You’re not going to die,” I emphasize with a glare. I’m committed to this now. I’m going to do all I can to keep Finn alive.

Admittedly, all I can do, isn’t all that much. Unless...

Now there’s an idea.

“You need to learn how to hide. In the Force,” I clarify when Finn looks at me like I’m a moron for stating the obvious. “If you can do that, you have a real shot at survival.”

Admittedly not a great one, but a real chance nonetheless. It’ll depend on how interested Kylo Ren is in him. And on how much previous contact they’ve had.

My words inspire startled disbelief, followed by the kind of burning hope only the desperate can feel.

“How–” Finn starts to ask just as I continue talking as well, making him fall silent. I’ll answer his own question after I’ve asked a few very vital ones myself.

“Have you had much contact with him? In person, I mean.”

I don’t need to specify who.

Finn’s fear spikes, but the gratitude accompanying it reveals that that the answer is a good one. He shakes his head.

“No, I only saw him in person once, when we were on Jakku.”

This is excellent news.

Before I can ask an even more vital question, I’m distracted by BB-8’s sudden shock, immediately followed by a fury that rivals the one it felt on Jakku.

[Query – Finn was present during Battle; Tuanul-Massacre?]

The massacre of what.

“Tuanul was massacred? When?” I demand, horrified and instinctively trying to deny the truth of BB-8’s words. The people of Tuanul are about the only kind people there are on Jakku. Secretive and mistrustful of outsiders, but kind.

[Standard Time since Battle; Tuanul-Massacre: 23 hours, 8 minutes, 57 seconds.]

He killed them. That’s why he was on Jakku. To kill the people of Tuanul.

I close my eyes, struggling to contain the surge of vicious hatred, so strong it almost chokes me with its intensity. That monster, that vile, twisted, complete and utter monster.

“Mind letting me in on the conversation?”

It’s the fearful combat readiness, more than the words, that makes me open my eyes. When I do, I become aware of the rattling, well, everything that isn’t bolted down, really.

I close my eyes again and take calming breaths, evening out my presence through sheer force of will.

I’m going to need a lot of meditation after this.

BB-8 doesn’t even react to my loss of control, just keeps staring at Finn with unwavering fury, blind to anything else.

It’s not hard to figure out why.

“He defected, remember?” I remind it, but this fact doesn’t calm BB-8 down in the slightest.

[Repetition of Query – Finn was present during Battle; Tuanul-Massacre?] it repeats without looking away from Finn, and making more than clear that it wants me to translate. Now.

I grimace. This won’t be pretty.

“It wants to know if you were present during the... the massacre of Tuanul.” Just saying the words out loud makes me grit my teeth and focus on keeping my presence steady. “A village on Jakku,” I add when Finn’s confusion grows.

Finn flinches, confusion obliterated by guilt, shame, self-loathing, and an underlying anger as great as BB-8’s own.

“I didn’t fire my blaster. I didn’t kill anyone.” The words are rough and harsh, but the feelings accompanying them turn them into a desperate plea for forgiveness. My own rage falters as compassion rises.

The compassion is muted. As my anger fades, so does my energy, leaving me drained and tired.

He killed them. He killed them because he’s a monster. He killed them because he’s a Sith.

The only consolation I have is that he didn’t kill them because of me.

Not this time.

“He’s telling the truth,” I tell BB-8, sounding as tired as I feel.

BB-8 remains just as furious.

“It’s why I left, they wanted me to kill for them and I wouldn’t do that. I was supposed to, I was supposed to kill them all, but I didn’t, I won’t, I will never do that. I am not a murderer.” It’s both a vow and a plea, an explanation and a condemnation.

Who Finn is condemning isn’t clear. Maybe the First Order. Maybe himself. Maybe both.

For a moment, BB-8’s fury remains unchanged. Then it looks at Finn’s jacket and its rage fades away, replaced by an unending sorrow that forces me to close my eyes.

[...This unit would like to be alone now.]

I let out a weary sigh. I can’t leave it alone, it’s still a stranger, and I’ve had far too many incidents happen after letting passengers out of my sight. But I understand the desire to grieve in peace.

“You’re still not allowed to wander around unsupervised. But you can go to the cockpit. As long as you don’t mess with my ship, Artie will ignore you completely,” I say without opening my eyes.

[Directive accepted.]

BB-8 rolls away, its dome hanging low. I keep half an eye on its presence as it makes its way towards Artie.

Finn’s guilt grows as it watches BB-8 leave, before he lets out a huff that feels like a sob and sits back down, burying his head down his hands. The misery that suffocates the air isn’t pleasant, but I just don’t have the energy to dispel it.

The people of Tuanul rarely left their village, but over the years, I did meet a fair number of them. They never stayed long, returning to Tuanul as soon as their business was concluded. But they were kind. They always treated me gently.

They always treated me like the child my body was.

I remember Dasha giving me candy. They were small and hard, nothing more than sweetened rocks when it came to taste, really. But on Jakku, they’re one of the most precious treats there are.

They were one of the only gifts I’ve ever received in this life.

And now Dasha is dead. So is Ilco, Nannadi, Jodi, and so many more. All of them are dead.

All of them are dead because of him.

“I should’ve tried to save them.”

“You would’ve died if you had,” I reply without opening my eyes, the truth of it leaving me feeling even more hollow. There was nothing he could’ve done. Nothing anyone could’ve done.

Not when Kylo Ren was there.

“But I didn’t even try.”

The broken whisper makes me open my eyes.

“Finn, listen to me.” Finn’s head snaps up before I even finish the sentence, his name alone enough to draw his full attention, accompanied by a burst of emotions so complex I don’t bother to even try to make sense of them all. “There’s no shame in wanting to live.”

The spike in self-loathing lets me know just how much he disagrees with that.

“So I should be proud of being a coward?”

“You’re not a coward,” I deny without hesitation, because that is one of the most absurd things I have ever heard. Anyone who has the guts to leave the First Order after a lifetime of brainwashing can’t be called anything but brave.

“Finn, you left the First Order,” I say as he opens his mouth with the clear intention to refute my words, and the use of his name is enough to capture his full attention again. “You’re one of the bravest people I’ve ever met.”

Disbelief overpowers all else, followed by instinctive denial. The wonders of having every hint of self-esteem meticulously destroyed for decades.

“You don’t mean that.”

“I do,” I say, infusing the words with all the sincerity I possess. “You’re a brave man, Finn.”

My sincerity isn’t enough to erase all his disbelief and denial. After suffering abuse for so long, nothing might ever will. But there’s a hint of wonder as well, a tentative hope that I really do believe that he’s brave.

I manage to summon a small smile, still projecting honesty.

Finn averts his eyes, uncomfortable with the compliment to a degree that would be absurd if it wasn’t so heartbreaking.

The First Order deserves to be burned down to the ground and have their ashes spit on, before being thrown into the nearest black hole.

I decide to change the topic to something more comfortable. Well, something more practical, at least.

“Want to go back to figuring out a plan to stay alive?”

“Yes,” he immediately agrees with a rush of relief. “That’s a great idea, let’s do that, let’s figure out a plan.”

My smile deepens, his reaction making my own mood lift a little as well. Finn is cute.

“To continue where we last left off, I have some more questions. Has he ever made a connection with you?”

Finn’s confusion reveals that he hasn’t. At least, not a strong one.

This is fantastic news.

“Have you ever felt something similar to my smack from earlier?” I continue before Finn can answer verbally. It hadn’t really been a smack, but given that’s the word I used earlier, it’s easier to just use the same term again.

Finn hesitates, and while it’s not with recognition, not exactly, it’s close to it. Damn it.

“No, he... I didn't really feel anything, but...”

Finn falls silent, struggling to find the words. Kylo Ren definitely noticed him. Still, as long as he didn’t establish a true connection, Finn’s odds of staying alive are decent. If he’s a fast learner and remains very careful forever, that is.

When Finn finally does speak, it’s a hushed and fearful whisper.

“He looked at me.”

That is indeed whisper worthy. Even without adding in Finn’s Force-sensitivity.

“I have great news. As long as you learn how to hide in the Force and remain very careful for the rest of your life, you have decent odds of staying alive.”

The relief my words inspire is so great it makes me feel a little light-headed myself. Finn himself lets out a breathless laugh.

“Learn how to hide in the Force, yeah, okay, I can do that, I can so do that, no problem at all,” he babbles. I feel another smile grow.

Then Finn frowns, anxiety starting to rise as he looks at me. “How long do I need to stay with you to learn how to do that?”

“Oh, I’m not going to teach you.” Not because I don’t want to, though I won’t deny a complete and utter lack of desire to be a teacher of any kind, but because him staying with me is a guaranteed death sentence for him.

There’s a reason I only take on temporary passengers. Aside from Artie, but Artie wasn’t so much a passenger as it was a stowaway who refused to leave.

The declaration soothes some of Finn’s anxiety, though his worry remains just as strong, if in a different way than before.

“Then who–”

The rest of Finn’s question is lost under an abrupt roar of nausea, and I quickly yank the empty container in front of him as he bends forward, right in time to prevent vomit from splattering all over my ship.

“Quick tip for if you’re ever on another desert planet. If you see seemingly free water, don’t drink it. Ever.” He’s lucky this won’t cause him anything more than some violent retching and nausea. The water could’ve just as easily been lethal.

Finn doesn’t reply of course, too busy puking his guts out. The flicker of wry humor lets me know he’s registered my words, though.

As Finn continues expelling the contents of his stomach, I get up and gather some stims and two large bottles of water. It won’t get rid of all the nausea, but it’ll help with the worst of it.

“Who’s going to teach me?” Finn eventually asks in a weak voice, before continuing to empty his stomach. Judging from how little comes out, he’s almost finished.

“You’re going to be taught by Maz Kanata.”

There’s no recognition, which is a little surprising. I thought even Stormtroopers would know about the Pirate Queen.

“Who’s Maz Kanata?” Finn asks with his eyes closed, still struggling with overwhelming nausea. I think he’s gotten all the tainted water out of his system, though.

“A very wise, very mischievous, and very old woman. She’s forgotten more about the Force than you will ever learn.” Honestly, I just think of her as a female Yoda. Without the quirky speech, unfortunately. “There’s no better teacher in the entire galaxy, trust me.”

Even before the fall of the Jedi, I’m convinced that none of them were even remotely capable of some of the things Maz can do. Except maybe Yoda. And Obi-wan.

Then again, both Yoda and Obi-wan went into exile on planets that muddle Force senses. Maz, on the other hand, has run the most famous outlaw haven in plain view for a thousand years. I doubt Palpatine would’ve allowed that if he had any idea of how powerful she is.

“Not like I have much of a choice,” Finn mutters to himself, but there’s no heat behind it. It’s also true, he does have no choice but to trust me.

Fortunately for him, his trust is not misplaced.

“Here, take these,” I say after I’m certain there’s no more chance of him violating my ship with vomit, and place the stims and water down the table. I mentally lift the no longer empty container. I’m not going to touch that unless I have no other choice.

“Finish at least one bottle, you need to cleanse your system,” I continue while walking towards the garbage chute. Opening it, I mentally gather every single speck of vomit, before throwing it away.

I put aside the container to be disinfected later. It probably doesn’t need to be with how thorough I was, but, well. Vomit. Better safe than sorry.

Finn has already taken the stims, and he’s halfway through draining the bottle. After he’s finished, he closes his eyes and leans back in his seat with a tired sigh, his underlying exhaustion becoming dominant.

“You can take a nap if you want, it’ll take a few hours to reach Maz.” Courtesy of switching hyperlanes numerous times to guarantee that the First Order can’t follow my trail no matter what. Overkill when Kylo Ren isn’t the one pursuing me, but I’m not taking any chances.

On another note, I need to inform Artie of our newfound destination.

“Artie, set course for Maz!” I yell down the corridor, startling both Finn and BB-8, and making the vaguest of interest join Artie’s bliss. “We’re dropping off Finn there!” I add to ensure Artie won’t keep flying for as long as possible.

Artie doesn’t answer of course, vague interest already gone, but I know it’ll adjust our course.

BB-8 becomes consumed by soul cutting sorrow once more. It really did love its friend with all its heart.

“Sleeping is about the last thing I want to do right now,” Finn replies to my previous remark, before he straightens his back and determinedly ignores his exhaustion.

I debate on what to do next. On one hand, I could use some sleep myself. On the other hand, I don’t want to go to sleep. I’m still on edge, both from Kylo Ren’s own presence, and from the shock of learning of Tuanul’s destruction.

There's also Finn’s own presence. Things are going far too smoothly for having another Force-sensitive with me, and I don’t want to be caught off guard when things inevitably go wonky. Thought I’m tentatively starting to hope that the wonkiness will be good instead of bad.

I decide to forgo sleep a little longer. One of the many perks of using the Force is that sleep deprivation only starts becoming a problem after a day or three. If I meditate, I can stretch that out even further. A lot further.

So, given that we’re both not going to sleep, what should be do instead?

“Want to play a game?”

I’m more than a little surprised by the surge of blind terror that inspires. While it doesn’t remain that high for longer than an instant, it doesn’t fully disappear either. It’s also joined by wary suspicion.

When I realize why he’s acting like this, I chide myself for being my usual tactless self. Given who he associates me with, that really is a terrifying phrase.

“What game?” Finn still has the courage to ask, and while he’s still suspicious and scared, he’s genuinely curious as well.

“Dejarik,” I say with a friendly smile, pleased when my answer makes Finn’s fear and suspicion lessen, and his curiosity grows.

“What’s that?”

“You don’t know dejarik?” I demand, unable to help my incredulity, because really? He’s never even heard of it? Okay, yes, he’s an ex-Stormtrooper, but still. Dejarik is the most well known game in the entire galaxy. Even people who don’t know the rules have at least heard of it.

“The First Order is not in the habit of letting us play games.”

Except for Stormtroopers, apparently.

This is unacceptable.

“Well, we can’t have that,” I say, getting to my feet and taking a seat opposite of Finn. I activate the board.

Finn startles as the holograms flare to life, still in the last positions of the game Artie and I haven’t finished yet. I save the game, before resetting the board. One team appears in front of me, the other in front of Finn.

“Okay, so we each have a team of monsters, and the goal is to wipe out the opposing team,” I begin explaining with a grin, gesturing along my words. This is my favorite game in the whole galaxy.

“And how do you do that?” Finn asks while examining the pieces with interest, the last of his fear and suspicion fading away.

“Not that’s where it gets interesting. Every monster has its own strengths and weaknesses, so you have to match it up with an opponent it holds the advantage against, and you do that by carefully maneuvering the field. See the concentric circles?”

I happily explain the rules to a fascinated Finn. I don’t go into detail about all the exceptions, just explain the basics, before immediately starting a game. The best way to learn dejarik is to play it yourself.

Finn isn’t bad. He makes a lot of rookie mistakes of course, and he’s not the greatest at thinking ahead. He does, however, have a knack for using buffs and penalties.

When we’re about halfway the game, BB-8 rejoins us, no longer consumed by either grief or anger. Instead, it cheerfully offers Finn advice. Good advice, too. BB-8 turns out to be quite the skilled player, easily beating me after we finish the game and it takes takes a turn playing against me. It completely obliterates Finn in the next game.

That’s how we pass the time. Playing dejarik and talking about nothing important at all.

It’s fun.


 

We arrive on Takodana without incident. After landing, I give Finn a scarf to cover up his face, and some cloth to wrap around his distinctive boots. BB-8, who insists on coming along, I spray paint green. It doesn’t like that in the slightest, but it’s mollified by the assurance that it will come off with just one good scrubbing.

I can’t take either of them along without some kind of disguise. Maz Kanata’s Castle is a hotspot for information gathering, both for good and bad guys. Given Finn’s status as a deserter and BB-8’s ties with the Resistance, there’s no way I can let them just waltz in there. I also warn them not to call me by my name no matter what.

As for myself, I put on some shaded goggles and hide my face with one of the many scarfs I own.

I don’t mind the need to cover up. Growing up on Jakku has left me with a warped sense of what constitutes as “cold”. Layers help me ward off the chill that permeates about ninety-five percent of the galaxy.

Artie remains aboard the Millennium Falcon of course. In all the years I’ve known it, it’s only went out a handful of times. Literally, there have been five instances where it came out, and one of those times it went back aboard the instant after its wheels had left the ramp.

The moment I step onto the planet, I feel myself relax in a way only meditation and this place can cause.

On Takodana, the Force sings. A quiet, subtle, and so very sweet symphony, nearly undetectable unless you know what to look for. But once you do know, once you’ve grasped the vibrant currents covering every part of this planet, the music becomes impossible to miss.

“What is this place?” Finn’s question is soft, his presence awed. I look at him with surprise. He can actually sense it without any training? The Force is a lot stronger with him than I thought it was.

“This is the home of the Pirate Queen,” I say, feeling another smile grow as I look around the vibrant forest. “Come on.”

It’s a short walk to Maz’s castle, though longer than most make when coming here. I always like to land my ship away from the crowds.

Finn looks around with wonder, affected more than most by the feeling of this place. BB-8 is looking around as well, not awed, but curious nonetheless. Both of them are completely relaxed, another effect of the Force here. The difference is most noticeable with Finn of course, but BB-8 is definitely affected as well.

As we near Maz’s castle, the Force becomes even more vibrant. Sometimes I wonder whether Maz choose to make this place her home because of the unique Force currents, or whether those currents are a consequences of her living here for so long. Knowing Maz, it’s probably a combination of both.

Maz, of course, refuses to answer this question. She likes being mysterious.

Entering the courtyard, I watch with a grin as Frinn spins around to take in all the colorful flags decorating the walls. A perfect complement to the enormous statue of Maz herself, prominently displayed right in the center. She has such a flair for dramatics. She also often despairs over what she calls my lack of appreciation for the wonders of showbiz. Which is untrue, I do appreciate a good show. I just don’t like to cause one.

Still, it’s been awhile since I last came by. Why not make my entrance a memorable one? Maz already knows I’m here of course, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still surprise her.

Strutting towards the entrance, I mentally grab hold of the doors before they can slide open. Stopping in front of them, I strike the most haughty pose I can, before I push the doors open with a truly spectacular bang. I give everyone inside a single beat to turn their heads towards me, before I summon my most dramatic voice.

“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Surprise and confusion ripples through the crowd, alongside amusement, suspicion, and a rare few flickers of fear. Then laughter dances through the air, so bright it’s almost visible, and it’s enough to make most return to whatever they were doing before, losing interest now that Maz has confirmed everything is all right.

The heart of the song that is Maz’s presence moves closer, the crowd parting like water, some without even noticing that they’ve done so.

“Now that, Da’lin, is how you make an entrance. How proud you have made me.”

Smiling, I bend down as Maz opens her arms with invitation. The physical hug is as wonderful as the welcoming caress of her presence.

“Hello, Maz.”

I’ve missed you, I allow myself to send, something I still have trouble admitting out loud no matter how much time passes. Abandonment issues at their finest.

“It’s been too long, Da’lin,” she returns while tightening her embrace.

I’ve missed you, too.

Letting go, I obligingly remain bend down so Maz can cup my covered cheeks.

“Now, let me have a look at you,” she says as she does every time, her presence weaving through my own like my defenses aren’t even there. I could kick her out of course, Maz can only do this with a willing participant. But I don’t want to do that. She’s not invading my mind, isn’t violating me in any way. She’s just examining my spirit to see if I’m all right.

Because examining someone’s spirit is Maz’s equivalent of “taking a look at you”.

Maz smiles, and while there is a touch of sadness, the affection is as pleasant as always.

The sadness isn’t unusual. Most of the time I show up, there’s at least a few moments of it.

“You’re doing just fine.”

“Always happy to have your approval,” I return with a grin, meaning every word. Straightening back up, I gesture at Finn and BB-8 with flourish. BB-8 is curious, while Finn is curious, fascinated, amused, and just a little wary.

The wariness would be a lot worse if we weren’t on Takodana.

“On another note, look. I’ve come bearing gifts.”

[Greetings, Designation; Maz-Kanata,] BB-8 greets cheerfully, but I’m more preoccupied with the way Finn’s wariness has spiked, and it’s actually accompanied by real betrayal. Why– I called him a gift. Like he’s a thing and not a person. Foot, meet mouth. Again.

Maz’s own presence hums with curiosity, and more than a little bemusement as well.

“You always meet the most interesting people, Da’lin.”

True, I do. I’ve never brought anyone here, though. But it’s clear that Maz said it for Finn’s benefit, smoothing out my own tactlessness with near instinctive ease.

Finn relaxes, before embarrassment and self-deprecation rises. Irrational of course, his reaction to my foot meeting my mouth was completely understandable. Feelings don’t care about being rational, though.

“Come, come, let’s sit down, and then you three can tell me all about how you came to be here.”

I follow after Maz with a smile, admiring the way she so effortlessly dances with the Force, still just as breathtaking as when I first managed to spot it.

I’ve always been able to feel the Force. It’s impossible not to, the sensation unlike anything I ever experienced in my old life. But it wasn’t until I met Maz that I started understanding it.

It wasn’t until Maz that I learned how to listen to it.

Chapter Text

It has been too long since last she was here.

Maz is glad Rey has returned, glad to see she is all right. But it has been too long.

Maz has known from the beginning she would not be able to protect Rey forever. The Force has a purpose it wants her to fulfill, and it will not allow her to avoid it.

Maz had simply hoped it would allow her to avoid it a little longer yet.

Rey is but a child. Older in spirit than in body, aged by loss and hardship. But still just a child. Still so young, still so innocent.

Still so hurt, and so very scared.

Maz does not approve of the Force making Rey face her destiny now, but the Force does not care about that. It does as it does, and none can change what it does.

They can, however, influence it. Not much, one can only cause the barest of ripples, small and seemingly insignificant in the vast currents of the Force.

Ripples grow.

Maz has done all she can to stall Rey’s destiny, coaxing the strings of fate into other directions. Always they settle back into their original shape, their nature does not allow for anything else. But her interference kept Rey safe from the purpose the Force wishes her to fulfill.

Except Rey has been away for too long. Fate has ensnared her now. It will no longer allow itself to be redirected.

No matter how much Maz wishes it still would.

The Force is not cruel. It does as it does, and it does because it must. It does because it is life, and life is ever in motion. Life is ever changing.

Life does not care whether those changes cause grief or joy. It does not care if it causes suffering.

Maz does care.

She hopes Rey will be strong enough to face her destiny. She knows not what that destiny is, knows not what purpose the Force wishes Rey to fulfill. She can see the outline, but the details are obscured. They always are.

The Force does not reason in ways the mortal mind can comprehend.

It does not matter what purpose the Force wishes Rey to fulfill. What matters is the trial it will impose upon her. It cannot compel her to fulfill the purpose it desires, that is a choice, and choices can be made by none but themselves. But it can lead Rey into trial. It will lead her into trial.

It always does.

Maz hopes Rey’s destiny will not destroy her. Hopes it will not shatter her beyond recognition, beyond even the chance of healing.

She fears it will.

In many ways, Rey is strong. She is bright and fierce, she lives with a passion few do.

She is kind.

In other ways, Rey is fragile. She is hurt and wounded, she shies away from risk with a desperation only the need for survival can cause.

She is scared. Always, she is so very scared.

Maz does not know if Rey is capable of facing that fear yet. If she is capable of surviving the ordeal the Force demands she must face.

Maz will soon learn the answer. She will soon learn whether the training and time she has given Rey have been enough.

The Force will no longer allow interference. It will do as it does, and it will do because it must.

Destiny is upon them.


 

Four Years Ago

I laugh, my eyes flying open and my focus shattered.

“What was that for?” I demand with an attempt at a glare, but my smile ruins the intended effect. Still, it’s an important question. I’m certain that I was doing it right this time.

“You were levitating everything within sight. Again,” Maz counters with mischievous eyes and a hint of bemusement in the presence I’m finally starting to sense even without reaching for it.

Ah. It seems I was doing it wrong after all. Again.

Maz tickles my side with the Force again, making more laughter escape.

“Stop, I give, I give!”

With a chuckle, Maz halts her tickling. I rub my side with a grin, before I uncross my legs and lean back on my elbows. As I look around the forest floor, my grin fades when I see that various rocks, leaves and branches have indeed changed position. Again. I let out an annoyed sigh.

Meditation without levitation is ridiculously difficult. Ironic, considering I spend years struggling to lift even a single bolt.

“I really don’t get why me levitating stuff is such a big deal,” I say, more out of frustration than anything else. I do know why. I just don’t like it.

“It’s a valuable skill to have,” Maz says like that’s the only reason I need to stop levitating stuff.

“I wouldn’t need the skill if it wasn’t for that asshole,” I mutter with a scowl, aggravated just from thinking about him. The fact that I can’t help but tap my prosthetic only makes everything worse.

Deciding to distract myself, I look at a nearby rock and grab hold of the currents flowing through it, adjusting them to make the rock hover in the air. It’s funny how this used to be so difficult to accomplish. Pushing things around, no problem, that I've been doing for ages. Holding something steady in the air? That I struggled with for as long as I can remember. Yet now it’s one of the easiest things in the galaxy to do.

But then, I used to think that I needed to grasp an object with my presence in order to move it around. It is possible to push things like that, relatively easy even, but levitating something that way? That is incredibly hard.

Grasping the already existing currents flowing through an object, on the other hand, is incredibly easy. Adjusting them to physically move an object around only slightly less. Amazing how big a difference changing methods can make.

I startle when Maz’s own presence, noticeable in a way that’s always on purpose, slips beneath my grip and throws it off the rock. It’s now hovering the air by her power instead of mine.

Well, if that’s the way she wants to play it.

Focusing, I examine her hold on the currents, looking for weak spots. I could break it with brute force, but if I do that, the currents would be disturbed to the point where I won’t be able to stabilize them before the rock hits the ground.

If it hits the ground, I lose.

Finding a weak spot, a deliberate one of course, I slide my presence through the small opening, slipping underneath Maz’s hold and taking back control of the rock. It drops a little before I manage to stabilize it, but not much.

With a smug smile at Maz, I make it twirl around in victory.

Maz gives a peaceful smile back, the hint of bemusement a little more noticeable, before she slips beneath my grip with insulting ease once more.

Oh, it’s on.

I search for another weak spot. This time it’s more difficult to find one, but I manage to succeed and take back control. Instead of bragging about my victory, I tighten my hold on the currents as much I can, ensuring there are no openings for Maz to exploit.

Naturally, she finds one anyway. At least it took her a moment to do so this time.

We continue battling for control. It becomes harder and harder to find weak spots in her hold, but I’m determined not to lose.

Eventually, I'm forced to add physical gestures to my mental ones. It's something I try to avoid doing as much as possible, no matter that it's much easier to manipulate the Force with them. In a fight, it isn't always possible to move the way I need to use them. This isn't a fight of course, but it's still better not to develop the habit.

Avoiding the use of physical gestures also means that when I do add them, my skill skyrockets.

Finding another minute opening, I squeeze through with a flick of my hand and throw off her hold– I laugh, concentration broken by the sudden tickle attack.

The rock hits the ground.

“That’s cheating,” I say with a grin, more amused than bothered by my loss.

“Cheating is merely another way of saying you are using every resource at your disposal,” Maz returns like it’s the pinnacle of wisdom. Admittedly, she’s not wrong.

“That’s what all cheaters say,” I tease.

“I will be sure to remind you of that the next time you play with dices.”

Point taken.

“Now then, are you ready to try again?”

I let out a resigned sigh. You wouldn’t guess it from looking at her, but Maz is a harsh taskmaster. Not that I’m complaining. Much.

I need to be able to hide from him as soon as possible.

“I guess,” I say, before getting back into position and closing my eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out.

This time, I’m going to get it right.

Chapter Text

“–and then we gave insult to injury by jumping to hyperspace,” I finish summarizing the events on Jakku.

Finn reacted pretty hilariously when he found out who I am, I send, sharing the memory of him laughing like crazy.

“A fine story,” Maz says with a smile, eyes still locked onto Finn. Who is a touch uncomfortable with the attention, but not that much. If it hadn’t been Maz doing the staring, I’m betting the uncomfortableness would’ve been a lot worse.

Mostly Finn is incredulous, disbelieving, and positively delighted by my flippant description of the First Order.

BB-8, on the other hand, is deeply satisfied by it. Almost viciously so.

It doesn’t explain why you brought them here.

He needs training, I explain, sharing the memory of our conversation about Kylo Ren. Maz returns compassionate understanding.

“Is there a reason you keep staring at me?” Finn asks, and while it can’t be called hostile in any way, it is just a tad snappish.

“You have pretty eyes,” Maz replies without missing a beat, her words backed by subtle sincerity as always. While she often keeps information to herself, Maz never lies. Combined with her reputation of neutrality, it’s enough to make everyone trust her.

Not everyone should.

Maz’s compliment actually makes Finn blush, his ears darkening with a hint of pink and startled pleasure flaring high. It’s a shame the scarf prevents me from seeing if his cheeks have darkened as well.

His pleasure is quickly drowned out by instinctive denial of course, but that doesn’t diminish the adorableness of his first reaction.

“It’s true, your eyes are very pretty,” I tease, backing it with my own sincerity. Finn’s eyes really are beautiful. Deep and soulful, their color so dark it’s like looking into space. The only thing missing are the stars.

“You’re just saying that,” Finn tries to convince himself.

“We’re not,” I say, but decide to stop teasing him as grows more uncomfortable. Maz can work on his self-esteem issues during training. If she takes him on as a pupil, that is.

Will you teach him? I ask while Emmie arrives with our order. Finn welcomes the distraction with open arms, turning towards her with a look as relieved as he feels.

“Two kavas, as ordered,” Emmie says while putting the drinks down in front of me and Finn. “Anything else, Boss?”

“We’re fine for now. Thank you, Emmie.”

I will.

I send her a wave of gratitude. I don’t know what I would’ve done if she’d refused. Not that I thought she would, but it’s still a relief to hear.

Maz does the mental equivalent of ruffling my hair. I bask in the wonderful sensation. I’ve missed this.

“Roger, roger, Boss,” Emmie says warmly, before flicking her optics towards me. “Brat,” she finishes in a dismissive tone ruined by the affection she feels.

“Emmie,” I return with a nod, amused at how she always pretends to be uncaring despite knowing exactly how useless that is. It has nothing to do with our audience either, she acts like this in private as well.

Emmie leaves. I pick up the cup of kava and pull down my scarf, causing a burst of surprise, confusion and nervousness from Finn. I inhale the rich aroma. I’m never cheap when it comes to kava, but prepackaged beans have nothing on freshly harvested ones.

He’ll be easier to teach than you were, Maz sends as I take a sip, savoring the almost too hot beverage. Kava is the most wonderful drink to ever exist. It tastes like the most delicious of chocolate, and it has the invigorating effect of coffee. What more can anyone ask for?

Are you saying I was a difficult student?

Very.

“I thought we were supposed to stay in disguise?” Finn asks, a very reasonable concern.

“No one is paying us any attention.” Courtesy of Maz. “You’re safe here, Finn,” I add when his nervousness doesn’t abate. The use of his name catches his full attention as always, and he gives me a searching look, so intense I half expect his presence to reach for mine.

It doesn’t, but Finn apparently still finds what he was searching for. He relaxes, lowers his scarf, and picks up his own cup of kava. After giving it a curious sniff, he takes a cautious sip.

Overwhelming pleasure and astonishment flare high, immediately joined by equally strong wonder and delight. He closes his eyes and swirls the kava around his mouth with rapture.

“This is amazing,” he declares after he finally swallows. Yet another is converted by the miracle that is kava.

“Isn’t it? Kava is the best drink in the entire galaxy, and you won’t find a finer brew than Maz’s,” I say while saluting her with my cup. I take another sip. When it comes to kava, I like to savor every drop.

Finn has less patience than me, taking a large gulp with pure delight.

“The secret is in using brossaurus dung.”

Finn spits out the kava, delight almost entirely replaced revulsion. Almost.

While part of me mourns the loss of liquid wonder, most of me is amused to the point where it takes an effort not to laugh. I don’t want my kava to suffer the same fate his did.

BB-8 has no such trouble, letting out a laugh. Maz’s smile is as satisfied as she feels. She grabs the towel hanging from her belt and leans forward to clean up the mess.

After swallowing, I elaborate on Maz’s statement. “The dung is used to fertilize the trees that grow kava beans.”

Relief crashes through his revulsion, and Finn lets out a truly impressive sigh. There’s still a hint of worry, though.

“So there’s no dung in the drink, right?” he asks me just to be sure.

“No, there isn’t,” I assure him, and it’s enough to make him relax completely.

“Great.” With that, he happily takes another gulp and swirls it around his mouth with pure rapture once more.

He is adorable, Maz practically coes. I share my complete agreement of this fact.

“What’s your part in all of this, ska’lin?” Maz aims at BB-8, picking up the previous topic like we never left it all.

BB-8, who’d been following our conversation with curiosity, turns reluctant, before it aims its photoreceptor at Maz with interest. While the interest isn’t false, it’s deliberate in a way its previous curiosity wasn’t.

[Query – what is the definition of Unknown Term; ska-lin?]

“It means little droid,” I translate. I’m far from fluent in Maz’s native language, but I have picked up a few terms over the years.

“That’s another language? Then what does da’lin mean?” Finn asks with a surprising amount of curiosity.

“Little one,” I translate with a grin. I love that nickname.

“That is a literal translation. Young one is more accurate,” Maz corrects with a smile.

“I like the literal translation better.” I really do. I’ve always been taller than Maz, but the bigger I get, the more hilarious the nickname becomes.

Finn remains oddly fascinated. Apparently he’s interested in languages.

In that case, he’s in for quite a treat. Maz knows as many languages as the average protocol droid. That’s not even mentioning Emmie and her love for dead and obscure languages.

“You’re a secretive one, aren’t you?” Maz aims at BB-8. That’s not the term I would’ve used to describe it, but looking back on our interactions, I can’t deny that it’s true.

BB-8 becomes what I can only describe as shifty. Another point in favor of it being secretive.

[This unit does not consider itself to be secretive,] it beeps in a deliberately cheerful way.

“Then why don’t you tell us why you were on Jakku?” Maz counters.

[Classified data.]

“Because that isn’t secretive at all,” I tease. BB-8 moves its dome in an equivalent of a cheeky shrug, its shiftiness replaced by shameless acceptance.

“Apparently it’s carrying a map that leads to Luke Skywalker.”

My brain short circuits.

“Luke Skywalker?” a vague part of me realizes I say, my voice even more hushed than Finn’s, but most of me can only stare at BB-8, now switching between annoyance and pride. It’s carrying a map that leads to Luke Skywalker?

[Classified data.]

It’s carrying a map that leads to Luke Skywalker.

It’s carrying a map that leads to Luke Skywalker.

“Ma’shoni adja’rish,” Maz says, half with reverence, half a curse. I have no idea what it means and I don’t care either, my mind still stuck on the fact that BB-8 has a map that leads to Luke Skywalker.

Luke. Skywalker.

“How in the name of the Force did you get a map leading to Luke Skywalker?”

The crash of all consuming grief reboots my brain.

BB-8 was waiting for its friend. Its friend was a member of the Resistance.

The Resistance is led by Leia Organa.

[...This unit would prefer not to recall how it procured this classified data.]

I feel my expression soften at the statement that more than answers how it got the map. Poor BB-8.

This also more than explains why Kylo Ren was on Jakku. Though it doesn’t explain how a map leading to Luke Skywalker ended up in Tuanul, of all places.

Given BB-8’s soul cutting grief, I’m not going to ask. No matter how much I want to.

“This is certainly an unexpected turn of events,” Maz understates. “It also explains why you’re so secretive. Your dedication to your duty is admirable,” she compliments with a smile, changing the subject for BB-8’s sake.

It works, BB-8’s sorrow is replaced by pride.

[This unit has Mission Failure Rate; 7,83%.]

That is indeed something to be proud of.

Unfortunately, BB-8 unending sorrow soon returns.

“Am I right in assuming this map must be delivered to the Resistance?” Maz asks without missing a beat. BB-8’s sorrow disappears beneath a flash of gratitude, before it starts radiating unyielding determination.

[Affirmative.]

“Can you keep your voice down?” Finn demands while nervously looking around. Really, that’s a far more conspicuous tell than Maz talking casually is. Not that either matters.

I still perform a quick check of our surroundings. I trust Maz of course, but given the subject, I want to verify for my own peace of mind that no one is paying us attention.

There’s not a shred of interest aimed at us. Good.

On another note, I am so glad that BB-8 is disguised. Given that it’s holding a map leading to Luke Skywalker, there’s no way that the First Order isn’t looking for it. As evidenced not just by Kylo Ren’s presence on Jakku, but by the fact that Finn knew about the map leading to Luke Skywalker.

With the entrance I made, BB-8 most likely would’ve been recognized in an instant without the change in color.

“No one is paying us attention,” Maz assures Finn, and while it erases most of his worry, it doesn’t erase it all.

“She’s right, no one is listening to us,” I say, and the second confirmation is enough to make him relax completely.

“I have some contact with the Resistance,” Maz understates while looking down at BB-8. BB-8 startles, before brightening with joy. “I can arrange for you to be brought to their base.”

I assume you aren’t interested in bringing it back?

No way in hell, I refuse without hesitation, as I do every time Maz “subtly” urges me to join the Resistance. The Resistance is dedicated to fighting the First Order. I’m dedicated to running away from it.

BB-8 brightens even further, but I’m more concerned with Finn’s sudden fear, so great it can almost be called panic. Given our location, that’s more than just unusual.

[Query – is Maz-Kanata an ally of Organization; The Resistance?]

“You know the location of the Resistance base?” Finn whispers at the same time, desperately hoping he misheard that.

“I am, and I do,” Maz answers respectively, making BB⁻8 cheer with joy, while Finn pales with a kind of terror people almost never experience on Takodana.

[This unit is grateful for the assistance of Adjusted Designation; Ally-Maz.]

“You want me to stay with an ally of the Resistance? A close ally of the Resistance?” Finn demands, and while he keeps his voice down, he sounds just as panicked as he feels.

“This is literally the safest place for you to be,” I answer with all the honesty I possess. The surge of incredulous disbelief lets me know exactly what Finn thinks of that. Really, it’s almost insulting how easy he shrugs off my projections. He doesn't believe I'm lying of course, that's the whole point of projecting sincerity. He just doesn’t believe me.

“Did you know about Maz before I mentioned her? No, you didn’t,” I answer the rhetorical question, continuing to infuse my words with my honesty, and holding Finn’s gaze to emphasize my words even further. “You didn’t know about her even though she’s a known ally to the Resistance. She’s been their ally since the very start, yet the First Order has never attacked this place. And this isn’t a Core World, we’re on the very edge of the Mid Rim, practically Outer Rim really. So why haven’t they attacked?”

Finn opens his mouth, before closing it without saying anything. He's still disbelieving, but he's also unable to come up with a suitable answer to that question.

Maz answers it for him.

“I am just that good.”

So modest, too, I tease. She is just that good of course, but it’s always funny to see her brag like this.

If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

The irony that she’s so good at hiding she can actually flaunt it isn’t lost on me.

“That’s not an answer,” Finn says, but there’s no true heat behind it. While his fear is still going strong, it’s no longer the panic from before. He takes another gulp of kava with the intention to distract himself.

It doesn’t work.

“Maz is the undisputed master of hiding in plain sight,” I explain. “And she’s going to teach you how to do the same.”

Well, sort of the same. Finn would need centuries to even begin approaching her level of mastery. But she’ll teach him the fundamentals.

Finn still isn’t convinced. Time to bring out the big artillery.

“I stayed here for an entire year without him finding me.”

Shock flares high, before his fear is finally buried beneath a wave of relief. Thought that might do the trick.

I spoke too soon. While his disbelief doesn’t reappear, a little anxiety does start to return. There’s also a hint of suspicion.

“If he can’t find you here, then why did you leave?”

Smart question.

“He was getting too close,” I admit, grimacing as I can’t help but tap my prosthetic. “But in that one year, I learned enough to be able to hide from him on my own.” Most of the time. “And unlike me, you don’t share a connection with him.” Not a significant one, at least.

“Unlike her, you also aren’t shining like the sun,” Maz says, drawing Finn’s attention.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Sure, I hadn’t exactly been subtle, but I hadn’t been that bad either.

Da’lin, you lit up the Force the instant you arrived in the system, Maz returns while sharing her memory of when I first came here.

You’re just oversensitive. She really is. Compared to Maz, I’m both blind and deaf to the Force.

And you possessed all the subtlety of a brossaurus.

“So you’ll help me?” Finn asks Maz with a hope fueled by desperation.

“I will. If you work hard, you should be able to hide on your own within... four months, I think. Perhaps even three.”

Now you’re just insulting me.

Seriously, a year had barely been enough time for me, and I’d already been practicing with the Force for as long as I can remember. Yet Maz claims that Finn, with no experience whatsoever in consciously using the Force, can learn to hide on his own in a mere four months?

Da’lin, listen to him.

I raise a brow at her, but obligingly close my eyes and focus, ignoring Finn’s relieved laughter and subsequent babbling. I wade through the symphony Maz is conducting all around us, focusing only on Finn, trying to figure out just what it is about him that Maz wants me to notice. Even examining him this thoroughly, I don’t notice anything out of the ordinary. He basically feels like everyone else–

My eyes fly open with shock.

Finn feels like everyone else. Finn, a Force-sensitive, feels like everyone else. Almost like everyone else, but the difference is so subtle that it’s practically unnoticeable. And I didn’t find that unusual. At all.

In all my time, I’ve met but seven capable of blending with their surroundings with the same instinctive ease he does.

“–you looking at me like that?”

“I’m admiring your talent,” I answer without thought, speaking nothing but the truth. Finn, with not a single shred of training, is better at basic hiding than I am.

“You mean my talent for repetitive word showers?” he quips with an smile.

“They’re very impressive,” I say with a grin.

Finn’s smile grows, amused and adorably pleased with himself.

[Query – how much time will Ally-Maz need to procure a ride to Location; Classified for this unit?]

“Will I really be safe here?” Finn asks in a subdued voice while Maz gives BB-8 a rough estimate. She also sends a mental message to Emmie. I can’t make out the specifics of course, but I’m guessing it’s a request to contact the Resistance to inform them of BB-8 being here.

“There’s no safer place for you to be, Finn,” I say with all the honesty I possess.

Finn lets out a deep breath, the last of his fear fading away at long last. He takes another drink of his kava, closing his eyes as he savors the taste. With a smile, I do the same.

I open my eyes when Maz actually startles, falling silent halfway through her sentence and a burst of something rising high. The emotions are masked, but they’re soon replaced by open wry resignation.

Maz gives me a mischievous look that never spells anything good, before she climbs onto the table. Her action startles Finn and confuses BB-8 even further than her abrupt silence did. She turns to face the entrance and strikes a dramatic pose, hands on her hips and body language radiating false anger.

I take another sip while looking towards the entrance as well. The doors are open, and while the crowd is making it hard to see, I do spy a wookie standing in the entrance.

“Han Solo!”

I snort kava out my nose, coughing harshly from the little I didn’t eject through my nostrils but I don’t care in the slightest, eyes locked onto the entrance as everyone moves out of Maz’s line of sight, and consequently, out of my line of sight as well.

“Hey, Maz,” Han Solo says with a wave.

Your voice is lovely as ever,” Chewbacca says.

A vague part of me is aware that Maz has jumped down the table and is marching towards Han Solo and Chewbacca. Another part of me realizes that Finn is saying something.

Most of me can only stare at Han Solo and Chewbacca. Han Solo and Chewbacca, who are here. Han Solo and Chewbacca are here. They’re here and they’re real and Hand Solo and Chewbacca are here.

Han Solo looks exactly like he does in the movies. Older of course, hair grey aside from a few streaks of brown, face lined with wrinkles. But he still looks exactly like him, in a way that’s even more mind blowing to see in real life than on holofeeds.

An absent part of me wonders as I always do when seeing an image of him. Does Han Solo look like Harrison Ford, or does Harrison Ford look like Han Solo?

Chewbacca doesn’t resemble my memories of the movies as strikingly as Han Solo does. A natural consequence of being a real life wookie instead of a man in a costume. He’s wearing his utility belt the same way though, thrown over his shoulder instead of being attached around his hips. His eyes are also a startling blue, vivid in a way holofeeds just don’t manage to capture.

“–just a quick stop, we’ll be gone again before you know it,” Han Solo says while he and Chewbacca halt in front of the table I’m sitting at. Han Solo raises a brow at me with vague annoyance.

“There a reason you’re staring at me, kid?”

“You’re Han Solo.”

Both of Han Solo’s brows rise with surprise, before he scrutinizes me intently, looking me over from head to toe.

Abruptly I become aware of the picture I’m presenting, sprawled across my chair like a Hutt, clothes stained from working on my ship, kava trailing from my nose, and gaping at Han Solo like an idiot. I snap upright and quickly wipe the kava away, completely mortified by the first impression I’m making.

Maz laughs in the Force, deliberately drawing my attention to her mirth.

This isn’t funny, I hiss, feeling my cheeks burn with humiliation and unable to believe she would do this to me.

It really is.

“Do I know you?” Han Solo asks.

“No but I know you. Know of you I mean, I’ve never met you before, obviously, but I’ve been following you on holofeeds and watching documentaries about you since basically forever. Not in a creepy way!” I add with panic as Han Solo becomes deeply uncomfortable and I realize just how that sounded. “I’m not a stalker I swear, I’m just a fan, huge fan really because you’re so amazing, you’re a hero and you saved the entire galaxy and you did the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs.” Okay yes, that might seem small in comparison to saving the galaxy but he did the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs.

Han Solo looks at me, flabbergasted and a chaotic mix of emotions. Among which are disbelief, wariness, suspicion, and a fair amount of self-consciousness.

Mostly he just feels incredibly flattered.

I bite down my lip to prevent another word vomit from breaking free. While I want to continue assuring him that I’m not a crazy stalker, I’m scared that I’ll ruin the semi-decent recovery I’ve made if I do.

“...It’s true, I am pretty amazing,” Han Solo understates.

At getting into trouble,” Chewbacca adds without hesitation, just as amused as Maz is.

“I always get out of it as well,” Han Solo returns without heat, still looking at me. I honestly want to fan myself, to cool down the blush still burning up my entire face. I manage to resist the urge. I’m acting enough like a swooning flower as it is.

“What’s your name, kid?”

“Rey,” I blurt without thought, feeling my blush grow even worse because Han Solo wants to know my name.

I startle when there’s a flicker of recognition, but it’s dismissed so quickly that it can't have been aimed at me. Han Solo must know someone who shares my name.

“Well, Rey, you’ve got good taste.”

Han Solo thinks I have good taste.

He’s going to be insufferable for weeks now.”

“And she is going to walking on clouds for at least twice that long.”

Of course I am, Han Solo thinks I have good taste.

“So what’s your story, kid?” Hans Solo asks while sitting down next to me. “You a smuggler? A mechanic?” he asks while looking at the stains on my sleeve. I can’t help but pull my arm behind me, no matter how useless I know that is. My sleeve is far from the only stained part of my outfit. I usually don’t mind that, it’s not like the dirt can get through the undersuits I’m wearing, but right now I desperately wish I’d changed clothes before coming here.

“Gambler. I’m a gambler. That’s how I make money, I gamble.” I force myself to stop babbling, realize that I’m fidgeting with my tunic, and force myself to stop doing that as well. This is ridiculous, I’m acting like a kid with their first crush.

“Risky. I like it,” Han Solo says with a roguish grin and it’s not risky actually, more like cheating at its finest and Han Solo is grinning at me and he actually likes me.

“I cheat,” I say in a dazed voice, unable to believe what I’m sensing, but it doesn’t change, it actually grows and Han Solo really, truly, genuinely likes me!

This is the best day of my entire life.

“Even better.”

“How did you do it?” I blurt, needing to know the answer. “The Kessel Run,” I clarify when confusion rises.

Han Solo leans back in his chair, radiating pride. “A combination of pure skill and having the finest ship in the entire galaxy.”

“No, you don’t understand,” I say while leaning towards him, an absent part of me taking note of the burst of grief and loss, but most of me focused on solving the mystery that’s been haunting me for years. “I fly a Corellian YT-1300 light freighter as well, modified to the Outer Rim and back, and I have never been able to get under thirteen parsecs, yet you did it in twelve point one.”

How the kriffing hell did he manage that? It took me surrendering to the Force completely in order to finish in thirteen point four parsecs, though I hadn’t been able to do it more than once because surrendering to the Force like that is the equivalent of lighting a beacon for the asshole but that’s not the point. The point is that I, cheating in the way only a Force-sensitive can, couldn’t get below thirteen parsecs, yet Han Solo did it in twelve point one.

“You fly a Corellian YT-1300?” Han Solo returns with delight and underlying sadness. Why–

Sheer dumb luck,” Chewbacca says, and I abruptly become aware of the fact that he and Maz have sat down as well. Both of them are following our conversation with bemused fondness.

Finn, on the other hand, is watching Chewbacca with wariness. BB-8 is switching between interest and determination.

“You mean pure genius skill,” Han Solo counters Chewbacca’s claim, just a touch indignant.

You made a blind jump.”

“You did what,” I hear myself say, staring with utter shock at the apparent lunatic besides me.

“You know Shyriiwook?” Han Solo asks with surprise and interest and that is really not important right now.

“You made a blind jump?” I demand, unable to believe I’m actually saying this.

“You did what? How the hell are you still alive?” Finn’s incredulous demand takes the words right out of my mouth.

“Okay, so there was a little luck involved.”

A little?

“You made a blind jump,” I repeat, pointing out the absurdity of claiming there was a little luck involved. In fact, it can’t be called luck at all. Surviving a blind jump means the Force was interfering in the most direct way possible.

“It was either that or get fried by Riktar’s suns,” Han Solo says with a faint scowl, defensive, indignant, and more than a little embarrassed.

We overestimated how close by we could drop out of hyperspace,” Chewbacca explains, making Han Solo’s embarrassment grow, and making me wince with sympathy. The Riktar system is made up out of a whopping five suns, all somehow stably orbiting one another. The gravity sink that results in is a death sentence for every ship dumb enough to fly too close, both in realspace and hyperspace. Everyone doing the Kessel Run has to drop out of hyperspace a healthy distance away from the system, add far too many microparsecs to their run going around it, and then jump back to hyperspace.

A lot of runners trying to shave off distance meet their end in that system.

On another note, Han Solo performing a successful blind jump while being assaulted by the gravity of five suns, is further proof of the heavy-handed interference of the Force.

“Everything worked out fine, and we shaved off four whole parsecs with that jump,” Han Solo argues, as defensive as he is embarrassed, eyes flickering between me and Chewbacca.

It made us lose our main shields,” Chewbacca counters, radiating affection.

“A minor hitch,” Han Solo waves off like losing your main shields isn’t one of the worst nightmares possible for any pilot, sincerely flippant in a way I’m having real trouble wrapping my mind around.

“You’re insane,” I marvel. “I mean that as a compliment,” I quickly add when Han Solo turns towards me with a scowl, insulted by my words.

Han Solo does not believe me.

“No really, I do! You lost your main shields, and you still finished the Kessel Run! No sane person would ever even think of doing that, but you not only did, you set an unbeatable record! If that isn’t the best way to celebrate surviving a blind jump, I don’t know what is.”

Han Solo is still scowling a little, but he’s no longer annoyed, just amused, proud, and very flattered.

Is she always like this?

“Never. It’s enough to make me forgive your sidekick for keeping you from me for so long, hot stuff.”

My head snaps towards Maz, certain I must’ve misheard that.

Did you just call Chewbacca, hot stuff?

I like this wookie.

“Sidekick?” Han Solo asks with false indignity.

I’ve missed you too, sweet cheeks,” Chewbacca says, making this entire thing even harder to process.

“Are you two flirting?” I have to ask, no matter how obvious the answer is. It’s not that I haven’t seen Maz flirt before, but this is Chewbacca. Seeing Maz flirt with him, and what’s more, seeing him flirt back, has broken my brain a little.

“You know I have a thing for fur,” Maz says with an actual leer at Chewbacca and it’s true, she does have a thing for fur, but this is Chewbacca.

I glance at Finn as he turns uncomfortable, his eyes flickering up and down between Chewbacca and Maz with an expression as disquieted as he feels. Human purity brainwashing at its finest.

All right, that’s unfair of me. The First Order are far from the only one who have a problem with interspecies romance. And credit where credit’s due, Finn might be discomforted, but he’s not disgusted in any way. There is a fair amount of incredulity and curiosity, though.

I understand the incredulity completely.

Your smooth wrinkles excite me like nothing else can,” Chewbacca actually leers back, breaking my brain a little more. Yes, it’s clear that they’re just having fun and nothing is going to come from this, but Maz and Chewbacca are flirting.

“And you wonder why I avoid coming here,” Han Solo says with a grimace that’s mostly faked, far more amused than discomforted. I’m pretty sure the discomfort has nothing to do with interspecies romance, and everything to do with seeing his best friend flirt with a woman older than dirt.

“What brought you back?” Maz asks with curiosity. Han Solo’s discomfort grows, while Chewbacca turns completely exasperated.

He got into trouble.” The silent “obviously” couldn’t have been louder.

“Hey, everything was going fine until those idiots showed up.”

Chewbacca lets out the wookie equivalent of a derisive snort, his exasperation joined by affection.

“Now this I have to hear,” Maz says with a grin, delighted by the promise of a good story.

Han Solo looks at Chewbacca, half a warning, half a plea. When Chewbacca keeps quiet with rising amusement, Han Solo lets out a reluctant sigh.

“We were hauling rathars–”

“Did you just say you were hauling rathars?”

“Why in the name of all that is holy would you be hauling rathars?” I wholeheartedly agree with Finn’s incredulous demand. There’s being insane, and then there’s hauling bottomless pits of hunger existing out of ten percent eyes, twenty percent tentacles, and seventy percent mouth lined with uncountable razors to devour everything unfortunate enough to come within range of their tentacles.

“King Prana offered a very nice bounty for them,” Han Solo says far less defensively than the transport of rathars should ever warrant.

“Oh, they're dead rathars,” Finn says with relief, but can’t take comfort in those words for even a single moment because Han Solo grows more defensive, while Chewbacca is a mix of wry amusement and tired exasperation.

The rathars weren’t dead.

“Given that Prana wants to put them in a zoo, them being dead would lead to me not getting paid.”

Finn gapes. I don’t, but it’s a close call. Not so much at Han Solo hauling live rathars, but at the almost flippant way he feels about it.

“You really are insane,” Finn breathes out, more to himself than anyone else. While he definitely doesn’t mean it as a compliment, I can’t deny that it’s true. Voluntarily hauling live rathars is completely different from making a blind jump out of necessity.

“So what happened?” I ask when Han Solo scowls at Finn with genuine annoyance, both to draw his attention away from Finn, and because I really want to know the answer.

I succeed in diverting Han Solo’s attention. After a moment of debate, he leans back in his chair with purposeful casualness. The deliberateness of it doesn’t make him look any less cool, though.

Chewbacca’s affection grows.

“Everything started out fine.”

The incredulous disbelief and following morbid humor from Chewbacca lets me know that everything didn’t, in fact, start out fine.

“We got all three onboard–” Three? From the corner of my eyes, I see Finn mouth the number with the same incredulous fascination I’m feeling. “and we were on our way to King Prana to get paid. Everything was going great until our third check-up between jumps. That's when we got some unwelcome visitors.”

I listen with wonder as Han Solo recounts how they were boarded by both The Guavian Death Gang and Kanjiklub, two of the three crime syndicates that control basically the whole of the Outer Rim. Normally, they stay out of each other’s way except for when making a grab for each other’s territories.

But then, normally people aren’t crazy enough to loan a significant amount of money from them both at the same time.

My wonder keeps growing as Han Solo recounts how how, after the rathars were set loose by accident and provided an excellent distraction just when he and Chewbacca needed it most, they hijacked the ship belonging to Kanjiklub, and got the hell out of dodge as fast they could. The reason they came to Takodana is because their ship is hot and they need to ditch it before Kanjiklub tracks it down. Given Takodana’s location, they should have about half a day before either The Guavian Death Gang or Kanjiklub show up.

“Which reminds me,” Han Solo says with false nonchalance, his underlying worry becoming dominant. “You wouldn’t happen to have a ship we could use? You can scrap the one we came in as payment,” he finishes with a deliberately charming smile that makes me feel like a swooning flower once more, despite it not being aimed at me.

“And incur the wrath of Kanjiklub? I think not.”

Han Solo’s smile falters and his worry grows, but the oddest part is without a doubt the underlying sense of bitter resignation. He shrugs with false nonchalance.

“Worth a try.”

You’re really going to leave us hanging like this, gorgeous? ” Chewbacca asks, and while his growls are light, the look he gives Maz is pointed, inspired by faint disapproval and a whole lot of protectiveness.

Given that he feels not a shred of worry, I’m guessing the disapproval is aimed at Maz’s sense of humor.

“Procuring a ride for you isn't a problem, but I’m not scrapping that ship,” Maz clarifies, dropping her teasing with uncommon swiftness. She really does have a soft spot for Chewbacca. A big one.

Han Solo relaxes, and he gives Maz another charming smile. This time it’s a genuine one.

“Knew we could count on you,” Han Solo lies, which is truly amazing. Most people are incapable of even entertaining the thought that Maz might refuse to help them, let alone expect it to happen.

Just what kind of past do he and Maz have?

“How could I refuse after being gifted a story as wonderful as this?” Maz says with an answering smile, speaking nothing but the truth. She loves a good story even more than I do.

Yet while her smile is real, she is a bit distracted. I’m not surprised when she gets off her chair.

“If you’ll excuse me, I have some business to attend to. We’ll discuss the details of your ride in a bit, lover boy.”

Does she have to make that sound so suggestive?

“And you might want to have a talk with BB-8,” she aims at Han Solo, before disappearing into the crowd that parts for her like water.

“BB-8?” Han Solo asks with confusion.

[This unit is present,] BB-8 answers cheekily, pleased when its beeps make Han Solo startle. Chewbacca looks down at BB-8 with surprise, and even Finn startles a little. Really, did everyone forget that it was here as well?

Han Solo’s confusion grows.

“She wants me to talk to a ball?”

“That’s rude,” I say, because it really is.

“It’s a ball,” Han Solo repeats, genuinely uncaring about the way he's talking about BB-8.

It raises my hackles. Nicknames, no problem, but treating someone like they’re a thing is another matter entirely. The fact that BB-8 is a droid only makes things worse.

“And you’re a bag of meat, but you don’t see me calling you that,” I retort sharply.

Is this something I get worked up about? Yes it is.

Finn laughs, but it cuts off the instant Chewbacca joins in. He gives a nervous look to Chewbacca’s very big and very pointy teeth, now on full display.

“I thought you were a fan?” Han Solo returns with a raised brow, more amused than anything else. I feel my blush return as I realize that I just called Han Solo a bag of meat, but I don’t take back the words. This is important.

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter what it’s called.”

My blush disappears and I give Han Solo an unimpressed look. It does matter.

“I don’t speak droid,” he finished, ignoring my look completely.

He doesn’t speak droid? That’s like saying you don’t speak human.

“Neither does Chewie.”

“I can translate for you,” I offer, before looking down with surprise as BB-8 turns reluctant. Why wouldn’t it want me to translate?

“Unless you have a problem with that?” I ask.

[This unit would like to speak with The-General’s-Husband in private.]

I startle at BB-8’s name for Han Solo, before I feel a bemused grin grow. Never mind that Han Solo holds the rank of general as well, never mind all the amazing things he’s done, to members of the Resistance, he is Leia Organa’s husband first, everything else second.

“The language barrier might make that a little difficult,” I point out.

[This unit is creative.]

It’s also rather proud of this fact.

“Your call.” If BB-8 wants to hold a conversation by miming, I won’t stand in its way.

“I’m not exaggerating about not speaking droid,” Han Solo tells BB-8.

BB-8 responds by sliding out its torch and lighting it up in a clear imitation of a thumbs up, wordlessly saying that this will not be an issue. I laugh. It really is creative.

Finn chuckles, before he downs the last of his kava. Which is how I remember my own.

I take another sip, savoring the taste. It’s cooled down by now, but it’s still delicious.

“Did that ball– did BB-8,” Han Solo corrects at my warning glare, the exasperation he shows much more magnified than what he’s actually feeling, “just flip you off?”

“Of course not.” That would require two torches.

You might want to have your sight checked out.”

“Are you calling me old?” Han Solo demands with genuine offense, full attention now on Chewbacca.

Chewbacca bares his teeth with unrepentant mirth, but my attention is more on Finn as he shifts in his seat.

“The refresher is in the back, to the left of the bar,” I answer the unspoken question.

“I’m fine,” Finn says. Oddly enough, he means it as well.

“I’ll come with you,” I say, taking a guess at the source of his reluctance.

My guess is correct, Finn’s reluctance is replaced by relief.

“That’d be nice.”

Han Solo raises an incredulous brow at me and Finn, but he doesn’t make a comment.

“I’m not old,” he tells Chewbacca instead. Chewbacca responds with a patronizing look. I chuckle, before pulling up my scarf and getting off my chair.

“Let’s go, Finn,” I say while marching towards the refresher.

Finn hurries after me while pulling up his own scarf.

“I can do this on my own,” he says when he catches up, full of determination.

“I have no doubt that you can,” I say truthfully. “But just this once, I’m coming with you.”

Finn’s relief is as great as his shame, though there’s really no need for that. It hasn’t even been a day since he left the First Order, of course everything is strange and scary. Even something as simple as going to the refresher.

It’s also clear that going to refresher isn’t what has him so uncomfortable. It’s the many people he has to pass to get there.

Arriving at our destination, I open the door, but Finn grabs my hand before I can enter.

“I can do this on my own,” he repeats, needing to prove this to himself.

“Alright.” I was planning to go myself as well, but it’s not like it’s urgent, and it’s clear that doing this on his own will do wonders for Finn’s peace of mind.

Finn marches into the refresher like he’s marching into battle. It’s more than a little amusing to see, despite knowing the awful cause behind it.

I lean against the wall, my amusement growing when Finn startles, becoming confused and uncertain, before it's replaced by rising curiosity and intrigue. Toilets can’t be that different with the First Order.

Then again, the First Order only needs to accommodate humans, while Maz needs to accommodate basically every sentient species in the galaxy.

I keep an absent eye on him so I can intervene in the unlikely event that something goes wrong, but I let most of my attention drift towards the crowd. It takes an effort not to focus on Han Solo and Chewbacca, but I manage. It would be rude to listen in after BB-8 so clearly stated that it wants to have a private conversation.

The band is a good one, something that’s never guaranteed here. Maz adores art of any kind, and she lets traveling artists pay their stay by performing their craft for her. No matter how bad they might be at that craft.

Maz herself is talking to three barabels, two males and a female. Their insignia identifies them as mercenaries from The Shattered Shells. The three are roaring with laughter at something she said, completely unaware of the fact that Maz despises slavers with all her heart. They’re in for a very rough time, given the personal attention Maz is giving them.

I close my eyes so I can better admire Maz’s work. I don’t really understand how she can weave the Force like this, and even when focusing, I can’t do more than catch the most rudimentary view of what she’s doing. The details are simply too fine for me to detect. I also have no idea how these subtle changes can have such drastic effects, but I can’t deny the results.

It’s almost funny how terrifying Maz is. People from every walk of life come here, lured by the promise of entertainment and safety. Those promises aren’t a lie, this places is always merry. Even when the music is bad, it’s more amusing than anything else. All are also welcome here, no matter their past, current affiliations, or personal ideals. And no one is allowed to fight here. Ever.

Because of this, people think that Maz is a neutral party.

She isn’t.

People have no idea they change their fortune forever by coming here. For the good if Maz thinks your cause is just, or if she simply likes you, and for the bad if she considers you to be evil. And her definition of evil is one I wholeheartedly agree with.

People never link their change in future back to Maz. It takes months, years, sometimes even decades for her manipulations to bear fruit. Admittedly, I only know this because Maz told me, but I do believe her claims. Not just because it’s impossible to fake sincerity in the Force, but because she’s shown the effects to me in person. On a much smaller scale than what she does here, but the results had been undeniable.

She had plucked at the Force around both me and Emmie, the adjustments noticeable in a way they never are with her patrons. A week later, I had a day in which every little thing that could go wrong, did go wrong, while Emmie had a day in which everything went so smoothly it was genuinely insulting to witness. Maz herself had watched her work with satisfaction and pride, and in my case, with a great amount of entertainment as well.

The same basic principle applies to the people visiting her castle. It’s just blown up to a much grander scale.

Maz doesn’t know just what her manipulations will cause. She can control whether they will be beneficial or disadvantageous, but she doesn’t know how they will manifest. She can’t, the very nature of her manipulations prevents it.

Maz causes ripples. How big those ripples will grow and where they will end up, is a mystery for all involved.

Sometimes I wonder how those ripples influenced the events of the movies.

My attention is abruptly yanked to Han Solo, Chewbacca and BB-8, my eyes flying open. They’re still sitting at the same table, but now they’re talking to the people sitting nearest to them. Judging from Han Solo’s and BB-8’s frustration, the miming hasn’t gone as well as BB-8 thought it would.

Of the people they’re talking to, a dowutin male and a human female, the woman is noticeably interested in whatever BB-8 is saying. She’s also incredibly pleased. That’s not what drew my attention, though.

The Force just pulsed, in a way far too forceful to have been caused by Maz. The symphony she conducts is subtle. This was the equivalent of a klaxon going off.

Maz is looking at the group with resignation. She didn’t cause the pulse, but she does know what...

No!

What...

Come back!

I realize that I’m moving when my feet start taking me down the stairs leading to the vaults. Part of me is aware that something is wrong. Part of me realizes that I’m not moving under my own power.

Most of me doesn’t care. Something is calling me.

Something needs me.

Please don’t leave me.

I walk towards the vault I need to be in and mentally open the lock. The mechanism gives way with an ease part of my knows it shouldn’t, but then my eyes fall onto a wooden chest and everything else ceases to exist.

I have to open that chest.

There’s a lightsaber inside.

My lightsaber is inside.

I grab my lightsaber– it activates except it doesn’t and it’s not mine, it belongs to the fire all around me, a fire I don’t know except I do, I know that breathing, know this place and the memories are crumbling and trying to crush me and I need to– drown in weeping heavens except the heavens are a man consumed by pain and grief and despair and I know this man, know that hand, that droid, I know– that fire, that unbridled joy and passion and he can’t be here, can’t drag me under in the pain and horror and death all trapped by the weeping heavens that are a man and I need to– cry and feel my heart shatter all over again because I know that child, that ship, I know who’s on there, know that I’ll never see them again, never again see– the sun dying in ways it never should, a gaping wound that almost manages to distract me from him except nothing can distract me from him, from his joy and passion and desire and I need to run, hide, get away and I need to let go

I fall down solid stone, the lightsaber clattering on the floor, a voiceless whisper fading away.

These are your first steps.

What was that?

A gentle caress makes me snap my head to the side.

Maz meets my gaze, full of compassion and sorrow.

“What was that?” I hear myself whisper, and saying the words out loud helps clear the chaos from my mind. I realize that I already know the answer.

That was a Force vision. That was the Force speaking to me in the most direct, most vehement, most infuriating way possible. Clear and concise messages, oh no, that privilege is reserved for Chosen Ones only. I just get this kriffing bullshit of fragmented symbolism I can’t make heads or tails of, because why should the Force bother to give me even a single straightforward hint of what it wants me to do when it can screw with my mind instead.

Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I’d never learned how to reach for the Force.

If I hadn’t learned how to reach for the Force, the Force wouldn’t have learned how to reach back.

I yank off my goggles and wipe away my tears, too worked up to even begin analysing the vision. I don’t want to analyse it either, not when it included him, why does it always have to include him?

Why can’t he stop haunting me?

I sense Maz coming closer. After forcing my erratic breathing back under control, I open my eyes.

Maz is picking up the lightsaber. The lightsaber she kept in one of her vaults.

“I thought you didn’t like lightsabers,” I snap, my frayed nerves not allowing for anything else.

“I don’t,” Maz says, taking no offense at my reaction. “But this one is special.”

It’s a lightsaber. Being special is the basis of its entire definition.

I rub my eyes, still trying and failing to calm down.

Maz comes to stand besides me and lays her hand on my shoulder, offering her own presence as an anchor. I latch onto the vast harmonies, using them as a shield against the emotions threatening to pull me under.

Neither of us speaks.

Eventually, I let out a harsh breath, having managed to find at least a semblance of calm.

Maz holds out the lightsaber for me to take.

“No,” I refuse without hesitation, the thought alone threatening to break the tentative control I’ve gained.

“It’s yours,” Maz says with a kindness that only makes everything worse.

“It belongs to some dead Jedi, not to me,” I snap, rejecting the pull I still feel towards it with everything I have.

“It belonged to Luke Skywalker.”

My blood turns to ice.

“It belonged to his father before him. Now it belongs to you.”

“No.” I’m barely aware of the denial falling from my lips, panic clawing at my mind because it can’t me mine, not if it belonged to Luke Skywalker, if it belonged to Luke Skywalker than it can’t be mine!

I scramble to my feet to put more distance between myself and the lightsaber I can’t tear my eyes away from, needing to get away from the call I still feel because it isn’t be mine, it isn’t mine!

It can’t be mine.

And suddenly I'm laughing hysterically because didn’t I just ask for a straightforward hint of what the Force wants me to do? Looks like I got my wish and I got it more clearly than I ever could’ve expected and how could I have missed this, how did I not realize? His presence on Jakku, finding BB-8 and Finn, meeting Han Solo and Chewbacca, the kriffing map to Luke Skywalker. The Force is telling me what it wants me to do with all the subtlety of a Death Star.

The Force can go screw itself.

“It's not mine,” I bite out, refusing to play along with this cruelty, this sick and twisted game and I’m not doing this, not now, not ever.

Maz looks at me with a compassion that grates on my nerves in the worst of ways. She’s acting like I don’t have choice in this.

“You know it is.”

It's not mine!” My voice thunders unnaturally and brutal fractures rip apart stone, everything around me shaking violently. I close my eyes and take deep breaths, trying to even out my presence and failing spectacularly.

Maz, completely unfazed by my outburst, moves closer and gently takes hold of my hand. I clutch back too harshly, grasping at her presence in a way I haven’t needed to do in years, diving into the harmonies headfirst, wrapping them around me as a shield.

I manage to regain enough control to stop everything from shaking.

“How did you get this?” I ask roughly, more to distract myself than anything else.

“The Force led me to it,” Maz says, answering exactly nothing at all. “I didn’t know it was yours.”

My eyes fly open with instinctive denial. It isn't mine.

“I knew it was important, I knew I had to keep it safe. But I didn’t know it was yours,” Maz says like it’s a confession, like she would do all in her power to change these facts if only she could. “Not until now.”

“I’m not doing this,” I say harshly, meaning it from the bottom of my heart. I don't care what the Force thinks about that, I am not doing this.

“I wish you didn’t have to,” Maz says and it makes my panic break free again because she’s resigned, sorrowful, she is accepting.

She doesn’t think I can avoid this.

“I’ve done all I can to protect you from your destiny. But, Rey,”

Don’t say it. Don’t give speak the words, don’t make this real.

“I can’t protect you anymore.”

I yank my hand away, needing to get away from her, from that lightsaber, from the truth I refuse to accept.

“It is not my lightsaber,” I whisper, barely able to speak the words through the terror choking me, the panic and denial and I refuse to do this, I won’t do this.

Destiny can get spaced for all I care.

I spin around and march towards the stairs, barely able to keep myself from running, refusing to let the Force control me like that.

Maz doesn’t try to stop me, and it’s the worst thing she could’ve done. If she’d tried to stop me, it would've meant she still thought I had a choice. It would've meant she believed I still stood a chance of escape.

She doesn’t think I still do.

I shiver violently, refusing to look back at her or the lightsaber still calling me.

The calling grows stronger the further away I get.

I don’t care. I won’t give in to this bullshit. This isn’t a movie, isn’t all part of a preordained script. This is real life, and that means I have a choice.

It’s a choice I made long ago.

I’m not the hero of this story.

Chapter Text

“Where’s Rey?”

The demand, sharp and firm, surprises him. The kid had seemed kind of a pushover, really.

“Isn’t she supposed to be with you?” Han asks with a raised brow at... Finn, he’s pretty sure the kid is called.

“Do you think I’d be asking this if she was with me? No, I wouldn’t. So where is she?”

Not just assertive, sarcastic too. Apparently he’s misjudged the kid. Or maybe he’s only a pushover for Rey. That would make more sense.

Before he can answer, the ground shakes. Well, shake is too strong a word. More like a noticeable tremor. Still, it’s unusual. Takodana isn’t exactly known for its tectonic activity.

The tremor startles the kid a little, but he quickly shakes it off and resumes staring at him with way too much intensity.

No one else seems to think the tremor worthy of notice, the ambient noise not having faltered for a second, so Han decides to ignore it as well. Whatever caused it wasn’t important if Maz isn’t yelling about it.

“Why are you asking me?” he counters the kid’s question. “I haven’t seen her since you two left.”

He’d been too busy trying to figure out what the ball wanted to tell him to pay attention to them. It has something to do with a ship, that much he’d been able to figure out, but that’s about it. Chewie had been no help whatsoever either.

Really, Chewie has the nerve to call him old just because he didn’t magically understand the ball’s miming, and then the furball fails to interpret the message as well. And of course he didn’t apologize for calling him old, that would be asking far too much.

“Did you see her?” the kid asks both Chewie and the ball. Han really hopes this doesn’t mean another miming session is on it’s way.

Chewie shakes his head, while the ball lets out some beeps. Han looks around for the woman from before, Bazine something, but he fails to spot the black and white of her outfit. Probably for the best. She claimed to be able to translate the ball’s beeps, but that claim fell several parsecs short of reality.

Seems like the kid will have to find a translator on his own.

Han returns his gaze to the ball when it slides out its torch and ignites in in what he’s pretty sure is a thumbs down sign.

Judging from the kid’s frustrated sigh, he’s right about that. See, he isn’t old.

“What about Maz?” the kid asks all three of them.

“She’s...” he says while looking around for her. When he fails to find her, he frowns and searches for her again, more intently this time. Maz is tiny, true, but she’s always easy to find. Something just draws the eye to her when you’re trying to find her.

Except this time, apparently.

You can’t find her either?” Chewie asks, the fur around his ears rising the slightest bit. Han understand completely. Not being able to find Maz is just plain disquieting. Which is ridiculous, it’s not like she’s constantly in the main hall.

“She’s probably in the kitchen. Or maybe she’s upstairs,” he says, but something inside him whispers that’s not true.

Han hates it when his gut acts up like this. It’s useful, don’t get him wrong, but he still hates it.

He wants nothing to do with the Force.

The kid grimaces, before taking a deep breath and squaring his shoulders. He turns around and marches into the crowd. Han looks at his retreating back with bemusement. He hadn’t paid the kid much attention before, but he is now. Han knows that walk. It’s one he often uses himself.

Fake it till you make it is a tactic not nearly enough people appreciate.

The ball lets out a few beeps, before rolling after the kid. Good riddance. The miming had been really annoying. Well, failing to interpret it had been. And whatever the ball wanted to talk about can’t be that important if it’s leaving.

Except, unexpectedly, it comes back. And it comes back because the kid is coming back, looking at him with the same intensity as before.

“Where’s the kitchen?”

Han snorts at the demand delivered like a matter of life or death. Chewie lets out an amused rumble as well.

“Entrance is behind the bar, but ask Emmie before going in. She doesn’t like it when strangers enter without her knowledge. Neither does Cook.”

“Who’s Cook?” the kid asks.

“Cook’s the cook,” he says with a faint grin, making sure it doesn’t grow big enough to make warning klaxons go off for the kid. This will never get old.

“Cook’s the cook, right,” the kid mutters to himself, even adding in a firm nod for good measure. He has no idea what he’s about to walk into.

Han isn’t going to tell him. Neither is Chewie. Everyone who meets Cook gets thrown into the experience without prior warning.

Still...

“You could just wait for her here,” he offers. Chewie lets out a surprised rumble, before giving him a patronizing look. Han ignores it. So what if he wants to keep Cook from startling the kid too badly, that doesn’t make him soft. The kid is already strung tight, who knows what might happen if he meets Cook. Han is being a responsible citizen for once.

Of course, if the kid refuses the offer, Han still isn’t going to tell him about Cook. Traditions and all that.

“No, I need to find her,” the kid refuses. Too bad for him.

“Don’t you think you’re overreacting, kid?” he still makes a last effort to spare the kid from having a heart attack. Not because he’s soft, but because he’s nice. On occasion. When he feels like it.

“I’m not,” the kid says with a grimace, no doubt to be seen. “Something’s wrong. She wouldn’t leave me like this.”

He’ll take the kid’s word for that. He knows Rey better than Han does.

In fact, the only thing Han really knows about Rey is that, if her claim of finishing the Kessel Run in thirteen parsecs is true, she’s a great pilot, and that she has good taste. Excellent taste, in fact, seeing as she flies a Corellian YT-1300.

He ignores the habitual pang of loss that thought inspires.

Han shrugs. “Suit yourself– well, speak of the devil, there she...” He trails off as he gets a better look at the kid. She came out of the basement, and part of him wonders what she was doing down there. The basement is off-limits to anyone but Maz.

Most of him is focused on the way she’s moving, a pace barely below running, her jaw clenched and her eyes locked onto the exit, every part of her wound too tight.

Finn was right. Something is wrong.

“Re–” the kid starts to yell before cutting himself off. He runs towards her, squeezing between people with hasty apologies. The ball rolls after him.

Rey glances at the kid but doesn’t stop moving.

Han hesitates. This isn’t any of his business, it really isn’t, but...

Don’t know about you, but I’m going to check up on Maz’s favorite.”

“You’re her favorite,” he automatically corrects, because Chewie really is.

Favorite lover, sure.” He hates it when Chewie does this. He knows he and Maz have never slept together, but now he’s imagining Maz naked, and that is an image he could really do without. "Favorite kid, no.”

“And thank the stars for that,” he mutters, before letting out a sigh of resignation. He has a reputation to uphold after all. “Fine. If you want to check up on her so badly, I’ll come with.”

You’re such a nice person,” Chewie says, and while his tone is joking, his affectionate look reveals that he really means the words.

It’s ridiculous how that still makes him feel touched even after all this time.

“Let’s go, buddy,” he says while getting to his feet.

Finn and the ball– BB-8. If he’s going to be talking with the kid, he should watch that. Finn and BB-8 caught up to her right before she reached the doors, and Finn prevented her from leaving by grabbing her hand. She and Finn are now... not quite arguing, but near to it. At least, judging from their body language they are. The music and conversation filling the air prevents him from hearing what they’re saying.

As he comes closer, Han can’t help but slow down, heart clenching painfully. Which is completely ridiculous. He shouldn’t be reacting like this. She’s too short, too slim, and she’s  a girl. There is literally nothing that should remind him of Ben.

Except she isn’t wearing her goggles anymore, and even though her eyes are too light a color, even though they look nothing like his... they somehow do.

Somehow they look exactly like his.

Her eyes are full of terror. A terror that reminds him of when Ben was just a child, when he would wake him and Leia with his nightmares. When they would spend hours trying to calm him down.

Ben always looked at them with the same kind of fear. No matter what they did or said, they could never erase that fear. They could never banish his nightmares.

They couldn’t stop him from becoming a monster.

“–safe here. Maz will take care of you.”

The voice, completely different from Ben’s, helps him shake off the past.

“Please, R– please. I know you won’t stay, and I won’t lie, I kind of really don’t want you to either. Not because I don’t want you here, I do, of course I do, but–” Finn cuts himself off with a grimace and closes his eyes, bringing up his free hand to rub the back of his neck. When he opens them, he looks at Rey with a kind of pleading that makes Han stop coming closer and seriously reconsider his decision to join them. “Can’t you stay just a little while longer? I’m scared.”

Yeah, coming over was definitely a bad idea. This is a private conversation.

Well, sort of private. They’re starting to attract attention from the people around them.

The kid, Rey, closes her own eyes with a grimace much more pained than Finn’s, body still so tense that Han half expects her to burst into a run right this second.

Finn keeps making puppy eyes at her. BB-8 beeps something, and the kid’s grimace actually manages to grow a little more.

“I can’t,” she says, her voice low and rough, nearly unrecognizable from the one she used when talking to him. She opens her eyes and gives Finn a look as pleading as it is determined.

Her eyes still remind him of Ben’s.

“Finn, I’m sorry, but I can’t stay– mind your own business,” she snaps with a glare at the nearest table and that’s a great idea actually, he should do that, he should mind his own business and ignore whatever she’s doing–

Han realizes that he’s walking back to the table. So is Chewie.

The realization arrests him in place.

She just used the Force. She used the Force, and her name is Rey.

Cursing, he spins around and runs back towards her, hearing Chewie let out a surprised woof before coming after him. She can’t leave, not now, not until she tells him about–

Silence falls, deafening in its intensity, but it’s almost meaningless compared to the cold shiver trailing down his spine, the way it feels like someone is walking over his grave.

Even that isn’t the worst part.

No one is talking and the music has stopped, yet somehow...

Somehow Han swears he is hearing screams. Screams of fear and agony, screams made by more voices than he ever thought possible.

Screams made by people that have already ceased to exist.

An absent part of him is aware that he’s reached for his blaster and that Chewie has grabbed his crossbow. Everyone has reached for their weapons, really.

All except Rey. Rey, who has fallen to her knees. Rey, who is staring into the distance with an expression of horror.

He doesn’t want to think it, he so desperately doesn’t want to think it.

Ben, what have you done?


 

Four Years Ago

I’m safe, we’re safe, we made it, he isn’t here and he can’t hurt me. I am safe.

Forcing myself to take deep breaths, I slowly gain control over the trembles wrecking my body. I open my eyes. Seeing the impossible shades of blue helps me regain control a little more.

I can’t stop my hands from shaking.

“Artie, never do that again,” I say in a far too hysterical voice, turning around to face it. “I swear I will kick you out if you ever even think of doing something like that again.”

[Directive acc̸̵͟҉̷e̷͞p̵҉̸̶͡t̷̷ed]

Artie’s malfunction makes me flinch, a crackle of discharge running over its damaged speaker.

That damage is nothing compared to the rest of its body. Half its compartments are crushed inwards, the other half cracked open, tools forced out by the deformed chassis. Smoke and sparks are pouring out of the openings, and hydraulic fluid is leaking down the floor.

All right. First things first.

“How’s your central processor?”

[Status Central–Central–Central–Central–]

Damn, damn, damn.

“Is it still intact?” I amend, getting off my chair and grabbing the fire extinguisher.

I’m so glad the change in question is enough for Artie break out of its loop.

[Affirmative.]

I really hope that’s true.

All right, focus.

Carefully, I reach for Artie’s parts, ignoring the pain it causes me. Examining the extent of the damage, I suck in a sharp breath as I realize just how bad the situation is.

Artie is on the verge of catastrophic breakdown.

“You need to power down. Can you do that?”

[Affirmative.]

Okay, good, that’s good. It still has control over its most basic functions, meaning its central processor is still working. I can patch Artie back up. I can.

“All right, I can fix you, I am going to fix you. But you need to power down. Right now.”

[This unit–unit would like to ret̶̸҉̶̷a̡̛͘̕͘in its original coloring.]

I can’t help a hysterical laugh. On the verge of death, and Artie is vain as ever.

“I’ll paint everything the exact same shade it was before, now power down please.”

[Powering down–down.]

The moment Artie’s light are out, I activate the fire extinguisher. Reaching for Artie’s parts again, I make sure every fire is put out. When I’m satisfied with my examination, I pull back my presence, wincing from the strain it puts on my mental wounds, a lot harder to ignore now that I know Artie is going to make it.

Clenching my jaw, I put away the fire extinguisher and leave the cockpit, making my way towards the medicine cabinet. I keep my back straight and my head held high. I won’t allow him to get to me.

Not more than he already has, at least.

I grab the supplies I need, disinfect my hands thoroughly, and return to the cockpit. Normally I wouldn’t do this here, but I don’t want to leave Artie alone right now.

I almost slip on the hydraulic fluid coating the floor. Right, I need to clean that up. Except there aren’t any cleaning supplies in the cockpit, and I have no desire whatsoever to leave again.

I take off my both my sweaters, the movements making me wince, and throw them down the largest puddles of fluid, mopping the worst away with my foot. The sweaters are forever ruined, but seeing as I’ll never be able to look at them without being reminded of him, that’s not exactly a loss.

Most of the smoke coming out of Artie has faded by now, only a few thin trails remaining. Just to be sure, I mentally check over the source.

Nothing is sparking or burning. It’s just some lingering smouldering of plastic, already starting to cool down. Nothing truly dangerous.

Having assured myself Artie is as all right as it can be, I take a seat and set about patching myself up.

It’s not as bad as it usually is. A few shallow burns on my arms and legs, but nothing that will impact my ability to move. Aside from my sprained wrist, but it isn’t broken. Some bacta, a compress and a decent night’s sleep, and it’ll be good as new.

It’ll take a while before I’ll be able to get a decent night’s sleep again.

The worst wound is the one on my back. It’s long, and when I lift a hand to trace the edges, I realize that it’s worryingly deep as well. I hadn’t noticed because of the adrenaline buzz and the wound’s nature.

The advantage of getting cut by a lightsaber is that the wound is immediately seared close. The disadvantage of getting cut by a lightsaber is that you’re often unaware of just how badly you’re hurt.

Given that I’m still capable of walking and breathing without too much trouble, it isn’t deep enough to have damaged my spine or ribs. Good.

What isn’t good is its location. Everything else is easy to treat, but I just can’t reach my back the way I need to. Artie obviously can’t help either, and I can’t even use the Force. Levitation is difficult enough as it is, but with my mental wounds, it’s simply impossible to do.

My aggravation keeps growing, made even worse when the phantom pain from my lost limb joins in the rest of my torment.

When I fail to reach the center of the cut yet again, I yell with frustration and barely resist the urge to throw the bacta away.

I put it down besides me right before my previous shakes return with a vengeance, and suddenly tears are filling my eyes because it hurts, it hurts so much and why does he keep doing this, why can’t he just leave me alone?

And then I’m crying, sobbing, screaming, emotions bursting free and threatening to pull me under, the terror and rage and despair and hatred and why can’t he just leave me alone, why does he keep hurting me, why doesn’t he die, why doesn’t he get tortured instead, why can’t I hurt him.

I so desperately want to hurt him.

I let my emotions control me for too long, barely manage to find the strength to push them back and pull myself out of my downward spiral. Part of me doesn’t want to. Part of me wants to just give in.

Part of me wants to Fall.

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much if I did.

Gritting my teeth, I force myself to take deep and steady breaths, pushing down the storm of emotions, now so much greater than before, amplified almost to the breaking point.

I swore to myself I would never give in to the Dark side.

I’m not about to let him win by breaking that vow.

Continuing to take deep breaths, I get off my chair and sit down in front of Artie. I’m barely in control of myself, and I desperately need a distraction. Without it, even the slightest thing will set me off again. A thing like trying and failing to treat the wound on my back.

I need to meditate. If I’m going to meditate, I might as well combine it with looking after Artie. At the very least, I’ll have a much better idea of where to start fixing it.

I still can’t believe it actually shot Kylo Ren. He avoided most of the attack of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that Artie, knowing exactly what Kylo Ren is capable of, shot him with the Falcon’s turret.

The memory makes a dangerous amount of vicious satisfaction rise.

The satisfaction is obliterated when I remember what happened after. I shiver violently, the storm almost breaking free again, but I manage to keep it contained.

I wasn’t kidding about kicking Artie out if it ever even thinks of doing something like this again. Kylo Ren had been impressed enough by Artie’s guts that he hadn’t obliterated it completely.

He will if Artie ever interferes in our fights again.

I rub my eyes with frustration. I’m supposed to be meditating, not be thinking about that monster.

I turn my full attention towards Artie. Unexpectedly, a wave of affection rises, making it just a little easier the contain the storm. The affection really shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though.

Artie had tried to protect me.

It’s been so long since anyone cared enough about me to want to protect me.

I suppose this means I’ll have to rebuild the controls so it can fly the Falcon on its own. If this disaster hasn’t managed to drive it away, nothing ever will.

But first I need to fix it.

Laying my hand on top of its dome, I close my eyes and gently reach for its parts, taking care not to strain my mental wounds. It takes far, far longer than usual, but I eventually manage to lose myself in its gears and mechanisms, its circuits and wires.

The last clear thought I have is a prayer that he’ll allow me enough time to fix Artie before coming after me again.

Chapter Text

What has he done?

I don’t know, but I know it’s something terrible. Something beyond words.

There are so many screams.

“They’ve done it.”

The words come from far away, barely reaching me through the screams of the dead.

There are so many dead.

I’m absently aware that conversation starts filling the air again. I realize that Han Solo is here when he grasps my shoulders.

I can’t pull myself away from the dead.

A vague part of me realizes that Han Solo is shaking me.

There is no end to the dead.

Maz’s hand on my shoulder and the song of her presence manages to draw me away from the dead.

The song is disturbed, the melodies shaken. They’re almost dissonant, something I didn’t know was possible. I shiver violently.

What has he done?

“–you mean, a system killer?”

The harsh demand makes me look up. I see Han Solo stare at Finn with disbelief and horror, though I can’t verify the emotions through the Force. My surroundings are nothing but static. Only the lightsaber and Maz’s presence are clear. 

Maz feels as horrified as Han Solo looks.

“What do you think I mean? It’s a weapon meant to destroy an entire system in one shot,” Finn says in a hysterical voice, managing to make everything even worse. He built a system killer?

I recognize the absurdity of that thought almost as soon as I have it. Of course he didn’t build it. The First Order did.

The First Order used it.

“It’s called Starkiller Base. They were planning to use it on the Republic after finishing it. I didn’t know it was already operational.”

That last comes out a terrified whisper, making me refocus on Finn. He’s several shades too pale, and his eyes are flickering between Han Solo, me, and something unseen in the distance. The screams, I realize. That’s what’s drawing his attention.

I almost wonder how he can feel them without training, but I realize how stupid that question is before it’s fully formed. Every Force-sensitive in the galaxy can feel this.

I grit my teeth and push myself to my feet, Maz’s hand falling off my shoulder as I do. A whimper escapes me as the dead snap back into horrifying focus, drowning out all else. Maz grabs my hand and pushes them back once more. I take a few steadying breaths, before I pull my hand away from hers and force myself to keep the screams at bay on my own.

It takes everything I have, but I manage to mostly push them to the background.

[Query – what hurt Savior-Rey?]

“Far too many things,” Maz answers BB-8 with a grimace, worried eyes locked onto me. I would’ve scowled at her for the lack of confidence if I wasn’t still busy ensuring the dead won’t overwhelm me again.

[This unit wishes to help Savior-Rey.]

It can’t. No one can. Not even Maz.

“I’m leaving,” I say, already putting words into action. I need to get away from literally everything. While I know I can’t escape the screams, I can escape that damn lightsaber. Aside from Maz, it’s the only thing I have no trouble sensing.

It’s still calling me, so strongly that I’m certain I would feel it anywhere on the planet. Maz carrying it on her person definitely isn’t helping with the strength of that call.

“Wait, don’t–”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Han Solo says while grabbing my arm, cutting Finn off and preventing me from leaving. I glare.

“Let go,” I snap with the Force, my frayed nerves causing the effect to be even greater than usual.

Han Solo lets go of me like I burned him, but before I can take a single step, he scowls and grabs my arm again.

“Listen, Rey–”

“Let go!” I hear various things shatter and a few startled yells. Han Solo flinches violently but he doesn’t let go, he actually tightens his grip, and I don’t want to hurt him, I really don’t, but if he doesn’t let go of me right this instant I am going to–

“Rey!”

Maz’s warning makes me realize just what I’m on the verge of doing. I close my eyes and take a deep breaths. I have no chance in hell of evening out my presence, so I do my best to reign it in instead. Even that is almost more than I can manage.

“I need to talk to you,” Han Solo says like he was never interrupted. “I need to know about–”

This might not be the best time to talk about this.”

While I have no trouble understanding Chewbacca’s words, I can’t read either his tone or presence, but honestly, I don’t care about the motivation behind those words. I’m still fighting the urge to throw Han Solo across the room.

“Do I look like I care?” Han Solo snaps back.

“Da’lin, you need to meditate.”

Because clearly I’m not aware of that.

I yank my arm out of Han Solo’s grip, using a touch of Force to pry his fingers open. Judging from his wince, I did it more strongly than intended. Should’ve let go of me on his own, then.

Han Solo scowls. “You ain't leaving, kid. Not until you tell me about–”

“Han,” Maz snaps with such warning it makes Han Solo snap his mouth shut in an instant, his teeth clicking audibly together. Maz closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, forcefully evening out her presence in a way I’ve never known her needing to do.

“You can discuss this later. Right now, Rey needs to meditate,” she says while opening her eyes and meeting my gaze, the words aimed as much at me as at Han Solo.

I let out a harsh breath, rubbing my eyes as I try to keep my own mess of emotions under control. I still want to leave. I want to leave right now. Maz is right though, I need to meditate. The destruction of an entire system would make me need to do that all on its own, but combined with that damn lightsaber, meditation takes priority above all else. My mental state is far too unbalanced, and that is a danger I can’t afford to ignore.

I could still leave. I could meditate on my ship. Meditation always carries the risk of him finding me though, and the more unbalanced I am, the higher the risk. Except in hyperspace, but meditating in hyperspace is tricky enough even when not on the verge of a mental breakdown.

Meditation on Takodana is the next best thing. Even if he does notice me, he won’t be able to find me before I pull back.

“Fine.”

With that, I spin on my heel and march towards the kitchen. I hear Finn trying to come after me, but Maz stops him. She says something, to him I assume, but by then I’m already too far away to distinguish her words from the general buzz of conversation.

I’m grateful that she doesn’t let Finn come after me. I know he means well, but right now I am really not in the mood for company, let alone conversation.

I stalk into the kitchen, starling Cook, their eyestalk snapping towards me.

Hatchling!

I grimace. Even when muted by water, Dianoga voices are not meant for human hearing. I adjust the sensory input to my ears, the effort conscious in a way it normally never is.

What are you doing here?” Cook continues at what is now a thankfully much less piercing volume. “What’s wrong with Queen?

“I’m here to meditate, and something awful happened and shook her up,” I answer curtly, darting over the stepping stones. While adjusting my senses took a conscious effort, moving beyond my natural limits doesn’t. The opposite, actually. Now that I’m allowing myself to move faster than a walking pace, it’s impossible not to boost myself.

Cook puts down two of the pans they're holding and lowers one of the fires, before they slither towards me through the murky water that makes up most of the floor. Three of their tentacles reach for me. I dodge them all.  

“Good to see you, Cook,” I add, and while I’m in no mood for company, I do mean it.

Cook lets out a bone shaking hum of annoyance.

Hatchling, stop moving and explain properly.”

“Ask Maz or Emmie.”

I am not exaggerating about not wanting to talk.

Cook lets out a shrill whistle of aggravation. Tough luck.

I reach the entrance to the greenhouses and go inside. The wave of heat is more than welcome.

Moving through the rows of plants, I enter another greenhouse. This one is even hotter than the previous. It’s also my favorite place to meditate, courtesy of being the only place on Takodana that feels comfortable to my warped sense of temperature.

Settling down in my usual spot, I take off my scarf, vest, and outer jumper. The warmth and light of the sun eases some of my tension. No more than a fraction, but every little bit helps. I close my eyes.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Calm and steady. Find your center. Find balance.

Finding balance is impossible. Reaching for the Force only brings the screams back into focus.

Uncountable people are dead. Uncountable lives were destroyed in an instant, nothing left but the echoes of their terror and pain, and how could he do this? How can he stay with the First Order, how can he choose to–

Breathe in. Breathe out. Don’t think about that right now, just focus on the Force.

The Force is screaming. It’s bleeding Darkness. It’s as terrible as it is terrifying.

It’s beautiful in the most awful of ways.

The Darkness isn’t evil. People consumed by Darkness, yes, those are evil. But the Force isn’t. Neither is the Force good. It simply is, nothing more, nothing less.

No matter how much it sometimes feels like that isn’t true.

There are so many dead. There was so much fear and pain, there was so much suffering

Focus.

It takes a lot more restarts, but eventually I start to release my turmoil. I let go of my anger and denial, my fear and despair, until at last the Force turns clear.

I don’t sense my surroundings. I sense the Darkness. The storm of death that is as natural as birth, the destruction that will lead to new creation. The cycle of change that fuels life itself, and he's observing the storm with fascination–

I yank myself away, almost falling down and not caring in the slightest, too busy going over my defenses.

There are no openings in any of them. I’m also certain that he didn’t notice me, I definitely would’ve felt it if he had. I’m safe. I am.

I rub my eyes with frustration, the brief serenity not nearly enough to calm me down. I let out a harsh breath.

This isn’t going to work. I can’t avoid being drawn to the destroyed system, and with Kylo Ren paying attention to the same place, I can’t avoid being noticed by him either. I was lucky he was distracted enough to miss my arrival before I pulled back.

I still need to calm down, though. Given that meditation is not an option, I suppose I’ll have to settle for the next best thing.

I put my clothes back on, get to my feet, and march back towards the kitchen. This time I move at a natural pace.

Aren’t you supposed to be meditating?

The asshole won’t let me.

I grimace when there’s an actual flicker of pain from Maz. Normally it doesn’t matter how harshly I send something, Maz softens the impact with near instinctive ease. Not this time.

You need to meditate as well, I send, careful not to hurt her.

I’m planning to do so every night for a full moon cycle at the absolute least.

Good.

You, however, cannot afford to wait until nightfall.

I roll my eyes. Yes, I’m still far too worked up, but it’s not like I’m the verge of Falling. And even though it was far too brief, the serenity did push back the danger of an immediate breakdown. As long as I distract myself for a decent while longer, that danger won’t return before I can properly meditate.

Tell that to the asshole, I send. Maz sends annoyed disapproval my way, and while it’s clear the annoyance wasn’t send on purpose, the disapproval was. Which is completely uncalled for. I realize that I’m not being nice by any stretch of the imagination, but under the circumstances, she has no right to blame me for that.

...Except Maz was hit by this just as hard as I was. Harder even, given her constant immersion in the Force.

I’m going to tinker, I explain as I enter the kitchen, taking care to keep the message gentle.

My solution makes Maz send reluctant understanding. Once again, the reluctance isn’t send on purpose.

She really is as shaken as I am.

“Is anything broken?” I ask both Emmie and Cook. I have no idea when Emmie got here, but I’m not surprised by her appearance.

Emmie turned to look at me the moment I entered, but Cook didn’t even glance at me. Now that I’ve calmed down a fraction, I can sense how insulted they are as well. I sigh.

“I’m sorry for being rude, I just... I’m really not in a good mood right now. So please, is anything broken?”

Cook continues to give me the cold shoulder, even as compassion rises as well.

“Heating on the second floor is faulty,” Emmie says, her tone as bored as her presence is kind. “Pretty sure there’s a glitch in the distributor.”

“Thanks,” I say, wasting no more time in crossing the stepping stones. “Sorry again, Cook,” I say while passing by them. I muster a small smile for Emmie as well, to convey my gratitude.

Entering the tavern, I look around for Finn and BB-8. Finn is sitting at a table with Han Solo and Chewbacca, BB-8 standing besides him. Finn is also nursing another kava, while Han Solo, judging from the face he makes after downing his drink, is doing his best to get drunk.

None of them notice me. Good.

I walk towards the back, glancing at Maz and the lightsaber as I do. HURID is standing at her side, no doubt drawn here by the mental disturbance. Maz herself is rubbing her temples with a deep grimace, her eyes closed. Seeing her brings the overall symphony more to the foreground, though still to a far lesser degree than usual.

The symphony is strained, almost forced, and it shows. There’s an unease in the air I’ve never experienced here before. The music is hesitant, and the buzz of conversation is low and subdued.

Maz really needs to meditate as well. Maybe even more than I do. Telling her that is useless though, she’s as stubborn as I am. She also has the annoying tendency to assume that she’s always in the right. She almost always is of course, but that just means that the rare times she isn’t, it’s practically impossible to convince her of that.

I disappear into the back and walk towards the central heating, grabbing a toolbox from the supply closet on the way. As soon as I arrive, I sit down in front of the distributor and place my hand on it. I close my eyes.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I reach for the gears and pipes, the wires and valves. This isn’t the same as meditation, though I used to think it was. Doing this doesn’t let me release my emotions, merely pushes them down until they no longer consume me. The emotions aren’t gone, though. They’re just dormant until something sets me off again, and then they return with a vengeance, growing stronger every time they do.

It really is a miracle that I didn’t Fall before I found Maz.

It takes a while, but eventually I manage to lose myself in the machinery.

The faulty heating on the second floor is indeed caused by the distributor. A connector ring has broken off. And it broke off because of a chain reaction caused by a single bolt, the past events fleeting but clear.

The bolt had a flaw in the metal, and the stress of changing temperatures led to it fracturing. Not a problem on its own, the rest of the bolts are more than adequate to keep the regulator in place. The problem is that the broken shard landed between the connector ring and the pressure valve while it was open. When the valve closed, the shard was jabbed into the connector ring with enough force to crack it in two.

I unbolt the relevant plating, nothing on my mind beyond the need to fix this. I reach between the pipes and wires. Time is meaningless, my actions only important in how they repair–

My head snaps up, focus shattered– I yank Maz’s home around me like a cloak, becoming the stone and mortar, the electronics and mechanisms, the systems and generators.

Kylo Ren is here.

We need to leave.

We move across the stone we are, solid and enduring. We activate our comm.

“R2-T3, prepare for lift-off. Kylo Ren is here.”

[Defensive protocols engaged; Threat Level 8]

“Out! All of you, out!

We are unaffected by Maz’s command. We have stood here for centuries, and we will stand here until the end of the building we are.

We are also me.

We continue moving.

We step down the earth and become the rock and soil, the grass and roots reaching down. We become a fraction of a whole so vast it consumes all but the barest sliver of me.

We continue moving.

We see Maz. We see Finn.

We continue moving.

“Re–”

Finn runs towards us. Finn has noticed us.

We do not understand how he has noticed us. None are supposed to when we are like this. Not unless we announce our presence first.

Finn stops in front of us and grabs our hand. This prevents us from moving.

We need to move.

“Let go.”

Finn does not let go.

“What’s going on?”

“Let go.”

Finn does not let go.

“...Are you alright?”

We are not alright. Kylo Ren is here.

We need to leave.

We attempt to free our hand.

Finn does not let go. Finn needs to let go.

“Let go. Now.”

Finn lets go. We resume moving.

Finn follows us.

“What’s wrong?”

“Kylo Ren is here.”

Finn stops following us. Finn resumes following us. He is wearing an expression of fear.

We are afraid as well.

“What do you mean he’s here? He can’t be here, that’s impossible. You said this place was safe!”

We continue moving.

“Damnit, Rey, what–”

We hear the sound of TIE-fighters. We hear them fire.

We are the earth ripped apart, rock shattered and soil flying through the air. We are grass crushed and roots unearthed. We stop moving.

We have a problem. In our current state, we cannot predict where the TIE-fighters will fire next. If we continue moving, we will most likely be killed–

“Get down!”

Finn pushes us down. We land on the earth we are, the grass bending without breaking, the roots unharmed.

We are ripped apart once more. The rock and earth we are falls down on us.

“Are you blind? You–”

Finn yells. We continue being ripped apart.

“I need a blaster.”

We give Finn one of our blasters.

“I could kiss you right now, I really could.”

Finn starts shooting. We are still being torn apart.

We taste blood. We realize that we are bleeding. We have a cut on our lip. We have several on our hand. We are fairly certain that we have several bruises as well.

We need to find a better place to hide.

We focus on our surroundings as best we can. We see blaster fire. We see people. We see Stormtroopers. We see TIE-fighters.

We see his ship.

We need to find a better place to hide fast.

We focus on finding a better place to hide. We see rocks we are and stone we are not but one day will be. We manage to determine that the formation is large enough to hide us from view. The formation is far enough away from his ship as well.

We move towards the better hiding place. We move quickly.

His ship has almost landed.

“What the– what are you–”

“Traitor!”

Finn does not follow us. We continue moving quickly.

We reach the better hiding place and take shelter, carefully ensuring that we are completely out of sight of his ship. We wait.

We are the earth and stone, the soil and grass, the roots reaching down. We are still being torn apart.

We hear his lightsaber ignite.

We are afraid.

We hear his lightsaber move. We become aware that there are screams.

The screams are lessening.

We hope that Maz is alright. We hope that Finn is alright.

We hope that he will not find us.

We stop being ripped apart. His lightsaber is deactivated.

There are no more screams.

“Well, that was disappointing.”

Even in our current state, we have no trouble focusing on his voice.

“You’d think pirates and smugglers would put up a better fight. Oh well.”

We are the earth disturbed, the soil shifting in place. We hear people yell. We do not know what he is doing to them.

We do not want to know what he is doing to them.

“Han Solo?”

We do not want him to notice Han Solo.

“And Chewbacca as well. This is a surprise. What are you doing here?”

“We were enjoying a drink until the place got blown up. Thanks for that.”

Han Solo is brave. We wish he was not.

“Look on the bright side. I stopped you from getting so drunk you can no longer stand.”

“That’s not a bright side, Ben.”

We almost stop being we. His name is Ben?

“Chewie doesn’t seem to agree.”

His name is Ben. The thought is so confusing it keeps threatening to pull us out of our current state.

Don’t call me that. You lost that right long ago.”

“Ouch. I’m just trying to make friendly conversation.”

We wonder how Han Solo and Chewbacca know Kylo Ren. We wonder it too strongly.

It is becoming more and more difficult to keep being we.

“Don’t.”

“In that case, I’ll return to business.”

We hear Finn yell, and the soil we are is disturbed. We hear Finn choke.

We know what Kylo Ren is doing to him.

“The droid. Where is it.”

“I– I don’t know.”

Finn is brave. We wish he was not.

“Not a lie, but not quite the truth either. Let’s try this again.”

“Ben, don’t–”

Finn screams. We know exactly what Kylo Ren is doing to him.

We want to help Finn.

We do not want to be found by Kylo Ren.

Finn stops screaming.

“Where’s the droid?”

“I don’t know, I really don’t know.”

We wish Finn would stop being brave.

“Aren’t you the resilient one.”

We do not want him to become interested in Finn.

“Let’s see how far that resilience goes.”

Finn screams. He is screaming louder than before. We do not want Finn to be hurt. We want to help him.

We do not want to be found by Kylo Ren.

“Ben, stop!”

Finn continues screaming.

“Son, please.”

He is Han Solo’s son– I yank the earth around me and become the soil and stone, the grass and roots reaching down. We pray we were fast enough.

Finn is no longer screaming.

We were not fast enough.

“Re~y. Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

We do not want to come out.

We are torn apart, rocks shattered and roots destroyed.

We will not come out.

“Aren’t you happy to see me, Rey?”

We are torn apart once more.

We are not happy to see him.

“Leave her alone.”

We wish Finn would not have said that.

“You know her.”

Finn screams, so loud we are barely able to hear anything else.

We hear Han Solo start to say something before he is cut off. Chewbacca’s roar is cut off as well.

Finn continues screaming. We want to help him.

We do not want to face Kylo Ren.

“You know her because... she saved you. Of course she did. Not just you though, she also saved... the droid? She was on Jakku?”

He chuckles.

“The Force works in mysterious ways.”

Finn is no longer screaming. He is crying.

We want to help Finn.

We do not want to face Kylo Ren.

“Hiding won’t do you any good, Rey. The Force clearly wants us to meet.”

We do not want to meet him.

“Though if you want to play a game of hide-and-seek, well. I’m definitely not opposed to that.”

We are torn apart, grass shredded and stone crushed. We are torn apart place after place. We are torn apart closer and closer to where we are hiding. We know he will find us.

We do not want him to find us.

“Leave... leave her alone.”

We wish Finn would stop being brave.

“You truly care for her. To a ridiculous extent. You’ve only known her for half a day. I wonder...”

We stop being torn apart.

“Do you care for him as well, Rey?”

Finn screams, a high-pitched sound louder than any that came before. We want to help Finn. We want it too strongly.

We do not want to face Kylo Ren.

Finn continues to scream. His screams are becoming breathless. They are becoming weaker.

Kylo Ren will find us. We know he will find us. It is pointless to keep hiding.

We want to help Finn.

We stop being we.

The fire that is his presence is so bright I can’t sense anything else, but I’m too busy going over my defenses to care about that.

I start caring when Finn stops screaming. I desperately want to check up on him, but I can’t. I’m too busy lashing out at the fire reaching for me.

The worst part is how it isn’t an attack. It’s a caress.

“Hello, Rey.”

As always, hearing him say my name makes me want to smash his teeth in.

Taking a fortifying breath, I grab my electrostaff and activate it. After making sure my mental hold on it is unyielding, not a single opening for him to break through, I straighten from my crouch and walk into his view.

I’m fairly successful at ignoring the way his happiness grows. The increase in affection, on the other hand, I fail to ignore spectacularly. At least I have a lot of experience in keeping the resulting wave of revulsion from clouding my mind.

Finn is slumped at his feet, silent tears streaming down his face and blood dripping from his nose. One of his eyes is bloodshot to the point it’s clear to see even with the distance between us. When he notices me, he looks at me with as much horror as he feels, the emotion clear even with Kylo Ren blinding me.

I’m so grateful that he doesn’t say anything.

“Hello, Ben,” I mock with a glare. Saying it out loud inspires an involuntarily flicker of humor, as well as a whole lot of incredulity.

His name is Ben. I’m never going to get over this.

I aggressively ignore the fact that he is Han Solo’s son. I can’t deal with that right now.

“I haven’t been Ben Solo in a long time.”

Except of course the asshole won’t allow me to ignore it.

The thought falls flat because he is Ben Solo. He’s Han Solo’s son, he is Leia Organa’s son, he is a Skywalker

I’m not thinking about this.

I can’t help but glance at Han Solo when he flinches violently. With the addition of my sight, it’s easier to sense my surroundings, but even without that, I would have no trouble picking up the pain and misery inspired by those words. The words spoken by his son

Still not thinking about this.

While I do pay a little attention to Han Solo, most of my focus remains on Kylo Ren. He didn’t turn to watch Han Solo, but his joy is briefly dampened by... not regret, he isn’t capable of regret. But it’s uncomfortably close to it.

The near regret isn’t enough to make him release his hold on Han Solo’s vocal chords.

“Your name is Ben,” I repeat, and while I keep most of my focus on him, I also take the opportunity to inspect my surroundings more thoroughly. I won’t have much time for that, but I’ll have enough. He does so love the sound of his own voice.

Maz’s castle is in utter ruin, the remnants of the building scattered everywhere. Bodies are spread out on the ground, both those of Stormtroopers and the people unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some of those people have lost limbs. Others are cut in half.

“I know,” he says with wry amusement. At least the humor is directed at himself for once instead of at me.

Behind him, Stormtroopers are surrounding the survivors, blasters raised. That’s the group Han Solo and Chewbacca are in. Now I know what that first yelling had been about. He’d yanked the survivors out of their hiding places and forced them together like nothing but cattle.

“I had no choice but to change it. ‘Ben’ doesn’t exactly strike fear in people’s hearts.”

Maz is missing of course. So are BB-8, Emmie, Cook and HURID. Maz must be hiding them all. Good.

“And Kylo Ren does?” I mock while returning my gaze to the visor of his mask.

The mocking is empty. We both know it does.

“I like the way it rolls off the tongue. But enough about me, how are you, Rey? It’s been far too long.”

“It’s never too long,” I snap, starting to lose control of my temper. I hate how he always acts like I’m the most entertaining thing in the entire galaxy.

“Rey, I’m hurt,” he says while laying a hand on his chest with mock pain. His playfulness grates on my nerves in the worst of ways. “I’m starting to think you don’t care for me.”

“Literally nothing could make me happier than having you die,” I say, meaning it from the bottom of my heart.

He laughs like I just told the funniest of jokes, and the fire of his presence attempts to caress me once more. I cut off each and every part reaching for me.

“Oh Rey, I have missed you.”

The worst part is how he actually means it.

“Get spaced.”

The caress turns into an attack without warning, burning through my defense and battering my shields as he leaps forward with a speed that makes my own mind fly into overdrive.

He activates his lightsaber.

I block his strike with my staff, force the blade down and try to elbow him in the gut, but he spins out of the way while throwing a punch at my face and twisting his lightsaber so the handle threatens to cut off my fingers. I push him away with my staff, the movement backed by the Force.

He takes advantage of my change in focus to mentally punch me in the face, blood filling my mouth, but I don’t let the pain distract me, spin on my heel with the momentum of his blow instead, grabbing my blaster in the same movement. As I finish spinning around, I block the strike aimed to cut me in half and manage to get the barrel of my blaster up against the visor of his mask.

I shoot him. His visor shatters and his head snaps back but he isn’t truly hurt, is bending backward with the impact of my shot, the worst of it caught with the Force and his eyes protected from the flying shards as well. Still, he’s distracted. While he tries to kick me in the same movement, it’s a weak attempt, easily avoided.

I take the opportunity to lash out at his mind while placing my blaster down his leg and shooting him point blank. He manages to block the shot enough to prevent a hole in his leg, the energy exploding outwards and forcing me to yank my own hand back and lean to the side while pushing the worst of the energy away from me.

His choice means he didn’t defend himself from my mental attack, and the sweet agony it caused is enough to distract him to the point where I can catch him before he can recover his balance, smashing my staff into his side while simultaneously forcing his arm to go wide, leaving him open for attack.

I press the barrel of my blaster against his heart and fire. Once more he manages to catch the blast enough to prevent me from putting a hole in him, and this time he deliberately directs the explosion towards my own chest, forcing me to bend almost double backwards to avoid it. I turn my descent into a backflip to avoid the lightsaber aimed at my legs and deflect the worst of the inferno ramming my shields.

The distraction costs me my blaster. He breaks through my hold and destroys the power cell. I let go of the now useless metal while landing on my feet and block the blade aimed to cut off my arm, the strength of his blow almost sending me to my knees.

Sith yellow eyes meet my own, bright with joy.

I spit into his eyes. He deflects the mixture of blood and saliva with a laugh of course, but the point isn't to blind him, it's to cause a burst of amusement big enough to distract him, giving me the opportunity to draw a knife and stab him in the hand– I scream as he shatters the first of my shields, white hot agony overwhelming all else.

He forces my staff wide and knees me in the gut, all breath lost as I bend double. Nausea threatens to immobilize me but I can’t afford that, need to remain aware of what he’s doing, need to focus– I barely manage to twist out of the way of his lightsaber before it can cut off my head, the blade so close I feel the distorted heat and smell burnt hair. I mentally deflect the punch aimed at my face, realize halfway through my spin that I’ve lost my knife but still have hold of my staff, and most important of all, I realize that he has a flaw in his defense.

I finish spinning upright and use my momentum to kick him in the side as hard as I can. Vicious satisfaction rises at his sharp flare of pain. My satisfaction grows as he smashes into a broken pillar and his pain increases.

I try and fail to ignore the pleasure he takes in being hurt. Sick asshole.

I don’t give him a chance to recover, mentally grab as many rocks as I can and fling them at him with a sharp jab of my staff, before grabbing my one thermal detonator with my free hand and throwing that at him as well, ensuring my mental hold on it is unyielding.

I’m already running away when he slices through the rocks and deflects the broken pieces to the side. I prevent him from taking control of the thermal detonator, and when I sense that he’s about to jump, I detonate it.

He jumps fast and high enough to avoid the blast completely. Damn it, I used it too soon.

He's still in the air when he lifts a hand towards me and clenches his fist with a blaze of power, forcing me to jump as the ground explodes. I twist around mid-air to avoid his own rock projectiles, swing my staff to hit a piece too large to avoid and use my staff as leverage to push myself out of the way, deflecting the three rocks still in my path while he closes the distance between us.

I turn my landing into a roll and lift my staff just in time to catch the lightsaber aimed at my throat, sweep out a leg to knock him off his feet while deflecting the mental blow to my stomach. He jumps over me while trying to behead me once more.

We continue dancing to a too familiar rhythm, nothing existing outside of it. Every step is haunted by death. He doesn’t want to kill me though, no, that’s not what he wants.

He wants this. His joy grows with every near miss, and delight rises with every blow landed on me. Even more delight rises with every hit I manage to get in myself. He lives for our fights, never feels more alive than when facing me.

The worst part is that I feel it too. Part of me is exhilarated, part of me is alive in a way I only am when fighting him.

Part of me wants to dance with him forever.

That part becomes smaller and smaller as he keeps breaking through my defenses. He destroys my taser and final blaster, crushes my knives or makes me lose them, until I have nothing left but my staff to hold him off. There are burns across my arms and thigh, the wounds I cause in return doing nothing but making him more happy, and his attacks are growing more intense and my panic is starting take over, causing me to make more and more mistakes but I can’t help it because I can’t lose again, can’t face another of his penalties, I need to run, hide, need to get away–

I jerk my head back as he directs a current from my staff towards my eyes, barely manage to deflect it in time, and he uses my distraction to break through my hold on my staff, destroying the power cell and slicing through the now useless metal, no, no, no, I can’t lose again, and I’m ducking beneath his lightsaber and reaching for a weapon, something, anything–

I activate the device responding to my call on instinct and block his blade.

We both freeze with shock. Denial rises as I look at the blue light holding his lightsaber at bay, a denial that grows when his own shock is replaced by dawning wonder.

“That is a lightsaber.” His voice is hushed, awe joined by delight, terrifying me to my very soul because this can’t be happening, this can’t be my lightsaber, I can’t do this, I can’t.

I can’t be the hero to his villain.

I’m still frozen with denial when he reaches for the lightsaber that can’t be mine, meticulously examining it. He sucks in a sharp breath, a burst of disbelief followed by reverence. Too vivid eyes turn away from the blue light to meet my own.

“That is Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber.”

His sheer glee, more intense than any I’ve ever felt, pulls me out of my shock. I watch with horror as he starts to laugh, tighten my grip on the lightsaber that can’t be mine on instinct but I don’t have a chance to do anything before he’s attacking again, blows raining down, barely capable of blocking them, the weightlessness of the blade throwing me off, no idea what I’m doing, body moving on instinct– I scream as he cuts my shoulder, the attack followed by a kick to my chest, falling down and only just rolling out of the way of his lightsaber, blocking another strike, unable to think because he’s shattering my shields one after another, no, no, no, I can’t, not again, please not again–

We jump apart at the same time and the ground explodes, the blast flinging me even further away. I almost don’t manage to dampen the impact enough to prevent broken bones, and heat sears my exposed skin.

I flip around just in time to land on my feet, see him land opposite of me, too bright eyes piercing my own. Then he jumps straight up, avoiding another blast and slicing through the wing of the X-wing that fired at him as it passes underneath him.

I do the only thing I can do.

I run. I run as fast I can, reach for my ship and yank the controls away from Artie the instant I’m close enough to do so, mentally power up the engines and start lifting off, initiate the priming of the hyperdrive, ensure the ramp is open so I can jump on board, and I see it lift above the trees, so close, almost there–

A chuckle sounds behind me, shattering my concentration and making me spin around because he can’t be here, how did he catch up without me noticing–

See you soon, Rey.

He didn’t catch up, he’s projecting and my defenses are down and he is caressing my mind.

I lash out with everything I have, throwing off his presence and slamming down as many shields as I can, resume running while yanking the controls back from Artie, leaping over the trees toppled by my outburst and–

He’s moving. He’s moving with a speed that means he’s on his ship.

I aim every weapon at his ship, jump onto the ramp and activate the shields, flying away from him while running towards the cockpit, flipping into the chair and adding manual actions to my mental ones–

He’s gone.

I keep accelerating, keep flying away from his last position, even as I reach out as much as my defenses allow to make sure he’s really left the the system.

He has.

I check again. And again, and again, and again.

The outcome remains the same.

Kylo Ren is gone.

I slump down the chair, hear a cry escape me as trembles wreck my body, my breathing erratic, every part of me wound too tight and blind terror still clawing at my mind.

He’s gone, he left, he isn’t here, he can’t get to me. He can’t hurt me.

The burning of my wounds and the phantom pain of my lost limb reveals just how untrue that is.

Chapter Text

She’s gotten stronger again.

He chuckles and takes off his mask, looking over the shattered visor with bemusement. She does so love to break his mask.

With a smile, he brings up a hand to touch the blood trailing from his nose. His head is pounding and his ears are ringing as well, the injuries caused by the sheer strength of her last mental blow.

Oh, how he has missed her. Finding her here was the most delightful of surprises. Crossing lightsabers with her, and that lightsaber of all possible ones, was an even more delightful one. Her technique had been rough of course, her lack of experience causing flaws in her  defense he had barely been able to resist exploiting.

Well, he had resisted exploiting them a little.

He rolls his shoulders, savoring the sharp pain it causes to the wounds she gave him. Her technique might’ve been rough, but it was rough in the same way a kyber crystal is rough. Give her half a year, and he has no doubt she will have caught up to his own level.

The thought alone is enough to make him shiver with anticipation.

With a grin, he licks the blood off his glove. He watches with amusement as the action breaks the control of one of the Stormtroopers oh so studiously not looking at him, causing an involuntary physical shudder of fear and revulsion instead of just a mental one. The way the Stormtrooper snaps to attention with blind terror when he realizes what he just did makes it even funnier. Normally, he would take the opportunity to play with him.

Fortunately for the Stormtrooper, he has another toy to occupy his attention.

He looks at the unconscious prisoner he brought along. FN-2187. Finn. The Force-sensitive Stormtrooper.

He had almost missed the Stormtrooper’s Force sensitivity. There had only been the barest of ripples during the battle on Jakku, so faint he almost hadn’t recognized them for what they were. Almost. He had assumed that the Stormtrooper was weak in the Force, but the fact that he actually managed to escape a destroyer has shown that he is not. That had been a development as unexpected as it had been exciting. The stronger a Force-sensitive, the more fun they are to play with. He’d been looking forward to chasing him down. After giving him a decent head start, of course.

As the Force would have it, that chase was over before it even began, but he feels no regret over that.

Not when holding this Stormtrooper captive offers so many tantalizing possibilities.

Finn knows Rey. Finn cares for Rey.

Most wonderful of all, Rey cares for him as well. He chuckles.

This is going to be fun.


 

Five Years Ago

What is that?

I look up at the sky with confusion. I don’t see anything unusual, but suddenly I’m sensing... fire.

At least, that’s the closest thing I can think to compare it to. It’s wild and fierce, it blazes like the brightest of stars. In a strange way, it almost seems to dance.

I am intrigued.

Focusing, I reach out and touch– a roaring inferno trying to consume everything I am and it’s surprised and curious and reaching back

I yank myself away, barely aware of falling down the ground, too focused on pulling my presence into myself as much as I can. The world becomes muted, not a trace of Force awareness left.

Yet somehow I still feel the fire, just as strong as before.

No, that isn’t true. I feel it more strongly. It’s spreading out. It’s searching.

It’s searching for me.

I have a bad feeling about this.

Ignoring the people asking me if I’m alright, I get to my feet and start running towards the docks. Unfortunately, the market I’m in, while not that big, is crowded. Little Horizon is a small farming colony in what is for all intents and purposes the middle of nowhere, and the locals are wild about their markets. This is the third one I’ve been to in the twelve days I’ve been here, and all were as crowded as this one.

I do my best to weave through the people, not bothering to apologize whenever I bump into someone. Which is happening with annoying frequency. Containing my presence like this is not fun.

I’d much rather contain my presence than be found by that fire. It’s still searching for me, and I can feel it trying to grasp the edges of my presence. Containing it is apparently enough that the fire can’t grab hold of me, though. Good.

I’m almost halfway to the docks when the air is filled with a sound I never expected to hear, making my head snap up.

I look up just in time to see green cannon fire blow up the communications tower.

For a single moment I’m frozen with shock, before I start racing towards the Falcon, boosting myself as much as I can because more cannon fire is raining down, destroying everything in sight–

Now isn’t this interesting.

I spin around, blaster raised, but there are only people trying to escape the sudden attack, so where–

Never met another Force-user? No, you haven’t. You’re... self-taught?

It’s the fire, it– he, he’s male and human and inside my mind.

“Get out!”

A vague part of me is aware of the yell escaping me but all my focus is on throwing him out, pushing back with everything I have. I manage to get him out of my mind and imagine a wall slamming down to ensure he stays out. Somehow that works, but I can still sense him. He’s examining the wall with curiosity. I shiver violently as the fire that is his presence touches it, making the edges crumble into nothing. I quickly imagine the wall becoming even thicker, no idea what I’m doing, only knowing that I have to keep him out.

I somehow feel him laugh, feel his delight and joy. He gives the wall an almost playful tap, and I barely manage to keep the entire thing from shattering, force myself to ignore the agony his attack caused, make the wall thicker, keep him out, keep him out!

How very interesting.

I run, letting the Force guide me, all my focus on keeping up the wall, and I’m leaping over people and rubble, ignoring the screams and death all around me, I just need to reach the Falcon–

I duck and cover my head without conscious thought, the building besides me blown up a split second later, the ground shaking and searing heat washing over me. Small rubble hurts my arms, while larger rubble misses me by the most minute of margins.

Try not to die before I reach you. We could have so much fun together.

That is the most terrifying thing I have ever heard.

I resume running, ignore the pounding of my head and the ringing of my ears, the horror all around me, just focus on the wall– I flinch as the fire that is his presence blazes like the sun and spreads out until it’s all I can sense, playful in way that makes my panic grow even worse. It’s not aimed at me though, and I’m almost at the docks–

Force instinct makes me spin around, and I’ve already fired my blaster before I even realize just what it is I’m shooting at.

My shot hits a Stormtrooper square in the neck, body slumping down the ground.

For a moment I can only gape, because what the kriffing hell is a Stormtrooper doing here? Multiple Stormtroopers. Their white armor sticks out like a sore thumb, and they’re shooting at people, and the TIE-fighters are still blowing things up and how can this be happening, the Empire was destroyed, so how–

I shoot another Stormtrooper taking aim at me on Force instinct, the action snapping me out of my shock.

The Force really is unusually strong with you.

The happiness accompanying that statement chills me to the bone.

I run, dodging the few shots fired at me and taking out another two Stormtroopers, vaguely aware that there are less and less screams, a mockery of silence starting to descent, broken only by the whining of TIE-fighters and the roaring of other engines. I’m almost there, just a little further–

The ground in front of me explodes, making me duck and cover my head, but there’s no heat or shaking ground, no rubble hitting me, so what–

“You’re just a child.”

The mechanical distortion almost makes the voice unrecognizable. Almost.

I spin around while raising my blaster–

That is Darth Vader.

No, it isn’t. He looks like him, clad in all black and wearing a haunting mask. But the mask is a different one, and there’s no distinctive breathing.

He’s holding a lightsaber. He’s holding a red lightsaber.

“You’re a Sith.” How? How is there a Sith here, how are there Stormtroopers here? The Empire was defeated, the Emperor and Darth Vader are dead, so how can this be happening?

The Sith deactivates his lightsaber, his previous surprise subsiding under bemusement. The inferno pulls back until it’s no longer the only thing I can sense, but all my focus remains on the Sith.

The Sith bows with flourish.

“Kylo Ren, at your service. And who might you be, little padawan?”

There is no way in hell I’m going to give my name to a Sith.

I shoot him. He activates his lightsaber and deflects the bolts of course, but the point isn’t to hurt him, it’s to keep him occupied so I can resume running to the Falcon–

He snaps a hand out and his presence burns, covering every part of my skin, physical in a way I didn’t know was possible. I realize with horror that I’m trapped in place, impossible to move no matter how hard I try.

And I do try, oh, how I try. I fight with everything I have, lashing out at the fire, but my struggles are useless. I can’t even get my fingers to twitch.

My panic grows when the Sith chuckles and deactivates his lightsaber. He starts walking towards me, his movement slow and unhurried. Like this is nothing more than a leisurely stroll for him. Somehow that makes everything even worse.

I stop struggling and hit him with everything I have. My Force hit makes him fly off his feet and weakens his hold, and I resume my struggles to free myself, manage to take a step back–

The fire snaps back into place as he gracefully twist through the air, landing on his feet like he never left the ground at all.

The joy he radiates would’ve made me whimper if I could.

“That actually hurt,” he says like I just gave him the most wonderful of gifts. “Now I have to know your name.”

Nope, no way, not going to happen. Ever.

“Tell me,” he orders with the Force, the pressure on the wall I’ve somehow managed to keep intact making me wince.

Wait, wince?

I realize that I can move my head again. For all the good that will do me.

The thought flies out of my head when the pressure increases further, cracking the wall and making me cry out in pain, before I grit my teeth and reinforce it. I won’t let him in.

“I could just break through, you know,” he mocks, but there’s no frustration fuelling the words. He actually feels playful. It raises my hackles in the worst of ways.

I do what I always do when I’m scared and trapped.

I push back.

“You won’t do it.”

My words make his amusement grow.

“Oh? And just what makes you think I won’t?” he asks while increasing the pressure, undoing all my work to strengthen it and making me cry out in pain.

That sick asshole actually takes pleasure in my reaction.

“If you were going to do it, you would’ve done it already,” I grit out between clenched teeth, all my focus on keeping up the wall. I can’t help but cry out again as he increases the pressure even further. Then it vanishes without warning, making me gasp for breath.

“You’re right.”

I am? I was honestly talking without thought.

“If I break through like that, I’ll most likely break your mind as well. It would be such a shame to end our fun like that.”

This is without a doubt the most twisted person I have ever met. Given that he’s a Sith, I feel no surprise over this.

I just desperately want to get away from him.

“There are other ways to get what I want, though.”

The blind terror I’d been doing a decent job of containing breaks free as he resumes coming closer. Without hesitation, I hit him with everything I have once more.

He deflects my attack with a casual flare of his presence, not even bothering to use a physical gesture. The ground behind him cracks violently as my power impacts with it.

He doesn’t stop coming closer.

I try to hit him again. And again, and again, and again– my head snaps to the side, tasting blood and spots dancing across my vision. What– he redirected the energy back at me. That was my own attack punching me in the face.

I force myself to ignore the pain and return my gaze to him. Panic overwhelms all else as he halts right in front of me. He bends forward until that haunting mask is all I can see.

“You’re good. I’m better.”

I spit in his face. Seeing the blood splattered all across his visor makes vicious satisfaction rise.

That satisfaction is obliterated when he straightens with a laugh. He wipes a hand across his visor, the blood gathered by Force and thrown away with a casual flick of his wrist.

“You wouldn’t happen to be interested in joining me, would you?”

I glare.

“I’ll never join the Dark side.” I fought for years not to give in to it on Jakku, and now that I’m finally free, I will not allow myself be twisted like that.

“Are you sure? We have cookies.”

I can’t help a hysterical laugh, unable to believe he just said that. Come to the Dark side, we have cookies.

The humor is lost as his presence blazes with shock, followed by a focus so intense it makes the wall around my mind start crumbling without him even trying.

He really was just toying with me before.

“You recognized that.”

An absent part of me registers the words, but most of me can only focus on shoring up the wall. It takes everything I have to keep it from crumbling into nothing.

His next words shatter my concentration completely.

“No, I am your father.”

Impossible. It can’t be, except those words, the way he said them, it should be impossible except I know with every fiber of my being that it isn’t.

“You’re like me.”

I’m barely aware that we speak at the same time, still trying to deny the impossible I know is true because he can’t be like me, and he’s laughing and radiating wonder and he can’t be like me because, “You’re a Sith.” How? How can he be a Sith if he’s like me? If he knows just how the Dark side twists you, then how can he be a Sith?

“Being a Jedi is boring. And really, who didn’t pretend to be Darth Vader when they were little? Before he got ruined by the prequels, of course.”

“I didn’t.” A vague part of me realizes that I’ve spoken, but most of me keeps struggling to comprehend what’s happening, the mention of the prequels throwing my mind in even greater chaos, because he really is like me, he saw the movies, he’s from my old world and how is this possible?

How can he be a Sith?

“You didn’t? Well then. Let’s find out who you did like to play as.”

I scream, agony erasing all else and he’s everywhere, burning through everything that I am, tearing me apart and he has to, “Get out, get out, get out!”

He’s gone and I’m crying, pain making it impossible to think, feeling like I’m about to shatter into a thousand pieces, like my very soul is bleeding.

What did he do to me?

“Hello, Rey.”

My blood turns to ice. I lift my head and open the eyes I hadn’t realized I’d closed.

“So you pretended to be Luke Skywalker? And you didn’t see the new movie either. Not even the trailer. You wanted to avoid any and all spoilers.”

He chuckles, and it snaps my mind back into action.

“The Force really does work in mysterious–”

I hit him as hard as I can, barely aware of the agony it causes, the need to get away from him overwhelming all else. His head snaps back with a loud crack and his hold weakens, but I can’t free myself because I’m already hitting him agai– I choke, fire around my throat too tight, can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!

“It’s rude to interrupt someone before they finish talking, Rey,” I absently hear him chide but I don’t care, only care about breathing, spots across my vision, air, I need air!

The pressure lifts and I gasp for breath, coughing harshly and sucking in sweet, sweet air.

He chuckles.

He’s a monster.

“Why thank you.”

That’s not a compliment.

“It really is. I’ve put a lot of effort into my image. It’s nice to see it being appreciated.”

The fog clouding my thoughts starts to lift, and I realize with horror that I didn’t say any of that out loud.

He’s reading my mind.

“Listening to it is more accurate. You’re projecting rather strongly.”

I ignore his words and try to create another wall, but I only manage a thin and flimsy layer, too raw and hurt for anything stronger no matter how hard I try. Even this weak barrier makes me whimper. It feels like I’m trying to run with broken legs.

I grit my teeth and force myself to keep up the thin layer anyway.

“You truly are exceptional.”

He actually caresses the barrier, and the protection is so flimsy the caress extend to my mind beneath. I would’ve shivered with disgust if I could. Instead, I glare.

His amusement grows, but far worse than that is the rise of excitement.

What is he going to do to me?

“Let’s play a game.”

I hadn’t thought it possible, but he just managed to become even more terrifying.

“If you can get past me, I’ll let you go. If you can’t, well. We’ll cross that line when we get there.”

When we get there. Not if.

The fire holding me in place vanishes. Which is how I discover that my mental wounds extend to the physical, and I fall to the ground with a strangled cry, my legs unable to support my weight.

He turns around and starts walking away. I force my body to obey me, lift my blaster and shoot him in the back.

His presence blazes like the sun, and the bolt halts right before it would’ve hit him, a streak of pure energy vibrating in mid-air. I stare with horror at the display of raw power that shows just how outclassed I am.

He looks over his shoulder, playful and mischievous.

“I didn’t say start yet.”

I shoot the frozen bolt. The resulting shockwave is far greater than expected, but it accomplishes the goal of throwing me in one direction and him in another, and I manage to soften the impact enough to prevent broken bones.

Keeping myself from crashing into the ground, I turn my landing into a roll, flowing to my feet and running away as fast I can– I choke, clawing at the fire at my throat before I realize how useless that is and yank at it with the Force–

He releases his grip.

“The goal is to get past me, not to run away from me.”

I genuinely hate how he becomes more happy with everything I do.

Clenching my jaw, I turn back to face him. I force myself to take deep breaths and push down the worst of my panic. Running away is clearly not an option, and I need all my wits if I’m to have even the slightest chance of getting out of here alive.

Wiping away the last tears blurring my vision, I ensure that the flimsy barrier is still in order, before I consider my next move.

He makes no move to interrupt me, just brightens with anticipation. Sick asshole.

Alright. First things first.

“Define, getting past you.”

Surprise flares, followed by a sense of him being impressed. It’s enough to make me battle a wave of revulsion. Him being impressed with me it the last thing I want.

“Clever girl.”

I take it back. Being sincerely complimented by him is even worse.

“We’ll keep it simple.”

I almost shoot him on reflex as he lifts a hand. Infuriatingly enough, it makes him chuckle. Then he drags his hand through the air with a flare of his presence, and the ground is split like he’s cutting it with his lightsaber. He steps forward so he’s standing on on the line.

“I won’t move from this line. Get past it, and you win. You get three tries.”

I examine the line. It’s not that long, meaning he can’t move that far. If I’m careful and play my cards right, I might just stand a sliver of a chance.

I have to stand a chance.

I have a blaster, a taser, and a knife. That’s... depressingly little, but I’ll have to make do.

To the right of him, there’s scattered wreckage of a destroyed building. There’s some wreckage on his other side, but it doesn’t offer as much cover. So, the right it is.

But first.

Taking a deep breath, I reach for the Force. I do my best to ignore both the mental pain it causes, and how it makes his anticipation grow.

I shoot him. He deflects the bolt of course, but I don’t stop shooting, at his head, shoulders, feet, stomach, hands, examining the way he moves the blade– I lean to the side to avoid the bolt redirected at my head without halting my shooting.

I’m forced to stop firing when he deflects the following shots back as well, quickly jumping to the side to avoid them all.

“You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?”

Of course not. I just wanted to get an idea of the range and maneuverability of his lightsaber. More specifically, I wanted to get an idea of its limits. I’ve succeeded in that.

On another note, who’d ever think of making a lightsaber with laser crossguards? That’s just asking to hurt yourself. I’m definitely not complaining, every sliver of advantage is more than welcome. Still, it’s a stupid thing to do. The fact that it looks intimidating doesn’t make up for the impracticality of it.

Then again, it probably does for him. He put a lot of effort into his image after all.

“You’re stalling.”

Yes I am. Any sane person would when faced with a Sith.

The increase in amusement makes me check over the far too fragile barrier protecting my mind, looking for any openings.

There aren't any. He can’t read my mind. I hope.

“I’m not reading your mind. That would take all the fun out of our game.”

How sportive.

“You’re still broadcasting your emotions, though. Very strongly, too.”

I shoot him again just to vent and lean to the side as he parries it back.

Alright. How do I best go about this? The cross guards might be impractical, but he still has a frighteningly long reach. There’s also the fact that he can freeze me in place whenever he wants to. Though given how sportive he’s being, he probably won’t do that. Probably.

“Careful, Rey.”

I can’t even begin to describe how horrible it is to hear him say my name.

“Wait much longer, and I’ll start to become impatient.”

And that’s why he feels like he’s watching the most entertaining show in the entire galaxy. Asshole.

He does mean it, though. If I don’t move eventually, he’s going to make me move.

If he does that, any chance of getting out of here alive is lost.

Alright. Let’s do this.

I run towards the ruins, boosting myself as much as I can and keeping my blaster aimed on him. I start shooting him when he lifts a hand towards me.

I’m so grateful that my actions succeed in making change tactics. He activates his lightsaber and deflects the bolts back at me, but I was expecting that. While the first shots come dangerously close to hitting me, the ruins soon offer protection.

On a less advantageous note, they also mean that I can only shoot him through narrow gaps, so I add in mental punches to my assault. He deflects with casual flares of his presence. The point isn’t to hurt him though, I just need to keep him occupied and prevent him from–

I yell when I’m yanked to the air without warning, didn’t even sense the fire until it was already tearing at my clothes. I shoot him while yanking at the fire holding me captive, but his hold is unyielding, and he deflects every bolt I fire with careless grace.

I’m thrown flat on my back in front of him, the impact knocking all the air out of me. Before I can regain my scattered thoughts, he stabs his lightsaber into the ground right besides my head, so close I can feel the heat and distorted air, making my eyes snap to the side. My gaze snaps back up when he bends forward so the cracked visor hovers above me.

“A good first try,” he says with a sincerity that makes everything so much worse. I can actually feel him grin. “Not good enough, though. I’ll give you a hint. Trying to pass the line without physically crossing it is never going to work.”

“So you’re just changing the rules whenever you feel like it?” I snap, glaring up at him while unobtrusively reaching for my knife.

“Of course not. Where’s the fun in cheating?”

He isn’t lying, which is fantastic news. The only way I stand even the slightest chance of getting out of here alive is if he doesn’t break his own rules.

“If you pass by me without physically crossing the line, you still win. I’m just not going to let that happen. Can’t make this too easy for you after all,” the sadistic asshole says like he doesn’t outclass me by an absurd degree.

“How kind,” I say in my most sarcastic voice, in part to vent, and in part to get him to talk again.

“I’m nice like–”

I shoot him in the balls. He actually manages to yank his lightsaber back in time to block it, but by then I’m already lunging forward between his legs– I bounce off a wall of fire and land flat on my back once more.

He actually laughs, is enjoying himself in a way that makes me see red. I’m fighting for my very life, and he thinks this is a game.

I almost lunge up so I can stab him, but rational thought returns just in time. I can’t afford to waste ammo like that.

“One try left. Better make it a good one, Rey.”

“Stop saying my name!” I yell, temper breaking again and almost choking on the urge to smash his teeth in.

“But it’s such a pretty name, Rey,” he actually has the nerve to say, and I swear I’m going to shatter that mask into a thousand pieces and cut out his tongue!

“For a padawan, you have a positively indecent amount of anger. Are you sure you don’t want to join me, Rey?” he asks, using my name again on purpose, and I hate him so much. “You would make a magnificent Sith,” he says like it’s an actual compliment.

“I will never join the Dark side,” I swear, wishing I could set him on fire with the force of my glare. It takes everything I have not to try it with the Force. Even without the absurd gap in our skills, I wouldn’t be able to do that.

The temptation to try anyway is almost impossible to resist.

“I’ll take that bet, Rey,” he returns with a grin I can feel, and he needs to stop saying my name. “With that kind of anger, your Fall is inevitable.”

The words make rational thought return, and I realize with horror that he’s right. If I keep letting my emotions rule me, I’m going to Fall.

I refuse to let that happen.

Taking deep breaths, I force myself to push down my rage and hatred. I almost fail when he has the nerve to chuckle, but I manage to get myself back under a semblance control.

“You’re a stubborn one, aren’t you, Rey?”

I’ve never wished that I wasn’t, but hearing him say it with genuine admiration has changed my mind.

“You’re a complete asshole, aren’t you, Kylo Ren?” I mimic, allowing myself to vent just the slightest bit.

I regret this indulgence when his amusement grows.

“It’s one of my greatest talents,” he says like this is something to be proud of. I bite back a torrent of insults. It would just amuse him further, and that would make my temper snap again.

I won’t give him that satisfaction.

Taking another deep breath, I consider what to do next. Obviously, the most important thing is to get into a better position before doing anything else. The problem is, if I start to move, will he take that as the start of another attempt?

...Only one way to find out.

“Will you let me get to my feet?”

There’s another flare of aggravating amusement. Sith aren’t supposed to be this happy.

“Since you asked so nicely, Rey.”

He really needs to stop saying my name.

I get to my feet and quickly move backwards so I’m well out of range of his lightsaber. That’s one thing out of the way.

Now what?

Part of me is screaming, nothing, do nothing at all. If I don’t do anything else, if I don’t make another attempt, I can’t lose.

If I don’t make another attempt, I’m safe.

Except I know that isn’t true. If I don’t move, he’ll make me move. Can’t have any fun if your opponent refuses to play the game, after all.

I ignore the useless urge to do nothing away. After checking over the flimsy barrier to make sure there are no openings, I start planning.

Naturally, the sick asshole brightens with anticipation. Learning how to shield not just my thoughts but my emotions as well is my first priority after I get out of here.

If I get out of here.

Pushing that fatalistic thought away, I focus on survival. I come up with, and discard several plans.

He makes no move to interrupt me.

I eventually settle on a plan that I think holds the most chance of success. To no surprise whatsoever, the asshole’s anticipation grows the moment I settle on a definitive course of action. It makes me hesitate against my will, but I grit my teeth and force myself to push through that.

It’s now or never.

I lift my blaster and take aim at his chest, before I start boosting myself beyond my natural limits. It takes an enormous effort to make the Force pulse through my body the way I need it to. Doing this while standing still is difficult enough already even at the best of times, but in my current state, it’s almost impossible to do. Almost.

There’s no greater motivator than the desire to live.

I ignore his intrigue and make the pulses come faster and faster, until I’m practically vibrating in place and it becomes physically painful not to move.

I don’t move and speed up the pulses even more. I keep doing it right up until I reach the point where I’m about to start causing myself physical harm, and then I move.

I race forward while shooting him and dodge the parried bolt on instinct, going almost too fast to consciously process what’s happening, and then I’m slipping beneath his lightsaber and trying to stab him in the leg while shooting him point blank in the chest.

He’s already bending backwards before I finish pulling the trigger, and a flare of power changes the course of the bolt to a more upwards angle, missing him completely. The same flare of power protects his leg, and the blade of my knife is shattered like I just hit a wall.

I’m already jumping straight up, grabbing my taser in the same movement and throwing it down at the angle I need while bracing myself, before I shoot the power cell with Force accuracy and the explosion throws me past the line–

A hand reaches through the blast and catches my ankle right before I succeed. He slams me down the ground, and all the air escapes me as white hot agony shatters my focus. Fire burns across my skin, trapping me in place, but I couldn’t have moved even without that. All my injuries, mental and physical both, are making their presence known with excruciating intensity.

“You lose, Rey.”

I glare.

“Are you going to kill me?” I basically dare. I don’t want to die, the thought terrifies me as nothing else does, but I will not give him the satisfaction of begging for my life.

I can feel his grin grow, but he doesn’t say anything. I can’t help but grow more terrified the longer he doesn’t speak.

Judging from his satisfaction, that reaction is what he was aiming for. Sick asshole.

I clench my jaw and force myself to keep quiet. Breaking the silence is what he wants me to do, and I am done playing his games. Instead, I keep glaring at him.

He chuckles.

“No, I won’t kill you, Rey.”

I can’t help the sob that escapes me, relief overwhelming all else.

The relief doesn’t last long.

“If I kill you, we won’t be able to play again. I am very much looking forward to a rematch. Aren’t you, Rey?”

It’s unbelievable how he manages to become more of a monster with every word he says.

“I’ll take that as a no.”

I check over the barrier the barrier I’ve somehow managed to keep intact, searching for any openings. There aren’t any. He’s just responding to my emotions. I hope.

“You’ve still lost, though. That means you get a penalty.”

Terror overtake all else, because what is this monster going to do to me?

He answers by moving my arm so it’s spread flat across the ground, the action gentle in a way that’s so much worse than if he’d been rough. He lowers his lightsaber, placing the tip right next to my wrist, so close I can feel the heat and distortion of the air.

No.

“You’re going to cut off my hand? How original,” I say in a hysterical voice, barely aware of what I’m saying because he’s really going to do it, he’s going to cut off my hand, and he’s going to do it because he thinks this is funny and he is going to cut off my hand!

And I’m struggling again, desperately trying to free myself, fighting against the fire holding me in place, don’t care that it’s useless because he is going to cut off my hand–

“You’re right.”

My eyes snap up to his mask, but they’re yanked back to the blade as he moves it away from my wrist but I feel no relief because he is amused and playful and mischievous.

My gaze remains locked onto his lightsaber as he lifts it high.

“Cutting off a hand is so unoriginal.”

The blade comes down.

I scream.

Chapter Text

[Query – is Annoyance-Rey functional?]

I let out a broken laugh.

“I’m not. I’m really not.” I never am after facing him. As Artie is well aware.

It still asks every time.

I struggle to get my breathing back under control. The trembles are a lost cause until I manage that.

It feels like an eternity passes before I succeed. When I do, I open my eyes.

We’re still flying away from his last position. Not by my actions, I lost my grip on the controls the moment I was certain he’s really gone and I entered the usual mental breakdown facing him inspires. As always, Artie took over.

We’re no longer flying at the breakneck speed from before, cruising at a leisurely pace instead. Artie also doesn’t make a move to leave the atmosphere. It knows the danger has passed.

I never lose it like this until after he’s gone.

I close my eyes and try to stop trembling.

I fail.

I blindly reach for Artie and start patting its dome. For once, Artie isn’t annoyed by it. It’s just worried.

The rhythmic tapping helps me calm down a little, right until I realize that I’m tapping my prosthetic as well. I shiver and curl up in my chair, grab hold of something that for a split second I don’t recognize, cloth covering metal where flesh should be, alien and intrusive.

I tighten my grip to ensure my prosthetic doesn’t move again. Then I burst out crying, bury my head down my knees and sob my heart out and I shouldn’t be reacting like this, I got away, I didn’t lose, I shouldn’t be feeling like this, shouldn’t be drowning but I am. I can’t stop it no matter how hard I try. I could’ve if this had happened on any other day, if he hadn’t shown up on the heels of the destruction of an entire system and the calling of that damn lightsaber–

I’m still holding it.

I open my eyes and stare with horror at the lightsaber that fits my palm like it was made for it. The lightsaber that belonged to Anakin Skywalker, the lightsaber that belonged to Luke Skywalker.

The lightsaber that wants me to face Kylo Ren.

No, I’m not doing this, I am never doing this. I won’t be the hero to his villain.

In response to my thoughts, the damn thing’s calling actually grows stronger, and it makes me see red.

The Force can go screw itself. I refuse to be a slave to its whims.

I open my hand and lift the lightsaber into the air, before I grab hold of every single current that makes up the whole.

I start pulling. The lightsaber resists, but it can’t win. It can’t prevent me from ripping it apart.

When the components start to strain audibly, I feel vicious satisfaction rise. If the damn thing wants to belong to me, I can do whatever the hell I want with it.

I can destroy it.

I’m almost surprised enough to stop tearing it apart when there’s an actual flare of pain, but I manage to stabilize my hold just in time. I genuinely don’t care that the thing is apparently alive in some way. In fact, I’m glad it is.

I’m glad I’m hurting it.

I release my grip as if burned. The pain vanishes the instant I do, the lightsaber clattering to the floor. I shiver violently and resist the urge to pick it back up so I can keep hurting it. I’m not like him.

Yet.

I hug my knees close. I’m not like him yet.

One day I will be. I don’t know how to stop it from happening. Don’t know how much more I can take before Falling.

Why can’t he leave me alone?

And then my anger is back. Anger, rage, pure and blinding fury.

Why the hell doesn’t he leave me alone? Why does that sick fuck keep toying with me, why does he keep hurting me, why doesn’t he do the entire galaxy a favor and die.

Why can’t I kill him? Why am I never strong enough, why can’t I hurt him the way he hurts me, why does he get to be happy while my life is a living hell because of him

Gentle melodies twine through my presence, a lifeline from the downward spiral I can’t pull myself out of. I clutch back too strongly, know that I’m hurting Maz but I can’t help it. I need a shield against my emotions.

I’m so scared that I”m going to Fall. Irony of ironies, that fear might be what finally pulls me under one day.

It won’t pull me under today.

With Maz’s help, I manage to get myself back under a semblance of control. It’s a stopgap measure, I still need to meditate. Soon, and a lot. But for now, the worst of the danger has passed.

I send her all the gratitude I posses. Maz mentally ruffles my hair, before untangling herself and pulling back.

She doesn’t send anything concrete. I didn’t pick up a single emotion the entire time she was here, either. That, more than anything else, shows just how hurt she is.

She isn’t in danger. She wouldn’t have left like that if she was.

With a sigh, I uncurl my body and lean back in my chair. I’m still hurt, but no longer quite as much. Mentally, at least. The physical pain is just as strong as before. Now that I’m no longer freaking out, I can handle it though.

I need to go back. Not just for Maz, but for Finn and BB-8 as well. And Han Solo and Chewbacca.

He is Han Solo’s son. That’s– something I’m going to keep ignoring until I’ve spend at least a week in meditation.

“Hi there.”

I startle violently as the speakers activate. Artie doesn’t.

“Commander Poe Dameron of the Resistance speaking.”

Because dealing with the Resistance is just what I need right now.

Wait, Poe Dameron? As in, BB-8’s friend?

“I’m calling on behalf of General Leia Organa, to extend a friendly invitation for a meeting.”

Any other day, I wouldn’t have been able to resist the opportunity to meet Leia Organa in person, even if it meant having to deal with the Resistance as well.

Right now my answer is hell no.

“Emphasis on friendly. There’s really no need to keep those torpedoes locked onto me.”

I glance at the short range scanners and pay more conscious attention to my surroundings. The scanners reveal that there’s an X-wing following us a healthy distance away. Given that I have only the vaguest sense of where it is even with it deliberately following us, the pilot isn’t hostile. Which his words had already implied, but people can lie. The Force can’t.

Artie has the turrets locked onto the X-wing. That’s a sensible precaution, even with the confirmation that the pilot is friendly.

Keeping the ion torpedoes armed isn’t.

I raise a pointed brow at it. With the distance between us, Artie’s behavior can only be called an overreaction. Not that Artie overreacting is unusual.

Artie, of course, ignores my silent message. I feel a burst of affection for this rude and hostile droid. Artie is one of a kind.

“He’s one of the good guys,” I point out verbally to show I won’t let this go.

[Threat Level 8 is active,] Artie returns without missing a beat, its worry starting to disappear beneath its usual delight at flying.

The worry doesn’t disappear completely.

“He’s gone,” I state the obvious, giving Artie a fond look. I know why it hasn’t lowered its guard yet.

[This unit will deactivate the defensive protocols when Annoyance-Rey has regained functionality.]

As always, my heart clenches in the best of ways.

“I’m...” Not alright, not yet. But I will be.

I have to be.

“Functional,” I settle on, because that really is the best description.

[Annoyance-Rey falls short of Status; Functional, by 42,79%.]

Well, if it needs proof.

I mentally take over the controls. As expected, Artie transforms into a storm of outrage masquerading as a droid. I catch the minute flicker of relief only because of how well I know it.

[Defensive protocols disengaged.]

Amazing how it can turn that into the most vicious of insults.

Feeling mischievous, I pat its dome, outraging Artie even further. If it hadn’t been strapped in, it would’ve rolled out of my reach. As it is, it’s sincerely debating whether to tase me or not.

I return the torpedoes to stand-by and hand the controls back. Artie returns to being a bundle of bliss, making a faint smile grow. Artie might not be one for offering conventional comfort, but it always cheers me up just by being itself.

“Thanks for that, I appreciate it,” the Resistance pilot, Poe, says. “Ready to go back and meet the General?”

No way in hell. The General part, not the going back part.

“I need to check on Maz and the others,” I tell Artie.

[Directive accepted.]

Artie turns us around in a wide curve, still flying at a leisurely pace. The X-wing follows without closing the distance between us. How polite of him.

“So that’s a yes on the meeting?”

I activate the comm.

“No. I’m going back for some friends, but I have zero interest in meeting Leia Organa.” Right now.

“She speaks! And why the lack of interest? Don’t tell me you have anything against the General.”

“Of course not.” Who could ever have anything against Leia Organa? “I have something against her son.”

I flinch as soon as the words escape my mouth. I didn’t mean to say that.

“Yeah, he’s kind of an asshole.”

The gross understatement makes a mockery of a smile grow.

“He’s a complete monster,” I correct.

“Can’t argue with that. Not her fault, though.”

I close my eyes as I fight to keep ignoring the fact that Kylo Ren is Leia Organa’s son. He grew up with her, grew up with Han Solo, he grew up with Luke Skywalker

Still not thinking about this.

“She’s amazing, and she had nothing to do with how he turned out. Can’t believe he’s actually related to her. I mean, how does someone like that get born to–”

I break the connection. This isn’t helping me to ignore the fact that Kylo Ren is a Skywalker.

He’s a Skywalker. He’s the son of the heroes who destroyed the Empire, he’s the nephew of Luke Skywalker and he became a Sith

Nope, not doing this. Think of something else. Like the Resistance pilot. Poe.

BB-8 is going to be over the moon. I’m fairly certain that Finn will be as well. If they’re still alive.

Please let them still be alive.

As we near the ruins of Maz’s castle, I become aware of... it’s not his presence, there’s no mistaking that. But it’s uncomfortably familiar.

Despite my best intentions, I can’t help but wonder. Do all Skywalkers feel like fire?

I push the thought away as we arrive. I get off my chair when Artie starts touching down, but I hesitate right before leaving the cockpit.

The lightsaber is still calling me.

With a grimace, I go back for it. The Force most likely won’t let me, but I have to at least try to get rid of it. Maz will refuse to take it back of course, but I can still ask.

If she refuses, I’m going chuck it in the lake.

I bend down and pick it up by hand. Having it respond to my mental call once is more than enough.

I do my best to ignore the way it fits my palm like it was made for it and clip the damn thing to my belt, before I walk towards the entrance. I lower the ramp.

It lowers to the sight of Han Solo staring at my ship with utter shock, jaw slack with disbelieving recognition. He’s fairly intoxicated as well.

Besides him stands a short woman wearing practical clothing, her hair up in an elaborate braid. A blaster is prominently clipped to her belt. Even though I was prepared for her, I can’t help but stare.

Leia Organa is much smaller than expected. Which is a stupid thing to be surprised by. She might be a figure larger than life, but physically speaking, she doesn’t even reach five feet. As I’ve been aware of for ages.

Doesn’t make it any less disorientating to see how short she is in real life. The fact that her presence is the size of a nearby star doesn’t help.

It isn’t fully trained. There’s a wildness to the edges of the fire. Unlike him, the lack of control isn’t deliberate. That’s made more than clear by the way the core of her presence is tightly contained.

She isn’t fully trained.

She isn’t untrained either.

I have no idea why I’m surprised by this. It only makes sense that Luke Skywalker would’ve taught her about the Force, at least a little.

Judging from her control, he taught her more than a little.

Leia Organa watches me with an expression that is as kind as it is firm. Ruthless determination dominates a mixture of curiosity, compassion, and a fair amount of reluctance that she’s doing her utmost to ignore. Beneath that, there’s a pain and grief I absolutely cannot deal with right now.

I ignore them both and walk down the ramp. This includes ignoring the way that Leia Organa follows my movements with a calculation that’s almost chilling in its intensity. The only reason it isn’t is because her kindness remains equally strong.

The calculation is lost under shocked recognition when she sees the lightsaber, but I ignore that as well. Instead, I look at Maz. She’s sitting on a piece of rubble that used to be part of the main hall, her eyes closed and her presence one with the Force. If she’s meditating, she’s hurt even worse than I thought she was. Though given how she left earlier, they aren’t permanently damaging. That’s something, at least.

Cook is sitting down the ground besides her. One tentacle is curled around Maz, while the rest are twitching with unease. Their eyestalk swivels around nervously.

Behind them are scattered groups of survivors, almost all of them wounded. I’m betting the ones who weren’t have already left. The wounded are being cared for by people whose clothing denotes them as being from the Resistance, using medicine they must’ve brought along themselves. Emmie, HURID and Chewbacca are helping them.

Seeing Maz and the others alive and relatively unharmed eases a lot of my tension.

I look around for BB-8 and Finn. BB-8 is more of a formality, I’d already pinned down its location. It’s radiating a joy so intense it makes me feel a little warm and fuzzy myself, but I’m quickly distracted by the golden droid standing besides it.

Is that C-3PO? What’s wrong with his arm?

“How the hell did you get my ship?”

The hoarse question makes me look at Han Solo with confusion. It also causes Leia Organa’s eyes to widen with shock, before they run over my ship with the same disbelief Han Solo is feeling. I’m more focused on Han Solo, though.

His ship?

Before I can ask, the bright bundle of joy that is BB-8 races towards me.

[Savior-Rey! Friend-Poe is alive! Friend-Poe is alive! Friend-Poe is alive!]

I smile at BB-8 as it halts in front of my ship. Quite a distance away, courtesy of the fact that it refuses to let the hull of my ship hinder its view of the X-wing flying overhead.

[Friend-Poe is alive!] it repeats while spinning in place with pure happiness, its photoreceptor following the X-wing’s every move.

“That’s great,” I say, happy for the miracle that is its friend still being alive. “Where’s–”

I fall silent when Han Solo’s disbelief is drowned out by a joy so deep it takes my breath away. Happiness like Han Solo’s and BB-8’s is a great way to soothe my injured spirit.

Then Han Solo sprints forward and tries to enter my ship. I’m so surprised by this that I shield the entrance on instinct.

Han Solo bounces off my mental wall with a yelp more startled than pained. Leia Organa’s chuckle is equally startled.

“Kid, if you don’t let me in right now, I’m going to shoot you,” Han Solo vows with a glare, and most shocking of all, he actually means it.

I summon his blaster to my hand to prevent that from happening. It’s not something I would’ve done under normal circumstances, but it’s not like I need to keep a low profile anymore. And while I’m pretty sure that I would dodge any shot fired at me without thought, I’m still rattled enough that I don’t want to risk it.

My action inspires a flare of disgust in Han Solo, so strong it almost manages to mask the underlying pain.

The pain isn’t underlying in Leia Organa.

I don’t want to think about why they’re feeling like this. Don’t want to think of the fact that me using the Force reminds them of their son–

It’s incredibly annoying that I keep failing to ignore this.

“Leia, shoot her.”

I’m grateful for how Han Solo means those words. They provide an excellent distraction.

“I was planning to talk with her first,” Leia Organa delivers in a voice dry as dust while giving Han Solo a warm look, love and affection overpowering the worst of her pain.

The pain doesn’t disappear completely.

When she looks back at me, the love is replaced by ruthless determination.

“It’s nice to finally meet you, Rey.”

Any other day, I would’ve been over the moon by how she truly means that.

“I’m General Leia Organa, Chief Commander of the Resistance.”

“I know who you are, and I’m not interested in talking to you,” I say, more curtly than intended. Most of my attention is on Han Solo as he tries to enter my ship again. I grab hold of his clothes to keep him out. Him meeting Artie unsupervised can only end in disaster.

“Damn you, let go!”

“Then stop trying to enter my ship,” I snap, his own anger making my temper rise.

My temper is lost under surprise when Han Solo is consumed by a whirlpool of emotions. The most dominant are rage, possessiveness, and a painful amount of longing. All inspired by a love so deep it has no end.

I have no idea why he’s acting like this. Judging from Leia Organa’s compassion, she does.

“That is my ship.”

What?

“No it isn’t.” Where in the world did he get that idea from? Is he so drunk that he thinks this is the Millennium Falcon just because it’s the same model? “I told you I fly a YT-1300 light freighter as well,” I remind him.

“You think I can’t recognize my own ship?” Han Solo snaps, still convinced he’s in the right. “That isn’t just the same model, that’s the Millennium Falcon and she is mine.”

He might not be lying, but that doesn’t mean that what he’s saying is true.

“This isn’t the Millennium Falcon,” I say, because it really isn’t. “I’ve had it for years, so it can’t be the Millennium Falcon.” If it is, that would mean Han Solo lost the Millennium Falcon at least seven years ago, and that goes against the laws of physics. Han Solo flies the Millennium Falcon in the same way gravity keeps my feet on the ground.

Han Solo lets out a strangled sound and tries to escape my grip again, making me tighten my hold on his clothes on instinct.

“She is,” Leia Organa agrees with Han Solo’s preposterous claim. She also isn’t lying, but again, that doesn’t make it true. Both of them are mistaken. Obviously. Sure, I call my ship the Millennium Falcon, but I know it isn’t the real one.

[Starship; SERIES YT-1300 – CLASS Light Freighter – ID 492727ZED, is the Original Designation of Starship; Millennium-Falcon,] BB-8 joins in on the absurdity.

“This isn’t the Millennium Falcon,” I repeat, unable to believe that I’m actually arguing about this. And arguing with Han Solo and Leia Organa, of all people.

“She is!” Han Solo yells, but I’m more focused on Chewbacca, now coming closer. He’s staring at my ship with shocked recognition, and I swear, if anyone else joins in on this madness, I’m going to leave the planet.

This isn’t the real Millennium Falcon.

“That is my ship, and I swear, if you don’t let go me right this instant, I’m going to–”

Rip your arms off,” Chewbacca finishes with the temper Wookies are known for. While part of him definitely means it, I’m pretty sure he won’t actually go through with it.

If he does try, I’ll throw him on his ass.

“Chewie,” Leia Organa says with sincere warning, though there’s a touch humor as well.

Let him go,” Chewbacca orders, ignoring Leia Organa completely.

“You tell her, Chewie,” Han Solo says with satisfaction, giving me another glare. I’m... kind of really hurt by how hostile he’s being. I thought he liked me. I could understand his reaction if this was the real Millennium Falcon, but it isn’t. I mean, even if Han Solo did somehow lose it years ago, what are the odds of it ending up on the junkyard I just happened to live on?

...Oh kriff.

“This is the real Millennium Falcon.” Saying it out loud is enough for the Force to hit me with a sledgehammer of certainty.

This is the real Millennium Falcon. My ship is the real Millennium Falcon. For the last six years, I’ve been flying around in the real Millennium Falcon.

Holy shit.

“Finally! Now let go of me!”

I let go. Han Solo runs into my ship. Chewbacca runs after him.

I follow in a daze. My ship is the real Millennium Falcon. It’s not the same model, it’s the actual, real, original Millennium Falcon. And I’ve been flying it for years.

I reach for my ship, expecting it to feel completely different.

It doesn’t. It feels just like always. Familiar. Comforting. Safe. Nothing that says, hey, this is the real Millennium Falcon!

Nothing beyond Han Solo and Chewbacca. Both are looking around with recognition, longing, love, and a joy all the more breathtaking for how fragile it is.

“Chewie, we’re home.”

My heart clenches. Not in a good way.

This is the Millennium Falcon. This is Han Solo’s ship. This is his home. And I’m happy for him, I truly am. No one should ever come between Han Solo and his ship. No one has the right to take someone’s home away from them. Including me.

But this is my home as well. He doesn’t have the right to take it away from me either.

What are we going to do now?

I glance at Leia Organa as she touches the wall. While her emotions aren’t as intense as those of Han Solo and Chewbacca, they’re still powerful. They’re fuelled by the same kind of love.

This used to be her home as well. It isn’t anymore, not like it still is for Han Solo, and to a lesser extent, for Chewbacca. But it used to be.

Did it used to be Kylo Ren’s home as well?

I’m hit by a surge of nausea, so strong that for a moment I honestly fear I’m about to throw up. My ship has always been a safe haven from him. While there have been a few chases, and one crash that came dangerously close to killing me, he’s never come aboard. He’s never violated my home in the way he’s violated everything else.

The idea of him inside my ship, the idea of it being his home, makes me want to scrub every inch with the most acidic cleaning supplies possible.

Guess I know what I’m going to be doing in between meditation.

Han Solo and Chewbacca walk towards the lounge. Han Solo is trailing his hand along the wall in an uncomfortably familiar gesture.

When they arrive in the lounge, they look around with surprise and confusion. Chewbacca shakes it off first, hope and longing regaining the upper hand again. He walks towards the dejarik board and activates it. Pure happiness rises as he looks down at the holographic figures.

“What the hell did you do to my ship?” Han Solo demands, confusion starting to make way for anger, aggravation, and a whole lot of resentment.

“I redecorated,” I point out the obvious, more sharply than intended. I get why he’s reacting like this, but that doesn’t make me feel any less defensive.

Han Solo touches the wall carpet from Naboo with an overwhelming amount of revulsion and irritation. Again, I get why, but that doesn’t make it pleasant.

I look around, conscious of all the changes I’ve made in a way I haven’t been in years. The carpet Han Solo is standing next to covers basically the entire wall. Another wall is occupied by a huge transparisteel casing, full of knick knacks I’ve gathered over the years. All held in place by magnets to ensure they don’t rattle around during take-off. I’ve also replaced the original chairs with much more comfortable ones, and I’ve torn down a fair amount of cabinets to make room for a charging station for Artie.

“You’ve got shit taste,” Han Solo says, meaning it from the bottom of his heart. And here I thought he approved of my taste.

I scowl at him, annoyed and hurt, despite how ridiculous that last is. If I’d lost my ship and found it years later, I’d be incredibly aggravated by any and all changes as well.

You’ve taken good care of her.” Chewbacca says. The real gratitude motivating them soothes some of the sting of Han Solo’s disapproval.

“Good care? You added a charging station! Why the hell would you do that?”

[Query – why are there several annoyances inside Gorgeous-Thing?]

Both Han Solo and Chewbacca startle at Artie’s voice. Leia Organa doesn’t. She just turns her head and raises an amused brow at it.

“Because of Artie,” I answer Han Solo’s question, moving aside so Artie is in full view of everyone. “Artie, meet the previous owners of our ship.”

As expected, there’s a sharp burst of possessiveness from Artie, followed by an fierce hostility. It doesn’t activate its defensive protocols, though. Good.

“My ship, kid. She’s my ship.”

[Defensive protocols engaged; Threat Level 8.]

Spoke too soon.

On another note, it’s oddly disorientating to hear my ship talked about like it’s female. I’m blaming my unusual reaction on the fact that it’s being referred to as female by Han Solo.

“They’re not taking it away,” I assure Artie. While I don’t know how all of us are going to deal with the fact that my ship is the real Millennium Falcon, I do know that.

“I’m sorry, did you somehow miss the part where this is my ship?” Han Solo snaps with a glare.

[Objection! Designation; Scruffy-Jackass, is not the owner of Gorgeous-Thing.]

Leia Organa’s amusement grows. She also disagrees with that statement greatly.

“It’s my ship as well,” I say with a scowl, keeping an eye on Artie as it slides out its taser. With its current settings, any voltage fired will be lethal. That has to be avoided at all costs.

“Kid, if you think this is your ship just because you’ve flown around with her a little, you’ve got another thing coming.”

Oh, he did not just say that.

“It’s my ship because I’ve been caring for it for the past seven years,” I snap, backing my words with the Force so he knows exactly how much I mean this. “I’ve fixed every malfunction, replaced every faulty part, I’ve spend more hours doing maintenance on it than I can count. I’ve flown with it throughout the entire galaxy, I’ve fought with it, I’ve bled with it, I eat and sleep here, I damn well live here.”

Han Solo is looking at me with wide eyes and a clenched jaw, a whirlpool of emotions. The most dominant one is denial.

I won’t let him deny this.

“This is my home. And I get that it’s yours as well, I really do. I won’t take it away from you,” I promise, infusing it with all the sincerity I possess. Even ignoring the fact that we’re talking about Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon, taking someone’s home away is something I’d never do. I’m not that cruel.

That doesn’t mean I’ll simply give it up either.

I give him a cold look and deliver my next words like the threat they are.

“I won’t let you take it away from me either.”

Han Solo’s expression is as conflicted as he feels. The silence that follows is heavy and tense. All of us are waiting to see what Han Solo will do next. The only bright side is that Artie doesn’t seem inclined to shoot anyone. Yet.

Han Solo lets out a harsh breath and his shoulders slump with defeat. I relax as the threat of him trying to take my ship passes. For now, at least.

Han Solo sits down a chair and closes his eyes. He brings up a hand to rub the back of his neck.

“Damn it, this is a mess,” he understates.

Suppose it was too much to hope this would be easy,” Chewbacca agrees, less conflicted than Han Solo, but not by much. There’s a lot more understanding, though. Or rather, he’s not trying to fight that understanding. There’s also a flicker of humor wholly absent in Han Solo.

“Dial it down, Artie,” I say, because it really does need to dial it down at least two levels. Lethal force is now officially an overreaction too extreme even for it.

Artie lets out a disgusted sigh. It doesn’t retract its taser.

[Adjusting defensive protocols; Threat Level 6.]

Guess that’s the best I can hope for.

“I take it this means you won’t be taking off without warning?” Leia Organa asks, startling me. While I hadn’t forgotten that she’s here, I hadn’t been paying attention to her either. Which is a true accomplishment, given the brightness of her presence.

“...No, I won’t,” I force myself to say, and it’s almost physically painful to do so. I’ve avoided the Resistance for years, and now I’m voluntarily going to stay with them.

...Unless Han Solo and Chewbacca are interested in leaving with me?

Leia Organa gains a faint smile, and she gives a curt nod, pleased with my answer in a way that makes me want to take off even more.

“Good. There are a few things we need to discuss.”

“I’m not fighting him,” I warn, meaning it from the bottom of my heart. I might not be able to keep him from hunting me down, but I won’t confront him by choice. Ever.

There’s a flash of pain from Leia Organa and Han Solo both, as well as an old mourning from Chewbacca. The way all of them are reacting to him will never not raise my hackles in the worst of ways.

He really is Ben Solo. I can’t believe– I am once again failing to ignore the thing I really, really, really don’t want to think about.

“That’s not what we need to discuss,” Leia Organa says, not a hint of her pain visible. That’s some durasteel control she has there.

“Right, and this isn’t the Falcon,” Han Solo mutters. This time Leia Organa’s control breaks, and she gives him an annoyed glare that’s surprisingly intimidating, despite it not even being aimed at me.

Given that Han Solo’s eyes are still closed, her intended effect falls short. On the other hand, there’s a burst of affection from him, so he might actually be aware of what she’s doing. And he’s reacting to it in a way only a man in love can.

The affection doesn’t remain dominant for long. The emotions that replace it make my own mood plummet.

“Why does he want to hurt you so much?”

The question is tired and broken, but I can’t feel even a shred of sympathy.

Not when the question makes every one of my wounds snap back to the foreground.

“Isn’t it obvious,” I say with a mockery of a smile, mostly uncaring of how it makes Leia Organa’s underlying pain flare up high. I’m too aggravated by how I can’t stop myself from tapping my prosthetic. “He likes me.”

Just saying the words out loud makes me battle a wave of revulsion. That’s the absolute worst thing about him. He genuinely likes me, he is fond of me. And he expresses that by hurting me in in the most cruel ways possible.

Han Solo flinches violently, while Leia Organa clenches her jaw, and her hands ball into fists. I shake my head, incredulous at the pained yet genuine love they’re both feeling. At least Chewbacca’s grief is more like that for a dead loved one.

Han Solo’s and Leia Organa’s is for a living one.

“I can’t believe he’s your son.”

I grimace as soon as the words escape my mouth. I really need to stop slipping up like this.

“I can’t either,” Han Solo says, listless and broken in a way that makes me close my eyes.

Things aren’t supposed to be like this. Han Solo is supposed to be flying the Millennium Falcon. He and Leia Organa are supposed to be happy together. That’s how things are supposed to be.

I shouldn’t be surprised to discover his talent for ruining things is so much greater than I already thought it was.

“It was Snoke,” Leia Organa says, but while her voice and expression are firm, her emotions reveal that she’s trying very hard to convince herself of that. She’s doing a good job, to the point where she almost believes her own lie. Almost. “There’s still good in him.”

My derisive snort is as instinctive as it is sincere. Leia Organa narrows her eyes at me with an anger fuelled by denial and desperation, but before it can turn into a true glare, she deliberately pushes those emotions aside. Ruthless determination returns to the foreground.

“I meant what I said, that’s not what I need to discuss with you.”

Right now.

I grimace at her involuntary projection. Of course it was too much to hope that she wouldn’t want to discuss this forever.

“Then what is?” I return curtly.

“The system killer built by the First Order.”

I shiver violently as the endless screams threaten to come back into focus. They’re no longer as strong as before, but they’re still there.

Judging from the deeply disturbed ripples running through Leia Organa’s presence, she’s fighting to keep them back as well. To the point where it makes her clench her jaw and ball her hands into fists.

“What about it?” I manage to ask in an even voice.

“We need your help to destroy it.”

“You have a way to destroy it?” Han Solo demands, grief buried beneath a sudden laser focus. Chewbacca turns his full attention towards Leia Organa as well.

Artie keeps watching Han Solo and Chewbacca with hostility.

“Not yet,” Leia Organa admits with a grimace and an enormous amount of reluctance and frustration. Her eyes remain locked onto me. “But I know we’re going to need you.”

I feel a chill run down my spine at the certainty she speaks with. It’s not just her presence, the certainty is echoed by the Force itself.

“What if I don’t want to help?” I ask, no matter that I already know the answer.

“Then we’re all probably going to die,” Leia Organa says matter of factly, and while there’s a tightness to her eyes and a determined set to her jaw, it’s mostly her blazing anger and burning resolve that reveals she won’t just take this lying down.

The anger and resolve are almost strong enough to mask the underlying bitterness. Almost.

“And after we’re dead, the First Order will destroy what’s left of the Republic.”

Because that first sentence wasn’t doomsday enough already.

Wait a minute.

“What’s left of it?” Han Solo asks, taking the words right of my mouth Yes, an entire system was destroyed, but the Republic is far more than a single system.

“Most of the fleet was stationed in the Hosnian system,” Leia Organa says, keeping a tight control over her anger, and an even tighter control over her fear. Then the implications of her words hit, and I stare at her with horror.

The First Order destroyed the Hosnian system. I shouldn’t be shocked by this, of course they  would target the capital of the Republic, but I still am. The Hosnian system didn’t just have one or two inhabitable planets, every single one of the five planets was populated. Every one of them was home to billions. The shock is almost enough to make the dead break through again.

“We’ve contacted the remaining warships, but most refuse to abandon their post. They’re planning to secure the borders,” Leia Organa says with a sarcasm that more than tells what she thinks of that, even without the flare of rage and helpless frustration.

“They’re idiots,” Han Solo says with disgust. Leia Organa and Chewbacca agree with him completely.

“They are,” Leia Organa agrees verbally as well. “And they’re leaving us in the worst possible position to deal with this disaster. We don’t have enough ships and barely enough pilots for the ones we do have, never mind enough firepower. We need all the help we can get.”

She meets my gaze with an focus backed so strongly by the Force that it’s hard to believe most of it is done unconsciously.

“A trained Force-user would be a powerful help.”

Says the sun that’s as trained as I was before finding Maz.

“So what, you want me to shoot an exhaust vent?” I say in my most sarcastic voice, even as I can’t help a flicker of involuntary humor at the absurdity of it all.

It’s might’ve been more funny how familiar this all is if it hadn’t been so terrifyingly real.

“If that’s what it takes to blow it up, yes,” Leia Organa says in a voice dry as dust and with a flicker of morbid humor as well. It might be painfully familiar for me, but it’s so much worse for her. And for Han Solo and Chewbacca. Having the air smothered by old trauma isn’t pleasant.

“For now, coming to our base is enough,” Leia Organa continues. I can’t help but keep being surprised by the tight control she has over her emotions. While I already knew from various documentaries and holofeeds that she’s no longer the impulsive Princess from the movies, it’s another thing entirely to see it in real life. “We’ll come up with a plan after we finish analyzing the data.”

“You found it?” Han Solo asks with relief.

“It wasn’t hard to trace the blast back.”

Trace the blast back? I thought the weapon is like the Death Star? As in, mobile. Is she saying it’s stationary instead?

Do I care? Not really. Well no, obviously I do care, but I’m a little more preoccupied with the fact that I’m actually going to go to the headquarters of the Resistance. That’s something I swore to never do, yet now I’m doing it. By voluntary choice. Semi-voluntary. The choice isn’t really a choice at all.

I’d have to be a monster as big as him to abandon the galaxy to the horror of a system killer.

“I’ll come with you,” I say, and scowl as the Force rings with satisfaction. That’s not why I’m doing this. “But I’m gone after we destroy that thing.” I’ll try to arrange something with Han Solo and Chewbacca before taking off, but worst come to worst, we can figure out how to co-parent in a place that isn’t the Resistance base.

Of course, this is assuming we succeed in destroying the system killer, but being pessimistic has never helped anyone. We’re going to destroy it.

We have to destroy it.

“Thank you,” Leia Organa says, relief and gratitude overwhelming all else, before determination regains the upperhand. “We leave now.”

“No, I need to talk to Maz and Finn first.”

“We don’t have a lot of time,” Leia Organa argues back, but I’m more focused on the sharp pain and guilt from Han Solo. Maz is all right, so that leaves one other possibility.

I ruthlessly resist the urge to panic.

“What happened to Finn?” I demand while searching for his presence. He doesn’t jump out even with me looking this intently for him, but given how he blends with his surroundings, that doesn’t mean much. I just need to keep looking and I’ll find him.

I might find his body.

Please, please, please let him still be alive.

“He took him.”

No.

The denial is instinctive, only grows stronger as Han Solo turns his head away to avoid my horrified expression, his guilt increasing, no, please no, don’t let him have taken Finn, anything but that. Even death is better than that.

I continue searching, desperation rising as I fail to find Finn. I can’t even find his body.

I look again. And again, and again, and again.

Finn isn’t here.

He isn’t here because Kylo Ren took him.

And then my breathing is erratic, everything coming back with a vengeance and pulling me under because he took Finn, he’s going to hurt him, he’s going to torture him, he’s going to torture him to get to me.

He’s going to let me know exactly how he’s torturing Finn.

I run. Leia Organa calls after me but I don’t care, am desperately reaching for Maz, yanking her out of her mediation and hurting her, and I don’t want to hurt her, wish that I didn’t need to do this but I need her because I can’t deal with this, not now, not on top of everything else, not when it’s Finn.

Maz offers me an anchor and I hate that I need to do this again but he has Finn, Finn who tried to protect me from him, who is so incredibly brave. Finn, who’s only just tasted the joy of freedom, who is delighted by the simplest of things.

Finn, who I promised would be safe here.

And then Maz is hugging me and I’m crying because this isn’t fair, Finn was supposed to be safe here, Takondana was supposed to be safe, Maz is supposed to be safe, he wasn’t supposed to come here!

He wasn’t supposed to find me here.

It takes even longer than before, but Maz helps me regain a semblance of control. When I no longer feel like I’m drowning, I take deep and steady breaths, before I let go of her. I wipe my tears away.

“Why didn’t you save him?”

I grimace. I didn’t intend to ask that.

I already know the answer.

“I couldn’t,” Maz says, her voice tired and mournful, and her emotions carefully contained to the point where I can’t sense them at all. There’s a tightness to her eyes I recognize only as guilt because of how well I know her.

I close my eyes. I already knew that. I know that if she could’ve, she would’ve saved Finn.

No matter how much part of me whispers that isn’t true.

“I tried, Da’lin.”

I let out a harsh breath, determinately ignoring the irrational part of me that wants to blame Maz. She didn’t let Kylo Ren take Finn.

The Force did.

“I know,” I say, infusing it with all the honesty I possess. While there’s an irrational part of me that wants to lash out at her, I don’t blame her for failing to go against the Force. I understand why she couldn’t.

The more you can influence the Force, the more the Force can influence you.

My apology earns me a faint smile and a mental ruffle of my hair. She continues to keep her emotions under tight lock and key, though.

I really hope that my outburst didn’t hurt her too badly.

“You saved everyone else,” I continue to apologize. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but looking back on my fight with him, there had been a few times one of us had dodged shots fired from somewhere in our general vicinity. I also have a vague memory of seeing Emmie over his shoulder. I’m pretty sure that she was snapping a Stormtrooper’s neck.

It isn’t hard to figure out that Maz used his distraction to launch a counter-offensive and free the survivors.

“Not everyone,” Maz says, pained and sad as she looks at a lifeless body nearby. The vocalist of the band that had been playing.

I hesitate. I want to comfort her, but I... kind of really suck at that. Especially when it comes to situations like this.

What can anyone say to offer comfort from a tragedy like this?

“You kept the map from him,” I settle on, figuring that’s a better topic than people. No chance of it leading to thoughts of those she didn’t manage to save.

Maz’s lips quirk up, and the warm look she gives me shows that she appreciates the intent behind my words. That’s something, at least.

“It wasn’t hard to guide his thoughts away from it.”

I feel a bitter smile grow. No, that wouldn’t have been hard at all. Not with me here.

Then again, it’s a map to Luke Skywalker. He should’ve been more than just a little interested in it.

Except he grew up with– stop thinking about that.

I grab the lightsaber and hold it out to Maz. As expected, she shakes her head.

“I’m not meant to keep it any longer,” she says, kind enough to leave out the part where she’s no longer meant to keep it because it’s supposedly mine.

In that case.

I get to my feet and march towards the shore. Then I throw the damn thing as far away as I can. With the Force, that’s quite the distance indeed.

I can’t even begin to describe how satisfying it is the see the small speck disappear into the water. The Force might push me to do things, but that doesn’t mean I can’t push back.

I resolutely ignore the lightsaber calling me and walk back to Maz. She’s watching me with a mixture of amusement and sorrow. I know she thinks that I can’t avoid this, but I vehemently disagree.

“What will you do now?” Maz asks.

“Go with the Resistance.” Unfortunately. “Just to deal with that monstrosity. After it’s destroyed, I’m gone.”

The compassionate look Maz gives me is completely uncalled for. I’m not trying to convince myself of this. I’m just saying how things are going to be.

“Are you coming with us?” I ask, but the Force answers my question before she does. Maz confirms this answer with a shake of her head.

“No. The Force has different plans for me.”

I genuinely can’t understand how she can be so at peace with this. The hold the Force has on me is but a fraction of the hold it has on her, and I already struggle fiercely with the consequences.

I love the Force, I really do, but I hate how it sometimes tries to control my life. I don’t have a problem with it suggesting things to me, but ordering me around like this? Hell no.

“What will you do?” I ask, partly to distract myself, partly out of real curiosity.

“I think it’s time I remind the First Order just why it is I am known as the Pirate Queen.”

That is one of the most terrifying things I have ever heard. Good.

“Give ‘em hell,” I say with a baring of my teeth that can only be called a grin in the loosest sense of the word.

“Oh, I intend to,” Maz returns with a smile like the deadliest of blades. She looks to the side and lets out a sharp whistle, drawing the attention of Emmie, HURID and Cook.

“Prepare the Tua-Lu for take-off. Our retirement is officially over.”

Cook and HURID startle, before excitement rises. Emmie, on the other hand, starts radiating an unholy amount of glee.

“Roger, roger, Boss,” she says in a voice oozing satisfaction.

[Adjusting baseline protocols – entering Mode; Get-That-Booty,] HURID cheers, about half of its hidden weapons becoming visible.

We’re going to swim in the sky?” Cook laughs, and while it’s caused by simple joy at flying, the sound itself makes every hair on the back of my neck shoot up straight. I’m far from the only one affected, but the individual reactions are lost to me as my attention is abruptly yanked to the lightsaber.

The lightsaber is moving. And it’s moving in my direction.

You have got to be kidding me.

I focus on it to figure out just how the damn thing is managing to do this. The answer makes me as aggravated as it makes me exasperated.

The lightsaber is tangled in some weed, and that weed was eaten by a bobofish. He didn’t eat the weed holding the lightsaber in place though, oh no. Those particular strands are stuck between his teeth and trailing along his body, meaning the lightsaber is being dragged along as he swims.

Naturally, the bobofish is swimming towards the shore. When the water starts turning too shallow for his massive form, he makes a turn sharp enough to dislodge the lightsaber.

Before the lightsaber can hit the bottom of the lake, it gets smacked by the tail of a longshark, continues to be smacked around by the tails of various other fishes, and ends up being smacked ashore. That’s not the end of the absurdity though. The lightsaber comes to a halt right on top of a large crab, who, annoyed at the weight on top of her, gets to her feet and moves around to get rid of it.

She takes a ridiculous amount of time to realize that scittering in a straight line won’t get rid of it, only coming to this conclusion right at the edge of where the shore turns into grassland. Changing tactics, she shakes her carapass vigorously.

The lightsaber falls off her, hits the ground at an angle that gives it an absurd amount of momentum, and then it follows an an incredibly improbable path that allows it to keep up that momentum for the maximum amount of time.

It comes to a halt right in front of my foot.

This right here is what I hate about the Force. When it’s decided that something has to happen, it will manipulate literally anything and everything into making that happen.

I pick up the lightsaber, planning to chuck it straight back into the lake.

“It would be a great aid against him.”

Maz’s words make me close my eyes. It’s true, the lightsaber would be a great aid. He’d never be able to break my hold on it, in the same way I can’t break his hold on his. It’s a weapon he’d never be able to turn against me, as he can everything else.

I still throw it back into the lake. I won my freedom years ago, and I refuse to let anything take it away from me again. I refuse to let anything make my choices for me.

Destiny can go screw itself.