"How'd you learn all this stuff, anyway?" Finn says.
Rey says, "Hand me the conductive grease." Finn doesn't move; she snaps her fingers. "Come on, it's the blue tube, the one—"
"Oh, yeah, I see." He slides it to her across the ship's floor. "So? How did—"
"Like that," says Rey.
"I went to school in—" Poe says, naming some Republic city, and Rey tunes out again. He's not telling her, anyway—his words are for Finn, like his hands, pointing to the void where the Republic should be among the stars. She can see the constellations out here the way she could on Jakku, though they aren't the same ones. "I always knew I wanted to be a pilot. What about you?"
"Never thought about it," Finn says. "But I didn't grow up wanting to be a sanitation worker, either. Rey?"
Rey leans her head against his shoulder. "It wasn't the same, but—yes."
"You wanted to be a pilot?" Poe says, leaning forward to nudge another log onto the fire.
"Something like that," says Rey.
Rey has been debriefing with General Organa and a group of Resistance leaders for hours. Her throat feels raw and her voice goes scratchy. "Water?" someone says, and then she has a glass in her hand. A whole, precious glass of water. She stares at it until her vision goes hazy.
"Let's break for twenty," says General Organa in her no-nonsense tone. "Is there anything to eat around here?"
The water is lukewarm and tastes flat from filtration. Rey drinks in slow sips. She catches General Organa watching her after a while. "What?"
General Organa smiles. "You just remind me of someone, that's all."
They eat bland rations while they review the path that Rey will take to Skywalker. General Organa looks tired, but she's alert enough to backseat-cartographer the rest of the meeting. She pushes her half-filled glass of water across the table to Rey, towards the end: Rey finishes it.
Chewbacca intensifies the force on the thrusters as they breach the atmosphere. Everything here is blue—there's so much water and sky. The abundance is as shocking as the expanse of green foliage on Takodana. In the middle of all this destruction, there's still so much life. And there it is, again, inside of her—that sensation.
Softly, Chewbacca trills.
"Is he here? I don't know yet," Rey says to Chewbacca. "Maybe. I've got a feeling."
Rey says, "When I was a little kid, I didn't even think you were real."
"Someone told you a story, though," Skywalker says.
Rey rolls her eyes. "What else do you do out in the desert to pass the time?"
They're walking along the cliffs together, the lightsaber still in Rey's hands: Skywalker won't take it from her. His face is scarred, but his stride is smooth. Rey doesn't have to slow her pace for him. "It would have been an older story than that," he says. "Think back. Can you remember?"
"Did you know my family?" Rey says after a moment.
Skywalker shrugs. "It's hard to say."
Rey clenches her fist around the lightsaber. "I wish you'd just tell me something."
"How about this," Skywalker says. "You give me a story of yours, and I'll give you one of mine. An even trade."
Finn is mad, because he can be. "He's not even going to teach you?"
"He said I'm too old," Rey says. "He says he can't do it."
They're training with staves and sabers out behind one of the Resistance buildings on D'Qar. Finn's been breaking down Stormtrooper hand-to-hand techniques for Rey as well as the other Resistance militia; today she's using her lower body strength to kick Finn's ass. No added Force required. Rey gets the move down on the fifteenth, twentieth, and twenty-second tries, but they keep going until the sun starts to dip below the horizon. Rey helps Finn up from the ground. They bump fists.
"You need to be trained," Kylo Ren said. "I can teach you the ways of the Force."
Oh, so that's what—
Rey spends the better part of a month fixing and upgrading the artillery on the Millennium Falcon by herself. Unburdened by companionship or distraction, she can get to that place in her head, the place where she needs to be. The place behind the place behind the place that says, bypass the compressor, or the place behind that. Like an afterimage flickering at the corner of your eye—that's where Rey has to go.
Where she goes.
She's lying on the grate above the condenser, idly rolling a screwdriver between her fingers. There's a leak somewhere below that she hasn't yet located. Drip, drip. The condenser grate is cool against her cheek, the tops of her arms, her calves. What she would have given for something like this in the daytime on Jakku. Her old ship-home was like an oven in the sun, even with shade. Everything was hot. When Rey closes her eyes, she feels like she's floating.
"Tell me what Luke said to you again," General Organa says.
It's the middle of the night and General Organa is sitting, fully dressed, on the edge of Rey's cot. "He can't teach me anything." Rey yawns. "I told you."
General Organa nods. "And what did you say to him?"
"I told him a story," Rey says. "Dumb stuff from when I was a kid. He said he'd tell me something if I went first."
"About Yoda, yes," General Organa says softly. Her tone isn't gentle, just quiet; there are other sleeping near Rey in these barracks, separated only by thin curtains that divide up the big room. "Tell me your story."
Rey rubs at her face. "It's stupid."
"I want to hear it anyway," General Organa says. "It matters to me."
"Missed me?" Kylo Ren says, smiling at her through the Force shield.
Rey bears down against the barrier with her lightsaber. She doesn't have much longer to get out of this cell before she passes out and suffocates, so there's no time for pleasantries. Her wrists hurt; her lungs ache from sucking down thin air. She can do this. She can do this.
The lightsaber fits like a good screwdriver in her hand. She goes into the place behind a place behind a—
"I'll tell you," she says to Poe, because they've been drinking—Finn's already dozed off on the pillows beside them. "I'll tell you what he said to me, if you want."
"It's not a secret," Poe says. "You told us, remember?"
Rey hiccups. "I didn't tell you how he said it."
"Okay, okay." Poe slides down against her, kicking his legs out along the chaise as he goes. He ends up with his head in Rey's lap. "Fine, tell Poe Daddy about it."
Poe's hair is soft and clean under Rey's fingers. He's always so clean: he bathes an obscene amount if water isn't rationed. "He said he can't teach me. Not that he wouldn't. I learn by doing, so—I have to do."
"He could do," Poe says, voice a low rumble.
"There has to be a balance in the Force," Rey says in the snootiest tone she can manage. "Didn't they teach you that in school?"
It's hard to believe that this isn't balance—all this light and good. Late nights with Poe and Finn, short hauls with Chewbacca. General Organa's determination to win. The only way Rey can wrap her head around it is to climb into the cockpit and remember how it felt back on Jakku with her helmet on. Gravity is nature's law. Humans are flightless birds, none of them meant to leave the ground, and yet—they do.
Rey keeps her eyes open for liftoff.
"I made a doll of you," Rey said to Skywalker. "You had a little orange pilot suit and I had a pilot's helmet that I scavenged. We went on adventures."
Skywalker's mouth did something like a smile.
"Oh, let's not talk about this again," Poe says when Finn brings Skywalker up.
Rey waves him off. She's got this now. "How'd you learn to use a lightsaber?" she says to Finn. "They're for Force-sensitives."
Finn shrugs. "Didn't know I couldn't."
"Right?" Rey says. "Maybe it's better this way."
Before Rey met them, General Organa was a princess, Luke Skywalker was a pilot, Han Solo was a ruthless smuggler, and Chewbacca was… Chewbacca. Their lives were perfect arcs, complete before Rey's birth. They were all stories. No loose ends, no mess at the edges. A straight line instead of a branching tree.
Rey has Skywalker's lightsaber, Solo's ship, Organa's lead, and Chewbacca himself. She has no roots and no branches. She's a comet streaking through the sky toward—something.
"You need to be trained," Kylo Ren said. "I can teach you the ways of the Force."
"The Force," Rey said.
It felt like flying.