Rey used to think of them as bad days.
She'd feel them coming on with a dry ache in her eye sockets, or a sizzling band of pain across the top of her head. She couldn't always tell it apart from the usual headaches, the dry throb of thirst or heat or too much brightness that was simply part of living on Jakku. But the bad ones ... those dug deep into her brain, left her thrashing in a sweat-soaked tangle of dirty blankets out in her squat in the abandoned AT-AT. The worst was when they hit while she was salvaging. Usually it took enough time to get bad that she could cash in her salvage, struggling all the while to keep her nausea down and her eyes focused, pick up her rations and a measure of water, and get back to the AT-AT before it got really bad. Sometimes she just had to crash in the desert for a couple of days, and hang on as best she could.
She got through it because that was what you did. You hung on and you got through. It didn't do to whine. She could work through them if she really had to, leaning over the back of her speeder to retch dryly and tuning up her goggles to their highest setting to block out as much of the light as she could. Best case was when she had water and maybe a little food, and could stay back at the AT-AT, sack out for a couple of days and let the worst of it go by.
And when they got really bad, when they took her down for as long as four or five days, some of the other salvagers used to stop by her squat sometimes to see how she was. Gunda and her partner Lily, Merrh the Etreesian with that cute little kid of his, and Kerrit the smuggler ...
In Niima Outpost, people were hard-edged and mean, people were wary, people would step over a body dying in the street rather than share water with a stranger. But people also got to know each other. They wouldn't smile at you, not a real smile, and they sure as nerfdirt wouldn't share salvage with you, though they might share a drink, or gamble for what meager profits they possessed, usually with the intention of cheating.
But Rey was part of that posse Merrh put together, back in the year of the big sandstorm, that went looking for Gunda and Lily after they vanished in the desert. And Rey was the one who went by Kerrit's ship every day, in between her usual errands, bringing him water when he had the spore-plague, in exchange for a few of his trade goods.
Rey wasn't sure -- didn't stop to consider, really -- if she thought of any of them as friends. But the regulars, the ones who'd been hanging on in this armpit of a town for this many years, knew each other. They might not like each other; Gunda and Lily were two of the meanest women she'd ever met -- she wouldn't trust either of them not to stab her in the back over a fried-out power converter -- and Kerrit was the kind of guy you said "no" to if he offered you drinks back at his ship. Still, there was a sort of loose awareness around Niima that if you didn't see somebody around the washing station at their usual cashing-in time for awhile, it might mean they'd hit trouble out there in the big empty. And the next person who hit trouble might be you.
They weren't friends and they weren't companions and they sure as hell weren't family. It wasn't quite right to say people looked out for each other, because snaking salvage from other scavengers and getting people drunk to rob them were two of Jakku's major cottage industries. But so far, every time she'd been in really bad shape, somebody'd stopped by to carry some water her way -- It's herdbeast water, fit only for the animals or the cooling system on that piece of shit you call a speeder, but I had an extra can and figured I needed you to owe me a favor -- or even bringing meds, blessed meds, offering her a straight-across swap for whatever salvage she had lying around.
People didn't offer things for free on Jakku, because that would be stupid. But there was a system. There were responsibilities. It wasn't something you talked about. It wasn't something you whined about, if nobody came and you lay breathing heavy through your mouth in the desert heat 'til you breathed all your water away. People weren't here to save you. But it made a little sense, at least, to help other people. There was a rough camaraderie in the sabacc tent at Niima Outpost; there were people you trusted not to cosh over the head and take your last portion. There were people who'd tell you, hey, the water's short today so you better queue up early, or hey, sat-net says there's a storm moving in, better avoid the west quadrant; there were people who'd hold your place in line when you had to run to the san-station because you got spoiled portions last time.
It wasn't a bad life. It was just how a person lived, hungry and a little sick and tired, with sand in your boots and grit in your underwear. That was life.
She feels a bad day coming on when she's at one of the strategy meetings with General Organa, and she thinks desperately, Not now, not here.
They're all gathered around a map, looking at a bunch of stars with glowy lines cutting arcane cats'-cradle shapes. General Organa moves the whole display with deft sweeps of her hands. Rey still can't believe that they want her here, that they think she has anything to share with them -- especially on a day like today, when the dry throbbing hammer striking the back of her eye sockets hits in time with her heartbeat.
It's strange, but the growing awareness of the headache makes her realize that she hasn't had a headache in ... weeks? Months? She's aware of it, in a way she knows she never would've been on Jakku, when being a little miserable was just a thing you dealt with all the time.
Did she really feel that bad all the time, back then?
She forces her aching eyes forward, makes herself pay attention to Poe and the First Order fleet movements he's now drawing across the star display with deft hands. The spinning display keeps blurring in and out, making her ill.
"Rey?" Now he's looking at her, right at her, with his friendly bright gaze that always implies she is the center of the universe, right now, right here. He looks at people like they matter. She understands, objectively, that it is what makes him a good leader, somehow. General Organa has it too. But she is never quite sure how to deal with it.
"I think it's a good plan," she says vaguely, swallowing against the bitterness in her throat, and he gives her a warm smile and goes back to talking to General Organa and the other squadron commanders.
They believe in her, in some strange way. For whatever reason, they think she is a useful advisor, in much the same way that Master Skywalker (whom she absolutely refuses to call Luke, no matter what he says) thinks she is a useful apprentice, and she knows better than to disappoint them. Here in this place, she has enough food that the food she hides under the bed goes moldy before she can eat it; she once stood in the refresher for two hours just to find out if its wet-sonic-dry-wet cycle ever ran out, and it never did. Here in this place, she has people who smile at her, and invite her to the weekly base sabacc games and never try to cheat. She has people who sit with her in the mess hall, and she even has people (Finn) who come to her base-assigned quarters just to sit on the floor with her and talk about all the wonderful-crazy-weird things they've found in this wonderful-crazy-weird place.
She is not about to let them know that she is stupidly ill sometimes, and is not useful then.
So she gets through the meeting on sheer willpower, and takes her leave of the others with an expression she hopes is no less stiff than her usual smiles. She is still learning this, the art of making the appropriate face-movements and mouth-noises at other people when they do it at her. Oh, she knows why she's doing it; she just has a little trouble convincing herself it's actually worthwhile to learn all the subtle social cues for when, why, and where. It seems at once pointless, and yet the most useful thing she has ever learned, because when you smile, people smile back (so many people! so much!) and she never knew that might feel as nice as a warm cycle in the refresher.
Today, though, she can only stumble back to her quarters. It's time for afternoon meal, but she doesn't think anyone will notice if she's not in the mess hall. Back in her quarters, there's water, and there's stale bread and rations stashed away from meals past. (She goes hungry to stash it away, knowing that the rations must be counted, knowing better than to take more than her portion. But keeping a cache is important.)
So she collapses in her quarters, dials the lights down, and hopes to sleep through the worst of it.
She is roused, dull and dazed, from an unpleasant half-sleep by a pounding at the door of her quarters.
Disaster? Attack? She lurches out of bed, snatches up her weapon, reels to the door and opens it.
She finds Finn staring at her, looking startled. He makes a move -- she recognizes it, an automatic defensive move that might turn to violence if he let it. But he does not. He's worked hard on that, she knows -- on tamping down all the First Order taught him and conditioned into him. Instead he awkwardly holds an object in front of him like a shield. It is not a weapon.
It is a portable holochess set.
"Why," she says weakly. Her head hurts so badly she fears it will split open, or maybe hopes it will, because that would make the pain stop.
"Uh, I was going to ask you at mess, but you weren't there." He waves the chess set anxiously. "I checked this out from Stores. Poe said it's okay to do that. I read all the rules and I tried playing by myself, but it's not quite the same ... do you want to ...?"
She is not sure if she would have wanted to normally, but right now she only wants to sleep. "No," she says, and tries to close the door. He blocks it with his hand, and the sensors kick in and make it slide back.
"Uh." His expressive eyes search her face. "Are you all right? Only, it's 18:50, and it looks like you were asleep --"
"Yes," she says. "I was." She shuts the door in his face, and falls in an unpleasant, sweaty heap on her bed.
The next visitor does not bother with the door.
Rey has been drifting in a miserable half-drowsing, half-awake state, when she is roused by the subtle brush of another mind on her own.
Go away, she thinks at him as fiercely as she can, and does her best to slam in place the mental barricades he's been teaching her. In her current condition, mustering the necessary concentration is difficult, and it hurts.
When Master Skywalker talks to her, mind to mind, it isn't really talking as such. Instead she feels a gentle questioning note, a feeling of concern that he's allowing her to share.
She pulls herself together, sits up, and is very pointedly not sick. (If Skywalker were here -- she still can't bring herself to call him Luke no matter how many times he tells her to -- she might "accidentally" be sick all over him.) "I'm good," she says aloud, knowing he will hear her. "I'm up. Where do I need to be?"
Skepticism, from that gentle presence in her mind.
"I'm fine," she says. She makes herself stand up to prove it. This is absurd. She went out on a speeder in blinding desert sun when she felt even worse than this, and didn't have weeks of eating (more or less) regularly to draw upon.
She is not going to be ill.
Something happens in her brain. Sometime warm and ... strange. For a moment, she realizes that she feels markedly less ill; it's like warm syrup is trickling down over her thoughts, soothing the pain and nausea, lending energy to her weak limbs --
"Stop it!" She speaks aloud, and flings him out of her mind with a vehemence that startles her as much as it does him. She didn't know she could do that. Unfortunately it causes a vicious spike of pain and her fading headache surges back, redoubled. She loses the battle she's been fighting and doubles over, retching. This hurts her head even more. She sort of ... falls over, for a little while.
When she comes back to herself, she's lying on the floor with her mouth tasting like a bantha's ass. Someone is tapping on the door, very measured and polite. Also, her eyes and sense of smell tell her, she has recently puked on the floor.
She hates her life.
"Go away!" she shouts hoarsely.
"Rey," Skywalker says through the door, "I'm here to apologize."
"What I did, trying to heal without your permission, was exactly the kind of thing I've been teaching you not to do. I set a bad example, and violated your bodily integrity, and I'm sorry." He hesitates, then adds, "You missed our 21:00 meditation session. I was concerned."
Oh. Crap. Was it that late already? "I'd like to be excused."
"If you're ill, you should go to Medical."
"It'll pass," she says, forcing herself to sit up.
"Rey, may I come in? It's difficult to have this conversation through the door."
"Do I have a choice?"
"Yes," he says. "You always have a choice. I'd like to come in, if I may, but it's your quarters and you can say no."
She's too exhausted and feels too terrible to argue. "Come in, then."
The door hisses open. Since coming back to the base with her, Skywalker has traded in his hermit's robes for a plain brown uniform. He's not much more than a blur at the corner of her vision as he takes in the state of the room, and of her. Then he goes to the refresher closet and she hears running water. He comes back with a cup of it, and a wet cloth. "Drink a little of this," he says. "Then lie down."
She does, feeling too terrible to refuse. The cool cloth doesn't do much for her headache -- it's beyond that by this point -- but it does feel good across her hot, throbbing eyes. She is aware of Skywalker moving about the room, cleaning things up. Then he crouches next to her, and his hand touches her forehead lightly, moves as if to stroke her hair and then stops. "Do you know what you're sick with?" he asks her. "Food poisoning, maybe?"
"No, it's my head," she says. All she wants to do is lie here forever, but she forces herself to remove the cloth -- warm now from her skin -- and sit up, leaning against the wall. "It's not so bad. This used to happen on Jakku, and I can still do whatever needs to be done."
His expression is a weird mix of skepticism and dismay.
"I can," she insists. "I used to go out and scavenge. I can still attend meetings and train with you. Just ... give me a minute."
"Rey, you're ill. You don't have to go anywhere." He frowns at her. "Your head, you said? Light sensitivity, bad headache, nausea -- does that sound about right?"
"Yes," she says warily.
"My uncle used to suffer from a similar condition, back on Tatooine." More emotions skate across his expressive face. She always imagined a Jedi Master should be inscrutable, but he's one of the least inscrutable people she's ever met. "There's medication for it. You can get it from Medical. Do you have any?"
She starts to shake her head, then makes herself stop. "I used to get painkillers on Jakku, sometimes. It helped." Her eyes are watering now; the pain is that bad. "Can I get some here?" she asks, and hates how small and pathetic it comes out.
"Better than that. You can get medication that's designed specifically for your symptoms. I can have one of the med droids come down here, so you don't have to go anywhere."
She makes a small acquiescing noise. The siren song of relief is too powerful to resist.
Skywalker has a brief conversation with Medical over his comm. "Now lie down," he tells her, in his "I am a Jedi Master and I totally know what I'm doing, no really" voice. So she does, and he brings her another wet cloth for her head. The obvious fact that he's a little awkward about this should probably, by all rights, make her even more uncomfortable, but actually it helps a bit. At least she's not the only one who doesn't quite understand how to handle any of this.
She's drowsing, a little, when the med droid arrives at the door of her quarters. It pokes her a bit, shines a very painful light in her eyes, then stabs her in the upper arm with a needle. "Ow," she mutters, rubbing it.
"This should relieve your symptoms for about twelve hours," the medical droid informs her. "You may be drowsy. Please do not operate any heavy equipment or use firearms, if possible. Contact Medical if your symptoms persist. I will be back in twelve hours to administer a new dose."
"Okay," she says agreeably.
The easing of the pain, when it hits a moment later, swamps her in a wave of relief. She sags onto her pillow, and then opens her eyes again as she realizes, belatedly, that Skywalker didn't leave with the medical droid. He's sitting cross-legged by her bed.
"Meditating," he says, noticing her watching. "I can do that anywhere."
"But --" she begins to protest, although she isn't sure what the rest of that sentence is supposed to be.
"Go to sleep," he tells her gently.
She doesn't think he uses any Jedi mind tricks on her, but she falls asleep almost instantly.
When she wakes again, she isn't sure what time it is, but there are hushed voices near her bed, as well as other soft noises she can't quite place.
"How many times do I have to tell you, you can't attack diagonally?"
"But my Ghhhk is standing right there, it can clearly see your --"
"Finn, it can't see anything. It's a game piece. This isn't actual combat."
Rey cracks her eyes open. Skywalker is gone; Finn and Poe are sitting on the floor of her quarters, beside her bed, on either side of a holochess game in progress. The pieces are snarling and posturing at each other. She's watched games in the rec room, but is still, as usual, captivated. The only kinds of games she ever saw played in Niima were completely unpowered ones, using cards or dice.
"But that doesn't make any sense," Finn argues. "It's right there!"
"Yes, but it's still an illegal move," Poe insists patiently. Then Rey's slight movements catch his attention. He looks up, and smiles one of those brilliant smiles at her. "Hey! I hope we didn't wake you up."
"No," she mumbles. Actually, they probably did, but she doesn't mind. She sits up carefully, and is pleasantly surprised to find that her head doesn't hurt. It doesn't quite not hurt; it's a weird feeling like all her thoughts have been wrapped in cotton, which she supposes is the drugs. And her vision is still a little blurry. All in all, though, it's a vast improvement over earlier.
"Do you want anything?" Finn asks anxiously. "Water? Food? We brought you food. If you want food." He points at a covered plastic tray.
She is startled to find that she actually is a little hungry. "I think I could eat something. Thank you."
Then she has the weird experience of having both of them hover over her while she picks at a tray of soup and bread. They bring her water, fetch her a fresh damp cloth, plump up her pillows, and generally make nuisances of themselves.
She has no idea what to do about any of it. If Skywalker caused this somehow, she is going to have words with her so-called Master the next time she sees him.
She finally manages to get them to go back to their holochess game so at least she can eat in peace. Lying back on her freshly plumped pillows, nibbling on a piece of bread, she listens to their friendly argument and she feels ...
... actually, she isn't quite sure what she feels. She has to sort through it, picking out the feelings one by one. Physical comfort, and the absence of pain. Contentment. Peace. Safety.
Good, she decides. She feels good.