It's true, Rey has seen few girls up close in her short lifetime. She's seen herself, reflected on the odd surface that hadn't been blasted matte with sand, in troughs when the rippled water settled into something like glass. She remembers her mother, very, very faintly, and the beautiful woman who had been by her side, their fingers tightly laced together. She's seen female scavengers of course, but on Jakku, where everybody walked in a hunch and swathed themselves in rags, everybody looked the same, more or less.
Comparatively, the resistance base is a riotous explosion, of laughter and chatter and running stomping boots. Of curves hugged by tight uniforms and soft leather, and more elaborate hairstyles than Rey could have ever imagined existed. She puts a hand to her hair when she first arrives, self-conscious. Rey has never been self-conscious before. Rey has never wondered much about her looks. She plaits her hair in the same three loops every morning so that she will be as easy to recognize as possible when her family returns for her on Jakku. Or at least -- she used to. Rey isn't waiting for anybody anymore. She tugs on a loose strand. She wonders if she should change her hair.
It doesn't occur to Rey that she might look pretty until a pilot glances over her shoulder as she walks by, and for a flash of a moment she smiles. Her hair is bronze, shiny, twisted into a coronet. Rey wonders if it's in imitation of General Organa.
Rey's eyes slide towards the General, and she realizes that she wouldn't blame the pretty pilot for it. Leia Organa is a beacon. She radiates, and draws in attention like a breath. Rey is no exception. She hangs onto Leia's words with an expectant sort of pride.
Leia has hugged Rey three times and clasped her on the shoulder six times. Rey didn't think she liked to be touched, but when Leia rests her hand on her arm, Rey feels her stomach flutter. Leia is magnificent, and kind, and wise, and beautiful. Rey is completely dazzled by her.
She hears other women around the base and knows she isn't alone in this. Everyone has a crush on Leia. It's impossible not to. She's larger than life, a true hero.
Rey has her first real conversation with a member of the resistance, one that isn't about droids and maps, after Leia has left the room, and given Rey a comrade's pat on the arm as she passed. Rey holds in a sigh, and she sees another girl, across the room, her gaze lingering after Leia in a way that suggests she is doing the same thing. The girl catches Rey's eye, and smiles, a little bit tentative, a little bit sheepish. She gets up from behind her computer screen and walks over to Rey, who quickly reminds herself not to be startled.
"She's something, huh?" the girl asks, still looking after Leia. Her hair is a loose cascade of dark corkscrews. Her lips are full, naturally curved into a smile. She sticks out her hand for Rey to take. "We haven't officially met yet. I'm Tabala Zo. Call me Zo."
"Rey," Rey replies, and take's Zo's hand unsteadily. She immediately feels foolish. She and Finn are the new kids. Everybody already knows who they are.
Zo laughs. "Yeah, I know. You're the Jedi."
"I'm not." Rey feels her cheeks blush hot.
"I'm kidding." Zo laughs again. "Sort of. We've all heard what happened at the Starkiller base. You should be proud."
"I-- I am," Rey says, faltering. It's not a lie. She is proud of her connection to the force, the lineage and wisdom that it comes intertwined with. But until she finds Luke Skywalker, Rey still has too many questions to walk proud and walk tall without feeling like a liar. So she stumbles over her words, and looks timid and insincere, which she hates. Rey makes a face. "Can we talk about something else?"
Zo looks startled. Rey doesn't blame her. But a moment later, Zo shrugs and moves on. "You're from Jakku, right?" she asks blithely. "I spent some time at an outpost there. You must be sick to death of their portions."
It's seamless and kind. It makes Rey smile. "They've got real bread here," she says shyly. "It's going a long way to putting portions out of my mind."
Zo crooks her arm and offers it to Rey. "Can I contribute to the cause?" she asks. Her eyes are dancing.
Rey feels that flutter in her stomach again, but there's insistence to it this time. It almost makes her queasy. It definitely makes her curious. She takes Tabala Zo's arm, and she's never been so aware of her fingertips. "Yes," says Rey. "I think I'd like that very much."
Rey adjusts to life at the resistance base out of necessity. She doesn't have time to ease in, to stretch out her legs or ease into favourite hidden corners. There's too much to much to do, and not enough time to get it done. As soon as the coordinates have been confirmed and precautions have been made, she will take the Millennium Falcon and leave to follow Luke's hard-sought map.
Until then, Rey learns the base. It's a very different pace from Jakku, where the days were filled with languid hard work and loneliness. Here it is cheerful and frenetic. Rey sees Finn as much as she can, her visits tapering as his vitals turn steady and she doesn't start every morning sick with worry for his life. She helps with mechanical repairs where she is able, and she works on strengthening her understanding of the force, turning inward until her forehead breaks out in a sweat and nearby small objects start to float.
It's not enough, not enough. Rey knows she needs a proper teacher. She closes her eyes, and sees the lines of a map drawn against the darkness of her lids.
She seeks distractions. Luckily, the base has an ample well of those, and it is filled with girls, girls, girls. Rey has meetings with Leia and lunches with Zo. She goes out and drinks for fun, which is a sharp and exotic split from her former utilitarian lifestyle. She discovers that she likes to laugh, and makes the acquaintance of a half dozen other girls who have an array of features (lilting voices and curling lashes and dimples) that make her duck her head and smile.
Rey is tipsy and lighthearted when one of them draws her aside. They've spoken a few times -- Rey is almost positive that her name is Connix, but she's met so many people in the last week that she can't be sure. She remembers her face: wide, dark eyes and an impish smile, her blond hair coiled into two buns on either side of her head. There's an echo of General Organa in her pretty features, although Rey can't tell if it's studied or coincidental.
"I've been meaning to thank you," says Connix. She sounds breathless and expectant, and Rey is perplexed. Thank her for what? She's racking her brain when Connix surges forward and kisses her, and her lips are soft and Rey's mind pops like a burnt fuse. Connix parts her lips, and Rey tastes the tip of her tongue for the barest instant before Connix pulls away, flushed and smiling. "For your commitment to the resistance," she clarifies, and then she turns and darts away with swaying hips.
Rey is left dazed, two fingers pressed to her lower lip, where she still feels the ghost of pressure from Connix's mouth.
Tomorrow Rey will fly into outer space. Tomorrow Rey will leave the warm network she has cobbled together, and fling herself amongst the stars. Tomorrow, Rey will finally make headway on the mission that makes the bottoms of her feet itch with impatient anticipation.
She's both sorry and eager to leave. She would have liked to see Finn before she left, but he's still in slow recovery. Instead, she goes out with new friends. She sits with Finn's friend Poe, who makes her laugh until her stomach hurts, makes earnest conversation about piloting and does terrible impressions of droids.
It's late enough that Rey is seriously considering turning in when Jessika Pava arrives and plops into the chair next to Poe.
Jessika is another pilot. Rey knows from Poe that they're old friends, that she's a crack shot, and that she's one of the few people he will willingly rely on in the trenches. Rey knows from getting to know her that she's wickedly funny, that she's romanticized the Jedi almost as thoroughly as Rey had romanticized the resistance, and that she has the thickest, darkest, shiniest hair that Rey has ever seen. She wears brown leather jackets and sits with her legs open wide like a man's.
Sometimes, Rey thinks about pushing Jessika into a corner and kissing her, boldly, the way Connix had claimed a kiss from her. She wants to run her fingers through that perfect hair and see if Jessika's lips are as soft as Connix's had been. They look soft.
Rey isn't timid, but she has no idea how she would broach that. There's stopping the First Order, and then there's kissing a girl, and one sounds impossible and daunting, while the other is just dismantling a fascist regime. She drags her eyes away from Jessika's lips just in time to hear her speak.
"Aren't you out a little late?" Jessika asks Rey. "Big mission tomorrow."
Poe laughs and claps Rey on the shoulder before draining the last third of his drink. "We're celebrating, Jess. Besides, Rey can just wave off her hangover with the force tomorrow."
Jessika rolls her eyes. "That's not how the force works."
"Sure it is!" Poe insists. "Luke used to do it all the time."
"Really?" Jessika lights up for a moment, and then starts to look suspicious. "You're pulling my leg."
"I'm pulling your leg," Poe agrees.
Jessika turns to Rey. "Poe was just a kid too when Luke vanished, but he's so old that I forget sometimes."
Poe sneers elegantly at Jessika, and gestures for a new cup of lum. Rey laughs, and Jessika catches her eye. For a moment, a whole universe unfurls between them. Rey sees passion and yearning and endless possibility, and then Jessika shakes out her hair and turns to Poe, and the steep second ends.
Rey knows in that moment that if she wanted Jessika, she could have her, by crooking her finger and caging the other woman between her arms. The potential, the clarity of it, nearly makes her dizzy.
She starts to reach out with her hand, but pauses thoughtfully. Rey is ready to leave tomorrow -- more than that, she needs to, the galaxy needs her to, and she's frankly antsy to get going. Something about striking out on her first seduction attempt when her mind is literally on another planet feels rude. Rey rests her hand on the table instead, the battered steel of the bartop cool against the rough skin of her palm. She sees Jessika track the motion, with the well trained eyes of a pilot used to memorizing the periphery.
Jessika's hand comes down over Rey's. If she hesitates, Rey doesn't see it. She hooks her index finger around Rey's, and Rey feels her pulse spike.
"I'll miss you," says Jessika. "It was nice getting to know you this week."
Rey turns her hand over, and then Jessika's thumb is running over her palm in slow, lazy strokes that make Rey suppress a shiver. "I'll be back."
Jessika shrugs. "I'll still miss you while you're gone."
Jessika is so confident, so sure with her heart. Rey envies that. "I'll miss you too," she admits, and is rewarded with Jessika's lovely face blooming into a smile.
Poe's send-off is incredible, his energy irrepressible. But it is Jessika's smile, her thumb on Rey's skin and the spark between between them, that Rey will carry with her to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. And too, Connix's kiss, the cock of Tabala Zo's head, Leia's grandeur, and a girl with a braided coronet who had looked back at Rey over her shoulder.
Rey's never thought much about her weaknesses before -- but she's starting to suspect that girls would be printed, in heavy font, at the top of the list.