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The Bright Center to the Universe

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D'Qar is entirely different from Jakku. Rey knew it before she even got there, of course, but three days at the Resistance base and she's still being reminded of the disparities between them.

For one thing, the surroundings are different. There are trees and rivers everywhere. Sometimes it gets damp and cloudy and sometimes it gets sunny and windy. The Resistance has built hangars, mess halls, barracks, garages, even gardens (Rey had never even seen one of those till she got here) and it's home to all sorts of species all bustling about doing their bit for the good fight. She decides she likes it. There's a sense of permanence, of purpose, rather than the mere skittering about scavenging for one's next meal and trying not to fry crisp under the desert Suns. Since their victory against the First Order and the destruction of Starkiller Base, Rey's been made more than welcome, but she can't help but feel as if this isn't the end.

She's (somewhat irrationally) scared that someone is going to take it away. Or worse, make her leave.

So when General Organa summons Rey to her office, pulling her away from Finn's bedside in the med bay for once, the first thing she asks is "Are you sending me away?"

Leia looks at her with a mix of pity and incredulity from across her desk. The poor girl's been expecting this, she thinks. "Is that what you're afraid of?"

Rey fidgets. "I just got here. Finn's not woken up yet. I don't want to leave."

"That's a shame," Leia says. "Of all the people on this base, myself excluded of course, you're the most appropriate choice to go find my brother, now that we've already located him."

The proposition hangs in the air between them. Rey's eyes widen, realizing this meeting isn't about the end of her stay; it's about a whole new beginning.

She almost asks why, then realizes the reason is obvious. The Force is strong with her. She needs a teacher. Luke Skywalker is the last Jedi. Go figure.

"But if you don't want to leave," Leia breezes forward, "then I suppose I'll have to go and do it, like I originally planned." She looks at Rey. "Although since you arrived, I haven't been able to shake the feeling that you're meant to go to him."

"Let me guess," Rey says quietly. "The Force?"

Leia smiles. "He can teach you all about that, my dear."

"I know that," she says. "I know. But I don't want to go...yet."

"You're waiting for your friend."

Rey nods. "I want to be here when Finn wakes up. And I want to help him get better." She holds the General's gaze. "Is that okay?"

Rey has so seldom asked for anything in her life. A rough childhood has taught her, the hard way, that it's always tough to get what you want. So she's surprised and relieved when Leia nods her head.

"I'll give you another month," she says. "You can decide to go sooner, if you wish."

"Depends if Finn can manage without me," Rey says.

Leia smiles. "I suppose so."

The conversation is over, but Rey lingers. "Is it really okay to wait a month?"

"Well, we've waited this long," Leia says, an undertone of aggravation and impatience in her voice. "Besides, the Falcon needs repairs, the Resistance needs to regroup after our last bold move, and you deserve a rest. Going toe to toe with the leader of the First Order is no joke, Rey."

Rey nods, still unsure of how to respond to praise. "Thank you."

The General rises from behind her desk. Rey stands too, and makes to leave. "Let yourself have this, and when you're ready, you can go chase down your destiny like the Jedi before you." Leia sees her out.

"But either way," Rey says, "I will need to start my training with him sooner or later, won't I?"

The General opens the door for Rey. "Of course. You're our only hope."

 


 

 

Finn hasn't so much as stirred since they brought him back from Starkiller base, bleeding half to death after facing Kylo Ren one-on-one. But he's in stable condition, breathing and on the road to recovery, and dammit, Rey's going to wait for him to wake up. After all, waiting is her speciality, right?

Rey goes straight to Finn's bedside after lunch, on the first day of the month she's been given by General Organa. That's where she's taken to spending the whole day, sitting on a chair to his right. She assembles and disassembles small machines, the kinds she's never seen before, or she teaches herself to read using the learning programs in the datapad she's been given. But eventually her module for the day ends, and Rey puts the datapad away, leaning her head on the side of Finn's bed and blinking the glare of the screen away. She cannot help but think about the fight in the snow, when Kylo Ren ripped Finn nearly in half with his saber and left him for dead. The thought of him running around scott-free boils in her chest. She thinks of the scar she gave him and that seems to make up for it...but barely.

She drops off to sleep, but is woken by the presence of someone else, who takes a place on the other side of Finn's bed. Rey looks up at the stranger who's joined them. He's got brown skin and wavy hair, and Rey recognizes him as the X-Wing pilot who made a beeline to Finn straight after they'd gotten him off the Falcon, unconscious. Almost immediately she straightens.

"Hey," the pilot says softly, spreading his hands. "Sorry about that. I didn't mean to disturb you." He regards her curiously. "Rey, right?" She nods. "Thought I'd find you here. We weren't properly introduced." He offers his hand and a warm smile. "Poe Dameron."

She shakes his hand, recognizing the name. "I've heard about you in the mess hall. You're the one who collected the missing piece of the map to Luke Skywalker."

He nods, "that was me."

"So you're BB-8's owner," Rey says, putting the pieces together, "which means...you also own this?" She leans back and tugs on the sleeve of Finn's-- Poe's?-- brown jacket, which is hanging on a peg on the wall, the long gash in the back clearly visible.

Poe winces. Definitely his jacket.

"Where's BB-8?" Rey says, suddenly becoming excited. 

"Well we just flew a mission cleaning up some more of the First Order's mess, so it's getting serviced," Poe says, shifting into a more comfortable position on the chair. "I've heard about you from it. It likes you a lot." He tosses her a casual smile. Rather than blush, as any other girl would have done when faced with the Resistance's ace pilot, Rey fixes her eyes on him as if trying to get a good read on him.

"How do you know Finn?" She asks. "I'm curious. I heard people say he saved your life, but I want to hear it from you."

"What, didn't he tell you?" Poe glances at the sleeping Finn with a humored look on his face. "Some buddy you are, buddy." His smile wider now, he turns back to Rey. "I wouldn't be here and we wouldn't have blown up Starkiller base if not for Finn. Here's what happened..." 

Five minutes later Rey is listening rapt, vaguely wondering how Poe has managed to reel her in completely with his descriptions of dogfights, white-armored First Order troopers and desert explosions. It's fascinating how his story began exactly the same place hers did; on Jakku. And it's even more fascinating that Poe seems to be the one who gave Finn the identity she's come to love.

"And now we're here," Poe finishes, looking over Finn, "and now we're waiting for him to wake up." He tilts his head at Rey. "The General said something about sending you to find Luke Skywalker, since you're actually Force-sensitive."

Rey nods. "But I decided to wait."

"For this guy?" Poe gestures to Finn. "Lucky bastard. You two are so loyal to one another, you know?"

She smiles. "He's the first friend I've ever had."

"So you just wanna sit here the whole time until he wakes up?"

Rey frowns. "When you put it that way..."

Poe tsks. "I'm not going to force you or anything, but staying in here the whole time is gonna get really boring really soon."

"It's fine," Rey says, "I don't have anything else to do anyway." She folds her hands and watches Finn, but Poe can tell that she's itching to go anywhere else. She's just so steadfast that she won't leave his side.

But there's something in her eyes that suggests weariness and boredom, and her feet won't stop scuffing the floor.

Poe sighs. "Come on, let's get outta here."

"What?"

He stands up. "I'll tour you around the base, let you stretch your legs. Come on." He absentmindedly takes Rey's hand as she stands up uncertainly.

Rey scowls. "Don't hold my hand."

He drops it. "Fine."

 

Poe works with what he knows-- this girl flew the Millenium Falcon (which in itself is not so great a feat; the impressive thing is that she flew the Falcon without a copilot) and is Force-sensitive, so he starts their tour in the landing strips, right next to the X-Wing maintenance bays.

Their instincts clash almost at once, when Poe puts a hand on the broad of her back in a protective, guiding gesture, and Rey immediately stiffens at his touch. But her eyes light up almost at once, taking it all in, and she quickly forgets her awkwardness.

"Do you throw all these away or do you keep 'em around for spares?" she says, running to a pile of scrap parts.

"We keep them around," Poe says, following her, "but sometimes it's hard to--"

Rey squats and pulls something from deep within the pile, causing the mound to topple and scatter with a crash. She winces, but waves the piece-- a worn-out power converter-- around with a grin.

"This seems good still."

"Iiiiiii'm...not so sure," Poe says uncertainly.

Rey picks up another piece. "This would've been good for a week's worth of food."

"A week's-- what now?" It clicks in Poe's head. "Were you a scavenger on Jakku?"

Rey nods eagerly. "I traded parts from old craft in the desert from the war for food portions. Been doing it for years."

"And I can tell you're really good at it." Poe eyes the piece she's holding awkwardly. He can't really wrap his head around it yet-- the scavengers he met while on Jakku, the ones he had to inveigle to get him off the godforsaken planet in the first place-- were all coarse and hardened, not vibrant and passionate about their work like Rey clearly was. Besides, Rey was tiny, it was hard to envision her surviving in the harsh desert at a young age. "How old were you when you started?"

"Ten?" Rey doesn't meet his eyes, fiddling with the power converter. "Machines and I seem to go way back."

"Uh-huh." He can already tell that pressing for details would make Rey uncomfortable, so he just waits until she tires of the machinery.

"And you?" Rey says, still not taking her eyes off the hardware. "Did you start piloting young too?"

Poe smiles. "My mom taught me when I was around eight. Both she and Dad fought for the Rebellion back in the day...I grew up flying."

"Your mother taught you?"

"Yeah."

"Lucky you." There's a slight rawness to her voice that suggests frustration, longing and the slightest hint of envy. Poe's about to ask her about it when she finally looks up, changing the subject.

"You know, a lot of this old stuff can still be used. You just need to-- BB-8!" They're suddenly joined by the orange and white droid, who's rolled over to them eagerly. It beeps with enthusiasm, and Rey stoops, laughing, to pat it's domed head. Poe grins at them, pleased that they've gotten along.

"Hey, buddy," he says, when BB-8 greets him in turn. "Finn? Nah, Finn's not up yet. He'll be okay, though." Poe frowns when the droid continues to beep. He turns to Rey apologetically. "Uh, sorry, I know I said I'd take you around, but something's come up at headquarters--"

"It's fine," Rey waves him off cheerfully. "I'll just go back to my bunk and figure this out." She crams some machine parts into her belt. "Thank you, Poe." She eyes him, thinking she might let herself trust him, thinking she might let herself like him, the way she did with Finn.

He only has time to acknowledge her with a nod before BB-8 pushes against his legs impatiently. "All right, dammit, all right!"

 


 

 

When Rey sees Poe again, it's the next day at lunch. He waves to her from across the mess hall, from a table crowded with pilots. Rey can tell, because they've all somehow managed to wear the Resistance insignia on them-- sewn onto jackets, pinned on on lapels, patched to scarves. Some of them haven't even gotten out of their orange jumpsuits.

"Poe!" Rey says with a smile.

He gestures to an empty seat. "Join us?"

She hesitates. "Uh."

Poe insists. "Come on!"

That's how Rey finds herself sitting, for the first time, in a group at the mess hall. She's surrounded by the members of Blue Squadron, who are all loud, all slightly aggressive, and all very hungry.

"So tell us!" A dark-haired woman instantly gets all up in Rey's face. "You flew the Millenium Falcon. What was that like?"

Rey can't help but chuckle. "Terrifying?"

"That is a one-in-a-million chance, that," says another man, pointing his spoon at her appraisingly. "So I heard it was on Jakku? What was it doing there?"

"Well, um--" before Rey can begin to explain the ship's recent ownership history, the dark-haired girl butts in again.

"No wonder the General likes you! You totally impressed Han Solo." Murmurs and nods of agreement sweep the table. Somebody raises a glass. "Han Solo."

The others do the same, and Rey watches, unsure of what went down. But the way everybody's treating the mention of the name makes it seems respectful, reverent even. Poe catches her eye and smiles slightly.

"And get this," he says. "General says she plans to send her to get Luke Skywalker."

"Get out," says the dark-haired girl in disbelief, and the entire table goes "Whoaaaa!"

"For real?" The pilot closest to Rey's left elbow asks.

Rey nods with a small smile. "Yeah, for real. I can hardly believe it!"

"So it's true, you're Force-sensitive," the one who had raised his glass says. "You fought Kylo Ren."

"Well, yeah, but--"

"You are totally a Jedi."

"Not yet, but..."

"Can you tell what I'm thinking?" The dark-haired girl says.

"Can you make this move with your mind?" another female pilot says, holding up a grape.

Rey stares. Everyone stares at her.

"Go for it!"

Rey pulls a face sheepishly, but a part of her wants to try. So she does.

She focuses on the grape...and it falls out of the woman's hand.

The pilots groan in mock disappointment.

"What, that totally, counted, didn't it?" Someone says.

"Close enough..."

"No, I wanna try again," Rey says with a chuckle.

Poe puts another grape on the table in front of her. "Lift that."

Rey glares at the grape-- no, that doesn't feel right. She closes her eyes instead, and reaches out with her mind.

Back then, between the snow-stained trees on Starkiller Base, it had seemed easier-- Rey's desperation to live, to save Finn, fueling the lightsaber out of the snow where it lay embedded and sending it flying into her hand. But when she opens her eyes and the grape remains the same as it was, she feels disappointed.

"It worked when Ren attacked us in the forest," she says as if in apology.

"Must have been the adrenaline," Poe supplies helpfully. "Don't worry about it, Rey."

"Yeah, anyway, if you're going to find Luke Skywalker, maybe he'll teach you to develop," the man on Rey's left says. The pilots agree and go back to their meal, but it doesn't seem like Rey has disappointed or failed them.

The dark-haired woman pats her shoulder. "Nice try, though. I'm Jessika Pava, by the way."

Rey faces her. "Nice to meet you, Jessika."

From the corner of her eye, Rey can see Poe smile smugly.

 


 

 

"How did you learn how to fly spacecraft?" Poe asks her later, as they continue their tour around base, this time accompanied by BB-8.

A shy, but proud smile lifts her lips. "Flight simulators. Jakku isn't all wasteland; there's also a big town where all kind of ships come through port. They trained pilots there." Rey pauses. Should she say more? Would Poe care about that or judge her by the way she'd have to live life, begging and scavenging as she did? She watches him put his hands in his pockets, looking at her expectantly. It encourages her.

"My, uh, my family, or whoever I had before I was on my own, left me at an outpost just outside the town. I was the junkyard master's responsibility, but when I was a little girl he let me stay with two old ladies who ran the cantina. I'd run around doing odd jobs, picking up scraps as I went and going on the flight sims when I could spare the time. Turned out to be good at finding old machine parts and making them work."

Poe blinks. "You were left on Jakku by your family?"

"That's what I remember." Rey meets his eyes and smiles at the confusion and disbelief she reads in them. "It is what it is, Poe. You don't have to feel sorry."

"Don't tell me what to do," he says brashly, but not unkindly. "Who would do that? No offense Rey," Poe continues, "but that...that sounds like a pretty shitty life."

"Well, 'pretty shitty' is what's real for most of us down there," Rey says.

Little by little Poe's curiosity about her is satisfied; as they walk, Rey talks. He soon gathers that life as an orphan in Jakku, learning to survive in the harsh environment, isn't as shitty as he first thought.

It's even shittier.

"I left when I was fourteen, when I was felt like I was old enough to be on my own," Rey says as they sit atop a wall separating the barracks from the landing strip. They're watching the sun set, and two A-Wings patrol the horizon, buzzing lazily.

"And you pursued your career in scavenging," Poe quips, making her laugh. "Didn't you have any friends growing up?"

"I ran around with some kids, yeah. But I guess I was mostly caught up with trying to stay alive and out of trouble...and waiting for my family." She dangles her legs down carelessly, heels knocking against the wall.

"Why'd you leave the town if the outskirts were tougher to survive in?"

"They left me at the outpost, so I always thought that if they were gonna come back, they'd go there first. I wanted to be right there when they did." Rey presses her lips together. "Anyways, I felt better off alone. Times changed, the town changed...it wasn't so safe anymore. As I got older, I...noticed people looking at me. Older men."

Poe's insides squish unpleasantly. He doesn't like what that sounds like.

"There was this one guy, a parts trader who made a deal that seemed too good to be true. I didn't know any better, so I followed him to where he said he had a good haul. But he touched me and then he tried to kiss me--"

Poe nearly falls off the wall. He grabs it to steady himself. "He what?!" BB-8 nudges him back into a stabler position. "So-- so what'd you do?"

Rey shrugs. "I totally flipped. I screamed. The law enforcers came over and broke us up, but I think they only did it because I was disturbing the peace."

"What did they do to the guy?" The pain in his palm is the only thing that makes him realize he's clenching his fist too hard.

"They beat him. They probably would have beaten me too, but I was long gone. That's what made me figure I should really get out of there," Rey finishes, and exhales as if she's never told this to anyone before.

Poe exhales too. He claps her on the shoulder, and this time she doesn't flinch. "Good on you. I still can't believe that happened." He growls in annoyance. "Seriously, Rey, if I'd known which one of those bastards on Jakku it was, I would have--"

To his surprise, she laughs softly. "Poe. It's okay! It was years ago. I left after that because I didn't want it to happen again." She pauses. "I also took the guy's speeder."

Now he has to laugh. "You did not."

"Yeah, I did."

"Serve him right!" Poe extends an arm. "Come over here. I feel like you need a hug, kid. You deserve it."

Rey hesitates. But not for long.

When she scooches in, Poe's free arm wraps around her in a warm side hug, tight and comforting and protective.

"Believe me when I say-- and Finn is totally gonna agree with me when he wakes up--" Poe says, "that we won't let anything like that ever to happen to you again."

"I can take care of myself," Rey mumbles.

He scoffs. "Yeah, but you've been doing that long enough."

 


 

 

When Poe joins Blue Squadron for lunch the next day, he's pleased-- no, elated-- to find Rey already sitting with the group, laughing and soaking up the others' war stories with enraptured eyes. He offers her a small smile as he joins them and she greets him eagerly.

"Hey!"

"Hey yourself," Poe responds. "So I see these guys have been regaling you with typical fighter pilot drama, huh?" He glances at Jessika. "You in particular have a predisposition for exaggeration."

"Ooh, big words, Dameron," Jess says, rolling her eyes. "But you know me, I tell it like it is."

"We've made a breakthrough, Poe," says another pilot, who's been introduced to Rey as 'Snap.' "Rey's been successfully impressed by our daring feats of bravery."

"Great, what'd you tell her?" Poe drawls.

Snap grins. "Enough to make her want to try to fly one."

"What, an X-Wing?"

"Come on!" Rey almost bounces in her seat. "I wanna try it. You know I can, Poe! I can fly anything!"

He mock-scowls at her. "That's my line."

Fifteen minutes of coercion later, Poe has no idea how they've inveigled him into letting Rey have a go at a flight simulator.

"This is boring," Rey says just before they initiate the training sequence, the practice helmet she's wearing a little too big. "I've only ever been on simulators all my life, not counting the Falcon!"

"This is standard," Poe insists from behind the control panel. The rest of Blue Squadron-- and a few other curious engineers-- have gathered around him. "Can't let you into the real thing until you've gotten the hang of the sim."

Boring as it may be, the sim proves to be incredibly lifelike in imitation, and Rey quickly realizes that handling an X-Wing is entirely different from the Falcon. It's smaller and lighter, more versatile, and somehow more sensitive to her control. Each type of craft seems, to her, to have its own 'personality,' and flying different ones require a different mindset. It takes Rey time to find the right kind of mindset for flying an X-Wing, but just when she thinks she's got it handled, the simulation creates turbulence, or points her attention to a different kind of cannon, or alerts her to an imbalance on her port side, and she's got to relearn everything again. The simulation even has an option for entering hyperspace, and that's where the training sequence ends.

Rey climbs out of the practice cockpit to applause and appreciation. Poe crosses his arms. "Not bad. Not bad at all."

"Must be the Force," Rey jokes. She pulls the helmet off and faces him. "The real one now. You promised."

"I did no such thing," Poe retorts. "I said, until you get the hang of it."

The other pilots snicker or roll their eyes knowingly, and more than one of them says "Uh oh, it's the Dad voice!" Poe shoots them a glare.

Rey continues to protest. "But I thought--"

"Rey, that was training sequence one of twenty. You have a long way to go before--"

"Uh, Commander?" A young warden with her hair in two tiny buns approaches, looking up from her datapad. "I just received a notif from the med bay. Your friend's woken up."

Poe blinks, but by the time it sinks in, Rey is already running out the door.