Rey made a habit of dreaming. Not always while she slept. Sometimes in the evenings when the work was done, at least for today, and the hunger satiated, at least as much as it ever was, she leaned back against the carcass of her home and unfurled her net.
That was what she called it. When she sat very still, she could wade into a clear blue stream and cast her net from bank to bank. But she had to do it right, and doing it right could take so long that she would fall asleep right out there in the open and cast herself into a different dream of a different water. Not her water. The sleeping waters, that ocean—it belonged to someone else. The stream was hers.
She started by walking, but just in her head. But she had to think about walking, really think about it, until the thinking was inseparable from the doing, until she couldn’t tell if she was imagining the sand sinking underneath her feet, the familiar ache in her legs as she pushed herself up a dune. The sharp dry wind felt different when you were walking into it versus when you were just sitting still, and Rey had to forget which one she was actually feeling and which one she was imagining. She had to walk, and when she believed she was walking, she let the forest grow around her.
She didn’t know if her forest was right, she didn’t know if she’d gotten the trees the way trees were supposed to look, she didn’t even know where she’d gotten her idea of trees. But they grew up around her, brown on the bottom and green up top, and at first there would just be one or two in the desert, but then she would keep walking and there would be more, four and five and six, and they’d be taller too, taller than her and then twice as tall as her, and now there were a dozen and two dozen and too many to count. They’d grow so tall and plentiful that she would have to work her way through them, picking up her feet over their tangled roots and the dark compost of the forest floor. The sand was gone, so slowly that she hasn’t noticed it leave, and now the air around her was wet, wet air like her own breath, like the forest was breathing around her, and it exhaled the smell of green.
And if she listened careful now, she would hear the stream.
Rey had never stepped into cold, flowing water. But when she dreamed like this, she started by dipping her big toe first. The chill of the water would rush up her whole body, and leaning against an AT-AT in the desert, Rey would shiver. Then she would step, one foot down into the ice water, the ball of her foot against the slippery clean rocks on the bottom of the stream. They were a thousand times more unstable than sand under her, and sometimes when she took her second step, she slipped, hitting the bottom of the stream with such force that her backside ached for the rest of the night, and reminding herself that it had all been in her head did nothing to sooth the soreness. So Rey walked out carefully, imagined her delicate steps with a practiced precision, until she was out in the middle of the stream, the water coursing around her calves, and if she stayed very, very still, sometimes she could feel against her skin the quick flutter of what she hoped might be a fish. The sunlight looked different, spilling through the spaces between leaves. There weren’t words in any language Rey could speak to describe exactly how it different. The light just looked like the air smelled.
And then, in the stream, she would out her net and cast it wide.
Once, many years ago, she made it all the way to the stream only to discover that she’d never imagined picking up her net before she started walking. She stood in the middle of the water with nothing in her hands. And she thought, “This isn’t real. Why can’t I imagine myself a net?”
And then, before the forest faded around her in a shimmer, before she looked down and saw her feet buried in nothing but sand, she thought, “But I forgot my net. I have to go back and get it.”
You had to know the forest was real. You had to know the stream was real. You had to, or they wouldn’t be.
Rey remembered to bring her net ever since. And she would cast it, and see what beauties she could see.
The first time she saw snow was with Finn’s hand warm in hers. Han offered her his jacket. Finn offered it harder, and Rey wanted to say yes, but that meant Rey would have to let go of his hand to put it on, and that seemed unthinkable. She had never felt hotter than she did on that winter planet. She didn’t know how to say what she had done.
Han Solo looked at her like he already knew. He looked at her with the eyes of a legend, and for one moment Rey saw herself through his eyes with too much clarity. Han raised his eyebrow at her. A gentle chastisement to get out of his head. Rey knew that was what it was because she was still in his head.
I don’t know how, she thought, and shook her head.
“Are you cold?” Finn asked her and wrapped his arms around her. He stiffened the moment he had done it. He had a reflex for kindness, for connection; shyness for him was second nature. Rey tilted her head against him, her forehead brushing the bare skin of his neck, and it was like static electricity, the knowledge that snapped into her head, all the ways his life had been hell. A reflex for kindness was not a reflex the First Order had coded for.
He didn’t remember his family. He didn’t want to, since the knowledge that he’d had one had never meant anything to him, because everyone he’d known had a family somewhere and yet there they all were. Stormtroopers. Sometimes he had dreams about hands the color of his, and in his dreams the hands reach out and stroke his cheek, fondle his hair, hold him tight. But if he tried to follow the hands higher, the wrists turned into smoke and fog, the forearms into nothing at all. He didn’t even remember his mother’s face, and he was sure that he’d had one and had loved her more than anything else in his world. What baby didn’t? But all Finn could remember were hands, maybe his mother’s or maybe someone else’s, someone else who had loved him and held him close and kept him safe until he wasn’t safe anymore.
He dreamed sometimes about the hands grasping after him as steel clamped around his body and ripped him away. Finn couldn’t be sure if that was memory or nightmare or what the difference between the two were.
Rey raised her head from Finn’s chest. She had lain it there only for the span of a heartbeat.
“Let’s go,” she said, and Finn’s arms dropped. And she took his jacket, and his hand. And they went.
In the stream, she never knew what she would catch. Rey knew, in some vague way beyond words, in some vague way was like trying to grasp sunlight in your hands, that she made the forest, and she made the stream, but whatever came down to her in it came from somewhere else. A shell or a bottle or a map or a boot or a body or a skull or a stick or a ship or a hand or a helmet or a blaster or a hat or a droid or a flower or a star or a song. Or nothing, and she would wait with her net until sleep claimed the Rey that was back lying against the AT-AT, and on those nights she could never shake the feeling that something truly wonderful had been coming, if she’d just been strong enough to wait.
One time, a waterlogged doll floated into her net. It was made of fabric that looked like it had been someone’s tunic once, until it grew too threadbare to clothe bodies and thus became one. Over the soft fabric of its lopsided frame, it wore a scrap of orange. A jacket. And there was a little bottle cap on its head. A helmet. The doll was a pilot.
When Rey realized that, she felt the water start to heat and thicken. She looked down and saw the sand. She leaned back and hit her head against the AT-AT. When she caught something, the forest went away. That was the rule, and she didn’t know why she knew that rule couldn’t be broken.
The next afternoon when she went to market, Ganna Roit pulled Rey aside. Ganna Roit was older than the way ages worked on Jakku, older than the buildings that she kept her tally marks in, and she spoke no language that anyone understood. She pressed a bundle into Rey’s hands.
Rey looked down. It was cloth. It was a tunic beyond repair. It was beige and brown, except for the borders. The borders were as bright an orange as the sunset on the days when the trade ships came and the air grew heavy with smog.
“Why?” asked Rey. She had been on Jakku for one thousand, two hundred, and fourteen days, and she had learned to distrust kindness.
Ganna Roit’s smile was nothing but gums. She spread her four hands wide. Then she turned towards her stall and went back to work.
In all the days that Rey was on Jakku, that was the only gift she ever received.
She made the cloth into a doll. She made the doll into a pilot.
Han Solo wasn’t what she expected. For one, Han Solo was standing right there in front of her, and Rey certainly never expected that. She never expected him to be sad either. He was never sad in the stories. He was cocky and brave and funny and tricky and you couldn’t trust him for a second. But never sad.
Rey could hardly look at him while they flew, and she could hardly stop looking at him. She wanted to ask him what happened, but she didn’t knew what she was asking.
She should have asked him. She could have saved him.
Rey knew that too. The way she just knew things. The way she always had.
Reaching inside Kylo Ren’s head was like drowning. If Han had told her who Ren was, Rey would have told him what she had seen. There was jagged line of ice down his heart, and all his blood pumped through that wound, and Kylo dreamed of an ocean too. The waters were red, red, red, and he had waded so deep into them that there was no choice but to keep swimming towards a distant shore which had nothing to recommend itself except that as long as he headed towards it, he was not turning back. Han Solo’s son was drowning in blood, and if you got too close to him, it would choke you too.
And now Han was dead. And Ren was alive. And Finn was somewhere in between.
Rey pressed away a grief as familiar as her own skin, grief for hope that had kindled unbidden, grief for the worlds that might have been, and she flew the Falcon. On the other side of the cockpit, Chewbacca drew his grief closer. He pressed it into his heart. His partner was dead. And now the child Chewbacca had thought of as his own was dead to him. He closed off the part of himself that had loved the boy Ben, and no power in the galaxy would ever open that door again. Rey sat in the copilot’s seat and knew this. If Chewbacca saw Kylo Ren again, he would kill him without the hesitation that had swayed his hand today.
“I’m sorry,” Rey said. Chewbacca did not look at her. “I’m sorry I didn’t kill him.” And he looked at her now.
“I will fly,” he said eventually in his strange barking language. “Go tend your friend.”
When Rey left the cockpit, her knees buckled, and she grasped at the wall as she went down. She caught herself, only just. She had meant it when she said it, she had meant her apology. And now, away from someone else’s grief, back with hers and hers alone, she didn’t know. She’d been inside Kylo Ren’s mind too, and he welcomed death with an eagerness that made her unwilling to grant it.
Finn lay on his side on a bunk, his face slack, his back caking. The bleeding had stopped as soon as it had begun, the lightsaber cauterizing its own wound, but the rescue had torn the wound open, and Finn had bled until Rey had pressed what was left of a medkit against it. There wasn’t enough left to stop the bleeding. And yet the bleeding had stopped.
If Rey tried, she might be able to knit his back together anew and leave no scar behind. Or she might cripple him irreparably. Or twist something wrong and kill him in agony. Or do nothing except discover that she was a foolish little girl who thought that she might be a Jedi.
She curled up in the bunk beside him instead. Finn didn’t shift as she lay down, her back to him. She lay so close that she could feel the heat of him against her. She could feel his breath on the back of her neck. He was alive, he was alive, he was alive. There were not words for him. Finn looked the way that sunshine smelled. He felt the same as the color green sang.
He was still alive, and she grieved losing him as well.
Her last night on Jakku, with BB-8 in low power mode beside her, Rey leaned back against her home and started to walk. It was no faster to get to the forest these days than it was when she’d been a littler girl, freshly alone and new at waiting, but she made it to the forest with more surety in her steps. She knew it would always take as long as it took to walk all the way to the stream. The distance between the salvage and the city had never gotten shorter just because she was used to the journey.
And a tree grew in the desert, and another, and another, and Rey ran her hands along their trunks as she wound her way to the forest at the heart of the desert, and for the first time, she heard birdsong in the branches. She’d never known for sure that there was life here that wasn’t her, she thought at first, but then no, that wasn’t right, because the trees lived and they dreamed about her too. This she knew, just touching them.
“Hello,” she said quietly. And the bird song continued as if she hadn’t spoken at all.
She found her way to the stream as she always did. Dipped one toe in the water. Felt the delicious chill. Then she looked up, looked upstream, looked at where the water rushed from. She had never up that way before. The net grew heavy, tied around her waist. She should wade into the stream now. She should wait and see what came her way.
Rey untied the net and dropped it at her feet. She didn’t need it, there was a hole in it, she’d cut it there herself this afternoon. So she left it. And she walked. She walked towards the place her stream fled. And the mud of the bank grew heavier, and the trees grew thicker, and their branched tangled so overhead until the sunlight that streamed through came pale and choked. And she walked, and she walked, and it might have been hours or minute or years, and when the bank was too mired in filth and muck to struggle through, she stepped into the stream again. Here the water was colder than anything she’d ever felt, colder than even her dream of snow, and the current pressed against her with such hatred that she knew if she let it push her over, she would drown in the desert.
But she could still walk, and so she walked. And in front of her, the stream bent, and around the bend, rushing towards her, was a flash of white. She had no net. So she caught it with her hands. It was a helmet the color of bone, and she knew its eyes. She had ripped out ones just like it to use as her own when the sandstorms came. She pressed her fingers to its face. On another day, it may have floated into her net, after she had waited for it to come, and by the time it arrived, the waters would have washed clean the handprint of blood that marred its face.
Something hit her side, so hard that the air rushed out of her, and before her mind knew what it was doing, she lashed out. Her fist hit BB-8, and the droid’s plating won. Rey gasped in pain, drawing her hand back against her chest. “What was that for?” she spat and shook and dug her feet into the sand underneath her, the sand, the real sand, the sand of the desert where no forests grew and no streams flowed. She was so drenched in her own sweat she might well have been underwater.
“¡Lifesigns ↓!” BB-8 whistled anxiously. “Heart too ‽‽” It rolled towards her, its unchanged eye studying her with open concern. “¡Rey went too far!”
Rey froze. “What?” she breathed. “What did you say?”
BB-8 rolled towards her until it was huddled against her side. “Lifesigns ↑,” it chirped. “Stay ↑.”
“BB-8, what did you mean?” Rey pushed the little droid back so she could look it in the eye. “I didn’t go anywhere. I’ve been here the whole time. I was just daydreaming. Daydreaming, do you know what that means?”
BB-8 zoomed in and out on her. “Stay ↑,” it said again. “Rey needs rest. Rey shaking/sweating/crying.”
Rey touched her face. “I’m not,” she lied pointlessly, and looked away.
“BB-8 watch in night heartbeat of Rey,” BB-8 said.
Rey shut her eyes. “You don’t need to do that.”
“You’re leaving tomorrow,” Rey said wearily. “You’re leaving and I’m staying. Rey—” And here Rey made the complicated whistle that translated roughly to ≠. “Friend. I’m not your friend. You’re not my friend.”
BB-8 chirped something even Rey couldn’t translate. Then it rolled towards her again. This time, when it nudged against her side, Rey lifted her arm and BB-8 rolled into her hold. “BB-8=Friend=Rey,” it added confidently.
Rey leaned her head on BB-8’s top. Maybe binary had language for what she needed to say, but she lacked the chassis to say it. She walked a great distance to a stream that flowed through her, and there was no stream, and the water was poisoned and sweet.
After a long, long time, she said, “I don’t know where I go. When I go. Sometimes I think I need to go find the place I see when I close my eyes and try so hard. But it isn’t on Jakku. I know it isn’t on Jakku.”
“Leave Jakku,” BB-8 said.
And Rey said nothing else for the rest of that long night.
On the sleepless nights, on the worst of them, Rey thought about killing herself, but if she wouldn’t leave Jakku by ship, she wouldn’t leave it any other way either. So she imagined the ocean, that big blue ocean that she knew with startling clarity was not her own, and let the roar of it fill her until she leaked saltwater. She didn’t like the ocean half as much as she liked her stream. But it got her to sleep when nothing else would.
And here was the ocean.
Chewbacca said that he would wait on the ship. He could not see Luke Skywalker, would not, any more than he would see Leia. Ben had only one living lineage left, and Chewbacca feared he could not tamp his fury in the face of it, and where was Luke when they needed him, and how had he fled when others had died, and it should have been him that Ben struck down, and Ben should have never struck anyone.
Rey fled the Falcon to the open air. She could not for a moment longer be locked in with the Wookie’s rage.
There was no forest on this island. The air smelled blue. The wind was wet, and the flecks of the sea felt like sand blasting against her skin. Water is snow before it’s snow, she thought, and understood what that meant as the sea spray sunk into her clothing and chilled her to her bones. She had dreamed for as long as she remembered about water, but she had never truly known it until this moment. She climbed stairs that wound their way above the ocean, and she never could have dreamed this on her own.
And she felt him. From the moment she had landed, she felt him. She almost didn’t recognize the feeling of him as him, as something distinct from the island and the ocean, the same way that standing in the forest, it had taken her so long to feel the thoughts of the trees. Luke was the land here, and the land was Luke, and they sung in such perfect harmony that you could not unwind the two.
Did you know I would come? she thought.
Yes, the island replied. I knew.
Everyone is looking for you.
And the island sighed. And Rey climbed.
I’m scared, she thought, of what I can do. Of what I will do.
I’m not scared too, the island replied, but that was an imperfect translation. Rey couldn’t say in words what Luke thought to her then, the way he said I know/Me too/I was scared/I am scared/I will be scared/You are right to be scared/Don’t be scared. The thoughts were too big for words. They were thoughts without words, the way thoughts are, the way a stream was a stream and not a stream and Rey could wade into it up to her waist while she sat in the desert. The thoughts came from the birthplace of languages inside of everyone, and she could have spent a thousand years of her life translating one sentence of it and never capture its essence, except to say to someone, “Think. And now imagine that someone else heard that, and understood it the exact same way that you did.”
Rey stood before Luke and said without speaking, I dreamed of this place.
I dreamed of you, he told Rey the same way.
Did you dream of the stream in the forest too? And Rey held out his lightsaber.
Yes. Luke pulled back his hood. And no. The lightsaber is yours now.
No, it’s not.
What comes to you in the stream, you keep. That has always been the rule.
What does that mean?
How much time do you have?
Luke thought the thought with such wry humor that Rey couldn’t help but smile. And Luke smiled back.
And Rey kept the lightsaber.