Traveling at light speed might be the fastest way to get from one side of the galaxy to the next - at least, it is when the hyperdrive motivator doesn’t malfunction halfway through the trip and cause a multiple hour delay in the middle of deep space before an angry old man and his very hairy, very growly co-pilot argue and smash their way through the repairs and get the show on the road again. But even without unexpected delays that rocket the underlying layer of tension to near unbearable levels, it takes time.
Usually a handful of hours, but sometimes days. Rey recalls reading about a journey that took over a week to complete and shudders at the thought. It’s only been a few hours since they all clamored aboard the Millennium Falcon in their escape from the Rathtars, and she’s already starting to feel the steady creep of anxiety as it spreads out over her skin. She’s not used to spaces this small and compacted; she’s used to wide open desert, with the sun shining hotly overhead, of rolling dunes and skeleton ships and an endless expanse of blue sky on the horizon.
Her heart gives a thick, slimy beat against her ribcage as she thinks of home, of Jakku. She wasn’t supposed to leave, not ever. Not until they came back for her. Her family. And yet here she is, curled up on a small bench, absently picking at a loose thread in a cushion that has seen better days as the Falcon carries her through a vortex of stars at the speed of light to a planet that she has only ever imagined in the landscape of her dreams.
She sighs, leaning her head against the palm of her hand.
Space is much quieter than she thought it would be. Apart from the hum of the engines and the occasional clank of metal from the innards of the ship, there isn’t much in the way of noise aboard the Millennium Falcon. Finn is asleep - has been sleeping since Han suggested that they catch some shut eye in the crew’s quarters; within a minute of lying down, Finn was snoring away, one arm flopped over his face and the other dangling over the edge of the bunk.
Rey wasn’t so lucky, tossing and turning for nearly forty minutes before she gave up trying to get comfortable on the too soft padding of the cot, which is why she’s sitting all alone in the main lounge now, huddled beneath an old poncho she dug up from one of the storage compartments.
Space, she has found, isn’t just quiet - it’s colder than anything she’s ever experienced, far colder than even the Jakku desert at night. The tips of her fingers are numb and when she touches them to the shell of her ears, all she feels is ice.
A small shiver rolls down her spine and she readjusts her position on the bench, carefully maneuvering so she doesn’t smack her knee on the lip of the table in front of her. She manages to pull her knees up and under the faded and tattered poncho, humming at the sudden flood of warmth. Where the poncho came from, she can only guess, but it’s warm and soft and it reminds of her home. It even smells a little like sand and sun.
“Hey, kiddo,” says Han from somewhere over her shoulder. She was so lost in thought that she didn’t hear his approach, though she makes a point of paying close attention to the sound his boots make on the floor plates as he walks around the table and into view; she counts every step. “I thought you were gonna get some shut eye.”
“I tried,” she answers, shrugging. “I couldn’t.”
“Was he snoring too loud?” He makes a noise in the back of his throat that might be a scoff but also could be a laugh. She’s not sure which, and the wry twist of his lips does nothing to help her draw a conclusion. “I could hear him all the way from the cockpit.”
“The cot was too soft.”
There’s a strange flicker in the older man’s eyes as he looks at her. Like he’s surprised by her words or else shocked by her honesty, perhaps both. For a moment, she thinks she sees a glimmer of concern somewhere in the deep blue of his eyes. But then he blinks and the glimmer is gone; his gaze is as hard and blue and unforgiving as a cloudless sky.
Silence hangs thick in the air, not quite suffocating in nature, but there’s definitely a stagnant taste on the back of her tongue and she does her level best to look anywhere but at Han Solo. It stretches for several long, agonizing minutes before the man in question clears his throat.
“So,” begins Han, lifting a hand to massage the back of his neck. “You ever play Dejarik?” He nods towards the table in front of her.
Despite herself, Rey’s mouth falls open in a small gasp of pleasant surprise. “This is a Dejarik board?” she asks as she leans forward, snaking one of her hands out from beneath the poncho to run it over the keys.
“You haven’t seen one before.” It’s a statement, not a question, but she answers it all the same.
“No,” she says, shaking her head minutely as her fingers tip-toe over one of the buttons, a hint of awe on her face. “I’ve only ever read about them in some data chips I found aboard a trading freighter.” Lifting her gaze from the board, she looks to Han. “May I?”
“Sure,” says Han, giving a shrug of his own. “Knock yourself out, kid.”
Rey knows she should be bothered by the way he keeps calling her ‘kid’, but there’s something about the way he says it that makes her insides go a little warm. It’s not meant to belittle - at least she doesn’t think it is. Usually when she’s been addressed with such nicknames, they’re saturated with condescension so thick she could choke on it - and often did, scoffing her annoyance but never putting voice to the words she so desperately wanted to spit back in their faces, particularly Unkar’s.
When Han says it, though, she can hear the ringing note of affection in the word. As if he has used it before in the past. Perhaps a long time ago, for someone he held dear to him. Someone he trusted. Someone he loved, even.
A friend, maybe.
Perhaps even a brother.
Which confuses Rey because she’s only known him a handful of hours, not decades, but then again, she trusted Finn with her life within moments of quite literally barrelling into him, so why should this be any different?
Though she can’t explain it, there is something about Han that she inherently trusts. Maybe it’s the soft kindness that lurks behind the ice in his eyes or the way he made sure everyone else was aboard the ship before clambering up the ramp himself. She can’t place what it is, exactly, but she believes that he won’t lead her or Finn astray, that he’ll get them where they need to get and die trying.
Rey turns her attention back to the board. Experimentally, she presses the button labeled ‘power’ in faded Basic script and the board flickers to life. Some of the characters are toppled over, a few are scattered about the board on various squares, but most remain at the lip of the board in their original spots.
“Looks like whoever was playing last forgot to clear the board memory,” she comments as she presses another button, summoning one of the large, growling monoliths of a character forward. The holo flickers slightly as, deprived of any advance towards victory, it tilts back it massive head and lets loose a low growl of disappointment.
“We didn’t forget,” says Han, in a voice that is very, very far away. He might be staring at her, but he’s not looking at her. No, he’s looking beyond her, into a memory that she can’t see and doesn’t entirely feel comfortable being a part of. When he speaks, there’s a touch of a smile on his lips, though she can’t distinguish the twist of his upper lip as fondness or sadness because in her eyes, it looks a little like both. “The hyperdrive overheated during a jump to Coruscant and we were dropped right into the middle of the remnants of the Imperial fleet. If Luke hadn’t been with me, I doubt we would’ve made it out alive, we were outmatched, outmanned, and outgunned in every way. It’s a miracle we even escaped.”
Rey snorts softly, prodding another one of the keys. “That seems to be a common occurrence with you,” she says lightly, to which Han lets loose a rough bark of a laugh.
“I could say the same for you, kid,” he replies briskly, though not without humor. “It didn’t always used to be that way, you know. There was a time when I was considered one of the sneakiest bastards in the galaxy. Used to be that people would shell out major credits for mine and Chewie’s services.”
She raises her eyebrows at that. “Calling it a service doesn’t make your smuggling any more legitimate, you know.”
Han narrows his eyes at her, a deep furrow appearing in his brow. It’s not a judgmental stare or even an angry one - it’s more like he’s observing her, taking in every last detail from the smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose all the way down to the small hollow of fear that lurks deep in her chest, just to the right of her heart.
It makes her cheeks ignite with heat and she lowers her head, embarrassed, staring off to the side. “What?” she asks, internally agonizing over the small, uncertain squeak of her voice.
“Nothing,” says Han, giving a shake of his head. “You just - you remind of someone, is all. Hell, I think that’s even his poncho. Stars, it’s been a lifetime since I’ve seen that thing. Where’d you find it?”
“This?” Rey plucks at the scratchy fabric. “It was in a storage compartment. I thought it would be okay if I…” she trails off, pursing her lips thoughtfully as her fingertips smooth over the woven ridges of the poncho. “I can take it -”
The word comes out harsher than she thinks he intended, which is why he sighs so heavily. Or maybe he’s just old and tired and completely overwhelmed by the events of the last few hours. She wouldn’t blame him; her entire life has been flipped on its head and she’s still adjusting to the newfound weight suddenly pressing down upon her shoulders.
“Just - don’t even worry about it, kid,” he says, deflating a little bit. Defeated, almost. “Forget I said anything. You can have - just keep it, all right?”
Rey frowns a little at that, unsure of what she should say.
A simple “thank you” doesn’t seem like enough and anything else would be too put upon. Han Solo has already done more for her than anyone else ever has - excluding Finn, that is. But they’ve both saved her life in the span of hours when they could have cut and run at any other point. With Finn, it’s different: they were thrown headfirst into a situation where the only way they could escape certain death was by working together.
Han, though - he could have left Finn and Rey on the freighter, he could have abandoned them to the Rathtars and the merciless bounty hunters if he wanted yet he chose to help them. To help her.
She couldn’t explain it. She doesn’t know the motivation behind it, but she does know there would never be enough words to express her gratitude.
Somehow, she doesn’t think Han would want to hear them, anyway. He doesn’t seem like the type to invest much in words, but rather actions.
Licking her lips, Rey reaches forward the Reset button on the board, her fingertips hovering over the key. “So,” she ventures, mimicking his earlier tone. “Do you want to play?”
“What - now?”
“Yeah.” She nods, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. When her cold fingertip brushes the plane of her cheek, she does her best not to shiver. “I’m assuming we have a few more hours to kill before we arrive at - well, wherever it is we’re going.” She realizes now that she has no idea where they’re headed or why they’re going there, only that Han trusts this woman - this Maz Kanata.
“We do,” he admits in little more than a grunt.
His gaze is nowhere near as gruff as his voice as it settles on her. It softens even further when he sees the hints of barely contained hopefulness on the edge of her features: the slight upward of her mouth, the gentle crinkles at the corner of her eyes. Her expression - it reminds him so much of the earnest farm boy from another dust bowl of a planet that he can’t help but cave.
Later, if asked about it, he’ll blame it on nostalgia rather than the fact that despite this girl and her friend unsettling every careful constructed detail of his life, he likes them. Both of them. They remind him of a past that still smarts something fierce whenever he recalls the sound of her laugh when she was mocking him or the gleam in his eyes when he began another one of his impassioned speeches. They remind him of a time when everything was so complicated yet he’d never been happier. They remind him of a time when he felt complete because all of the little spaces that’d been left wide open were filled by the warmth of their love and the immensity of their meaning to him.
Sighing, Han grasps his chair by the armrests and scoots it closer to the table. “Do you even know how to play?” he asks archly as he settles back into the chair.
“I know the basics,” she answers as she presses down on the Reset button. The characters on the board waver for a few moments, their images frozen in place for a handful of breaths, before the board is wiped clean and everything is back to its starting place.
It’s funny, in an ironic sort of way, how the game is still the same - has always been the same because the forces of good and evil, light and dark, will always be at odds with one another - even if the players aren’t.
Yet as Han watches Rey stare at the board, a deep furrow of contemplation in her smooth, proud brow that harkens back to a sharp-tongue princess with scarily accurate aim, both with a blaster and the barbed marks on her tongue. He can’t help thinking that maybe, just maybe, the players are the same.
He frowns at the top of her head, hoping that it turns out better for her than it did for him. For all of them.
“Your turn,” says Rey.
The sound of her clear, strong voice pulls him out of his reverie and when he looks at her, he doesn’t see a straight-back, self-assured princess but a lonely, shy girl looking for her place in the great, big universe. Just like another wide-eyed dreamer from a backwater world.
He glances down at the board - and smiles at the move she’s made. It’s a risky first move, he’ll give her that. Gusty, even. And that - that is all princess.
“You’re going to regret that,” he tells her as he selects his piece and moves it into place - right in front of her pawn, which gets ripped limb from limb, the holographic spray of viscera flickering in and out.
Rey groans loudly, dropping her head into her hands, which makes Han chuckle again.
“You got a lot to learn, kid,” he says, reaching over to pat her on the shoulder.
She glances at the hand on her shoulder and then up at him, a quizzical expression on her face. Her gaze holds the weight of a thousand questions, each more complex than the last, and Han doesn’t have an answer for any of them. It’s astounding - and completely off-putting, if he’s being entirely honest - how she can go from wide-eyed wonder to sudden melancholy at the drop of a hat. He’s never known someone so young with eyes so knowing, so old.
Momentarily struck dumb by the power and weight behind her gaze, Han’s voice catches in his throat for a handful of seconds that seem to stretch a lifetime. And for those handful of seconds, they stare at each other, a certain degree of understanding passing between them. She’s been through the ringer and he’s been in his own personal hell since he put himself there as penance for sins he couldn’t have helped - or so he tells himself.
She breaks eye contact first, making a show of returning all of her attention to the game at hand, her brow furrowed in deep concentration. He's grateful for the out - truly, he is, but he suspects it's because she feels just as awkward as he does. Regardless, he's thankful and opens his mouth to speak. What he'll say, Han doesn't know, but he's always been quick on his feet: how else would he have survived this long?
However, before he can utter a single syllable, an alarm starts blaring from somewhere in the ship.
Han sighs, long and loudly, and when he looks to Rey, he finds that she's staring back at him, a hungry glimmer in her eyes that makes him smile.
"Well, kid," he says as he hurries towards the cockpit. "Now's your chance!"