When the Millennium Falcon touches down on D’Qar, Rey hesitates on the gangway. She knows there’s a crowd gathered to meet them, but she hesitates in taking the step that will take her into their line of sight and them into hers.
‘Courage,’ Chewbacca says, behind her. That’s it, that’s all he says, but it’s enough. Master Luke is somewhere behind them, probably even more afraid of this moment than Rey is.
She steps down the gangway. Chewie and R2 are behind her, and the crowd starts to cheer then hushes again. They can’t see Luke, yet.
‘Rey! Rey!’ She recognises the voice, it’s Finn. He doesn’t care about Master Luke, she realises: he’s here for her.
He doesn’t run toward her like she’s pictured so many times. But he is there, alive, and on his feet, not dead or out cold, like she’s also pictured so many times. He takes a step forward, and another, leaning heavily on a cane. Rey steps down from the gangway, and finds herself face-to-face with the General.
She tears her eyes away from Finn, because that’s what she owes this woman.
‘Rey,’ the General says. Her hands stretch out, and Rey is half-afraid, half-hopeful of being hugged, but the General holds her hands out and Rey remembers to reach out and take them.
‘Welcome back,’ the General says, and then, because she at least knows he’s there, adds, ‘Where’s my force-forsaken fool of a brother?’
‘Sulking inside,’ Chewbacca says, and the General shakes her head and lets Rey’s hands go.
‘I’ll deal with him,’ she says, and smiles at Rey. ‘Go and greet your friends.’
Rey thinks: I only have one friend. Then she remembers that’s disloyal to Luke and Chewie and even R2. She has at least four friends.
One of them is Finn and he’s crossed the tarmac and is only a few paces away from her. He looks unsteady on his feet, so Rey doesn’t throw herself at him, but she wants to. Instead she puts her arms around him, carefully, and he drops the cane to wrap both arms around her and squeeze her tight. After a moment she realises he’s leaning on her as well as holding her, because he isn’t holding the cane to lean on anymore. She kind of likes that.
A roar of applause tells her Master Luke has emerged from the Falcon at last. Rey turns to look at him, and Finn lets her go, but he does stumble and she turns back to steady him. Someone else is there, though: the pilot, Poe. He’s picked up the cane and he hands it back to Finn at the same time as he steadies him with one hand under his elbow.
That’s when Rey notices: Finn has hair.
She didn’t expect that. Not that Finn didn’t have hair before: he had a soft fuzz on his head, she knows because she’d kissed his forehead right where the hairline begins. She just hadn’t expected him to have more of it now. It’s not very long, but it stands up a little from his head in twisty strands that she thinks are probably like that on purpose.
‘Nice hair,’ Rey says. And then mentally kicks herself, because of all the things she could have said to Finn, like 'I missed you' and 'I told you I’d come back' and 'my friend', she had to say ‘Nice hair’.
Poe laughs and Finn smiles, a little bashful, and mutters something that sounds like ‘thanks’. Then Chewie calls her and Rey turns around to find her teacher trying (and failing) to slink and hide behind the General. Rey sighs and goes to intervene. Master Luke has been alone a long time, but that’s no excuse to be afraid of people. Or at least it’s no excuse to let them see you’re afraid.
‘Come and meet my friend,’ she says, because she knows Luke does actually like people, when they’re not staring at him, and she’s told him all about Finn a hundred times already.
Rey still wears her hair in three knots, the way she had when she was a child. She doesn’t remember ever not wearing her hair like that. She doesn’t remember learning to put her hair up - she doesn’t remember much from when she was small, when Jakku was unknown and frightening and Unkar Plutt was by turns solicitous and cruel. She does remember that once Unkar Plutt had his lackeys hack her hair off, so he could sell it, and she remembers that as the day she decided she had to earn her way out of his indenture. She thinks she might have been about ten at the time.
Rey wears her hair in three knots, the way she had when she was a child, so that her family will recognise her.
But she’s not on Jakku anymore, and she knows now: they’re not coming back.
Rey still wears her hair in three knots, because she doesn’t know what else to do with it. She tries, in her cabin on the Falcon (Luke’s cabin near the Temple doesn’t have mirrors, and the three knots is all Rey can do without a mirror). She tries letting it down; she tries putting it up in one, two, three tails. She tries looping it up over her head, like the General, but it swiftly becomes clear that arranging hair is more complicated than repairing rope. She ends up with a sloppy, knotted mess.
Of course, that is when Luke puts his head in, looking for her.
‘I, um,’ he says.
‘I’m sorry,’ Rey says, and tries to pull her hair out of the tangle. She makes it worse. ‘It won’t work,’ she says, sounding petulant.
Luke looks at her for a moment, and she thinks he might be about to give her a lecture on patience and feeling your way through problems, like he does when she drops all the rocks she’s been levitating or she can’t perform one of the innumerable not-using-the-Force tasks that’s supposed to improve her ability to use the Force.
Instead, he sighs and says, ‘I never was good at hair.’ He sounds sad about that. Even sadder than usual, and Luke sounds sad a lot of the time.
Chewbacca comes to find her a few days later and offers to teach her to braid hair. Rey knows Luke must have been talking about her with him, but she doesn’t care. Chewie has taught her lots of things, just like Luke has. Some of the things Chewie teaches her come easier: he works with her in the belly of the Falcon, and he admires her skills as often as he teaches her new ones. Other things are harder, though: Chewie knows about missing people, and about family, and about losing your family. He knows when it’s best to leave Master Luke alone, and he teaches her to see that it’s not her fault when Luke is sad and moody and some days he won’t even speak to her. Luke tells her, on better days, that it’s not her fault, too, but it’s Chewie who teaches her that, so that she really believes it.
So Rey says yes, Chewie can teach her to braid hair. She doesn’t ask why Chewie knows how to braid hair: if she thinks about it at all, she supposes Wookies might braid their hair in patterns for special occasions.
When she walks up to Master Luke’s fire with her hair in a crown of braids around her head, he looks at her like she’s ripping his heart out. He gets up and walks out of the circle of firelight, and stands staring at the ocean for a long time.
Eventually, Rey thinks to ask Chewie when and why he learned to braid human women’s hair.
Back on D’Qar, Rey has a room next to Master Skywalker, but she spends most of her free time in Finn’s bunkhouse. They watch holos with Poe and some of the other pilots. Rey practices meditation cross-legged on Finn’s bunk while Finn potters around. Sometimes she levitates the things in his bedroom for fun. He doesn’t have many things, but nor does she. Rey really only has practical things, now: she left her doll and her flowers and her old helmet and her flight sim behind on Jakku. Finn has collected some things that aren’t practical. He has a static holopic of him and Poe and some of the pilots, drinking drinks with long straws. There’s a strange toy that looks sort of like a bird and rocks back upright every time you knock it over. There’s a drinking vessel that’s bright blue and says YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE MAD TO WORK HERE, BUT IT HELPS. And the chair boasts a cushion that’s been embroidered with flowers and the motto “Rebel Scum”. It’s old and battered, like it belonged to someone else or several someone’s else before Finn.
One evening she’s lying on Finn’s bunk, reading a datapad full of stuff Master Luke has given her. It’s supposed to help her understand the history of the Jedi and the pros and cons of the policy against passion and personal commitments, but mostly it’s confusing her. Obviously it’s ridiculous to say you won’t form personal relationships and then go around training all your apprentices in one-to-one master-student relationships. Rey has only known Master Luke for about six months, and while she doesn’t love him like she loves Finn, she already knows she’d walk over fire for him and would try, pretty hard, to kill anyone who even thought about hurting him.
Rey told him that, once, and he got all pale and sad again. Chewie thought Luke was sad because Ben had hurt him, years ago, and Luke blamed himself. It was Luke’s job to stop other people from getting hurt, not other people’s job to look after Luke. Although, Chewie said, and here he’d gotten morose too, that sounded more like Han than Luke. Apparently Luke had gotten more like Han in his old age.
While Rey is lying on Finn’s bunk thinking about that, Finn is in the fresher. He kicks the door open when he’s done, and starts talking to her while he shaves his face and does something to his hair. She can’t see, he’s out of her line of sight, but it takes longer than she expected.
Eventually, she asks, ‘Why do you do that with your hair?’
Finn sticks his head out of the bathroom. A chunk of his hair is twisted into the coils she recognises: the rest stands out, thick and springy and glistening from something he’s sprayed on it.
‘Do what with it?’ He asks.
‘It wasn’t like that when I met you,’ Rey says.
Finn makes a face. ‘No.’ She thinks that might be the end of it, but then he goes on: ‘I hate the clippers,’ he says. ‘You have to sit still and let someone do it for you. Or you do it yourself and that’s not much better, really, it’s still noisy and it feels strange and…’ He trails off.
‘I never had a choice, before,’ he says. ‘Now I do. And I like this.’
‘I like this too,’ Rey says. ‘Can I watch?’
‘Of course,’ Finn says, his smile lighting up his face like firelight on a dark night. Rey goes over and leans against the bathroom door, while Finn separates strands of his hair and smears them with something goopy before twisting them tightly around each other, two at a time.
Rey pays too much attention to people’s hair, she thinks. She wonders how long it takes them. She can do her hair up in three knots in a minute or two, without a mirror. Finn takes a long time to twist his hair, but he tells her he only has to re-do it every three or four weeks, so that balances out. Poe looks like his hair is always exactly the same kind of tousled and windblown, but one day Rey knocks on his door looking for Finn and finds Poe with his hair still damp from the fresher. His hair is a mop of curls that sway when he moves his head. Poe catches her staring and makes an odd face, kind of like the one Finn made when he mentioned clippers, but he pulls out one curl to show her how long it is.
‘Why don’t you… leave it like that?’ Rey asks.
‘People keep wanting to pull on it,’ Poe says, straight faced. She thinks he’s joking, or at least not telling the whole truth.
The General has impressive hair. She piles it on top of her head or draws it up a the nape of her neck in intricate arrangements. Rey wonders how long it takes, and if the General is ever called to the command room in the middle of the night with her hair in disarray. Rey also knows the General’s hair used to be darker, but Chewie says it always grew the colour it is now, only with less grey in it. The General used to chemically colour it dark brown, but she stopped years ago. Rey figures that means ‘when Han and Luke and Ben all left, in their own ways’, and she finds that interesting, because now, the General’s hair is the same colour as Master Luke’s, only Master Luke doesn’t put dye in to cover the grey bits.
Rey thinks: if there’s someone out there with hair like mine, they’re not coming back to find me.
Rey doesn’t quite know she’s going to do it until she does. She thinks, when she asks, she’s just curious.
‘Finn?’ she says. Finn is shaving, and she’s reading on his bed, just sharing the same space as they so often do. Rey’s never had anyone to share space with like this before, not that she can remember. She lived with others when she was small, other beings who were working off a debt to Unkar Plutt. But she never shared with other people, not like she does with Finn. And with Chewie and Master Luke and sometimes Poe and all kinds of people, now.
‘Mmm?’ Finn says.
‘Who taught you to do your hair like it is now?’
‘Oh, Davies, you know Davies? Works for catering. Barely fits his catering cap over his hair.’
Rey knows the man, now that Finn mentions it, but she doesn’t know his name. Finn, for someone who didn’t have a name and used to wear a helmet except when eating and sleeping, is astonishingly good at names and faces.
‘What about before that? Did you clip it? Who did that?’
Finn goes quiet for a minute. ‘With the Stormtroopers? There was a technician.’
‘No,’ Rey says. ‘Didn’t you say you tried clipping it after you got here?’
‘Yeah,’ Finn says. ‘Didn’t like it, though.’
‘Do you have clippers, though?’
‘Nah,’ Finn says. ‘Poe does, I borrowed his.’
Rey means to ask why Poe has hair clippers, when he clearly doesn’t use them on himself, but what comes out instead is, ‘Do you think he’d let me borrow them?’
Finn puts his razor down and steps out of the bathroom. He’s still got shaving foam in flecks on his cheek. He doesn’t say anything for a second, and Rey starts to regret what she’s just said.
‘You want to cut your hair off?’ Finn asks.
‘Yeah,’ Rey says. And then, more firmly, ‘Yes. I do.’
Rey’s never talked about her hair with anyone before, except for those few disastrous conversations with Luke and Chewie. Chewie had suggested she would look nice with her hair about shoulder length and ‘some layers in it’. Rey didn’t know what that meant, and, given Master Luke’s face when he saw the braids, she didn’t want to find out. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad now that Luke and the General are together again. But Rey has seen the General’s hair, and if Chewie’s idea of women’s hairstyles is based on Leia Organa, Rey knows she doesn’t have the time or the imposing presence to keep up with that.
She doesn’t know what she expects Finn to say, now. Possibly to warn her about the unpleasantness of hair clippers, or to say something about her hair being nice the way it is. He doesn’t do either of those things. He just looks at her for a moment and then says,
‘Do you want me to help?’
Rey says yes, because she doesn’t know how to clip hair any more than she knows how to style it.
Poe, when they turn up in his doorway asking for hair clippers, looks like he has a lot of questions to ask but is refraining from asking them. He just digs out a set of clippers and a range of comb-like things that go over the end of the clippers.
‘How short do you want it?’ He asks, looking at Rey.
‘Very short,’ Rey says. ‘Very short.’
Poe gives her another odd look, but he puts a long comb on the clippers. ‘Well, you’ve got long hair to start with, so give it a pass with this one, then with the number one, or zero.’
‘I’ll do it for you,’ Finn offers. ‘It’s easier than trying to see the back of your own head.’
Rey leans into his side a little, careful not to upset his balance. ‘Thanks.’
‘Want to do it here?’ Poe offers. ‘My bathroom’s bigger.’
It takes a while to get set up: Poe’s desk chair would do for Rey to sit on, except Finn isn’t quite steady enough on his feet to stand up holding clippers in one hand and guiding Rey’s head in the other. Poe disappears to find a little stool, one of the ones you use to get to high shelves in the supply closets, and Finn rummages through Poe’s own closet for spare towels.
When they’re finally set up, Rey perched on the stool between Finn’s knees, Finn pulls her hair out of its knots, and then pauses. Cautiously, he bundles it up in one hand and holds it to one side. Rey is sitting very still, and she knows Finn can tell she’s tense. She wants to tell him it’s not him, it’s just that no one’s touched her hair like that for… well, no one’s ever touched her hair like that, with that mixture of hesitancy and affection. And no one but Chewie has touched it for many many years.
The clippers make a buzzing sound. Rey supposes if she had never had a choice in it she’d hate the sound like Finn does. As it is, she finds the sound sort of soothing.
‘Buddy, you’re missing something,’ Poe says, holding up a pair of big scissors.
‘Um?’ Rey and Finn both say at once.
‘You want to cut most of the hair away before you start with the clippers,’ Poe says, leaning down and turning off the clippers in Finn’s hand. ‘Otherwise you’ll tangle up the blades.’
‘Trust me,’ Poe says, ‘I’ve done this before.’
‘I… I’ve never thought about long hair,’ Finn admits.
‘Want me to do it?’ Poe offers, but Rey shakes her head before he’s even finished.
‘No,’ she says. ‘I mean, thank you for the offer, but no, I want… I’ll do it myself.’
‘Fair enough,’ Poe says, and passes her the scissors. ‘Don’t worry about being neat, just pull it back like you’re tying it up and then hack it off.’
‘When’d you cut off long hair before?’ Finn asks, as Rey scoops her hair into the tail that would become the first of three buns, and begins hacking it off instead. She’s still sitting on the stool, so her movements lead to her banging Finn’s calves with her elbow, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
‘When I joined the Navy,’ Poe says. ‘Here,’ he adds, as Rey finishes hacking off the first tail. She was going to drop it on the floor to sweep up later, but Poe takes it out of her hand and smooths it out. ‘You might want it later.’
‘Whose hair did you cut off in the Navy?’ Finn asks, and by the sound of his voice Rey can tell he’s grinning, like he expects another one of Poe’s great stories about his past escapades. He doesn’t get one.
‘Mine,’ Poe says. There’s a moment of silence, save for the sound of the scissors hacking at Rey’s second hunk of hair. Then Poe goes on, ‘they’ve got pretty strict rules about how you can keep your hair in the Navy. Hair down to your shoulders is definitely frowned upon, for a man.’
‘But not for a woman?’ Finn asks.
‘No,’ Poe says.
‘That’s stupid,’ Rey says, and hands Poe the second tail of her hair. ‘You had hair down to your shoulders?’ She tries to imagine it, and fails. It was probably curly, but beyond that, she can’t think what it must have looked like.
‘Oh yeah,’ Poe says. ‘Went through a real young radical phase, before I joined up.’
‘Is that why you have clippers?’ Rey hands Poe the third and last tail of her hair. ‘Because you joined the Navy?’
‘Pretty much,’ Poe says, joining all the tails of hair together and smoothing them out. ‘The Navy doesn’t like the way my hair behaves, and I don’t like their sense of style. So I kept it clipped really short, until I came here.’
‘I’d like to see that,’ Finn says, and he sounds sincere.
‘I’ve probably got holos somewhere,’ Poe says. ‘Or my Dad will.’ He looks down at Finn for a moment, and then says, ‘Okay, now, you’ve got the number fives on the clipper. You want to pick up a small chunk of hair at a time, hold it up, and clip across the grain.’
‘I know that bit,’ Finn grumbles, and gets down to work.
Rey is still sitting very straight and with her shoulders stiff, when he starts, but he’s barely shorn half a handspan behind one ear before Finn has to nudge her upright with his legs and hold her head steady with one hand. Finn might hate clippers but Rey kind of loves them. The buzz is soothing, like a well-calibrated engine or the hum of life support systems on the Falcon. Except this buzz isn’t in the background, and it isn’t just in her ears, it goes straight through her skull and hums in her skin.
‘Rey, you still with us?’ Poe asks, after a while. Finn has worked his way around the sides of her head and is leaning forward to start on the top.
‘Mmmmmph,’ Rey says, wiggling around so Finn has a better angle from her forehead, and she can slump over his leg while he works. ‘It’s nice. Clippers are nice.’
‘If you fall asleep on my bathroom floor,’ Poe warns, ‘I will draw a moustache on your face.’
‘Not a stylish moustache,’ Finn adds. ‘A really terrible moustache. One of those thin ones with the curls at the end.’
Rey ignores them both.
‘Do the shortest one,’ she says, when Finn’s finished with the number five clippers.
‘Okay then, sit up,’ Finn says, taking off the comb. ‘Here we go.’
Rey almost does fall asleep, except she also feels wide awake. Wide awake and like she’s floating. The hair comes off her scalp like it’s being peeled off, sending little shivery sensations all over her skin. When Finn reaches the soft skin on the back of her neck, that turns into a full-body shiver and he stops for a moment, concerned.
‘Sgood,’ Rey slurs.
Behind them, Poe laughs quietly. ‘Oh man,’ he says. ‘I’d forgotten about that bit.’
‘What bit?’ Finn asks, turning Rey’s head to one side. His fingers brush over the faint stubble that’s left behind, and Rey thinks, dazed, that it’s like her skin is a hyper-sensitive radar array. She’s not used to feeling things with her scalp.
‘What it feels like the first few times you do it,’ Poe says. ‘You get used to it after a while, but at first it’s all this sensation you’re not used to. Standing under a water fresher is practically obscene.’ He sounds wistful.
‘It’s never been like that for me,’ Finn says, tidying up the spot near her left ear.
‘Well, you’ve been having your hair clipped all your life,’ Poe points out. ‘Try it again after growing it out for a few years, you’ll see.’
‘There,’ Finn says, switching the clippers off. ‘Let me brush you down.’
That turns out to be interesting. Practically obscene, part of Rey’s mind echoes. She decides she doesn’t care, just makes a pleased humming noise and stretches her neck forward so Finn can brush it down. Brushing turns into stroking turns into scraping his nails over her shorn head, and. Wow.
‘Should I be, ah, giving you a moment? Or several?’ Poe asks, and Rey realises she’s made a particularly loud noise of bliss.
‘What? No,’ Finn says, and then falls silent. ‘Um. Rey?’
‘Noooo,’ Rey says, dragging her mind back to practicalities. ‘No what?’
‘Nothing,’ Poe says, and he sounds amused. ‘You know everyone’s going to want to touch your head, now?’
‘Are they?’ Rey asks. And then, realising Finn has stopped petting her, ‘Why did you stoooop?’ He hesitates for a second, then goes back to scratching her gently.
‘Yeah, they are,’ Poe says. ‘Except those of us who know what it feels like, and don’t want to reduce you to a gibbering mess in public spaces.’
‘I don’t think I’d like that,’ Rey says, arcing into Finn’s hand a little. ‘Except you two.’
‘Us two?’ Poe asks.
‘Yeah,’ Rey says. ‘Don’t think you’re getting out of it. Head-petting duty, Commander Dameron.’ Then she remembers that it had been Poe who first said obscene. She’s not… well. This does feel really good. She’s not planning on having sex with either Finn or Poe, but this is the kind of feeling good that, she thinks, some people would probably combine with sex. Maybe Poe does.
‘You don’t have to, if you think it’s weird,’ she says, in a rush.
Poe laughs, again, and leans over Finn’s shoulder to scrape his fingernails up the back of her neck. ‘It’s fine,’ he says. ‘I know the feeling.’ Rey shivers at the combined feeling of his fingers and Finn’s, working out of time with each other. ‘I’m just jealous,’ he says. ‘Only time I got anyone to do this properly for me was if we were having sex, and not even all of them. People trying to lick my scalp in the mess don’t count.’
‘People licked you?’ Finn says, sounding horrified.
‘Welcome to the Navy,’ Poe says.
‘This is one of those times when I think the Stormtroopers might actually be more sane,’ Finn says, baffled.
‘I will pet you,’ Rey says, looking up at them. ‘I will pet you with hair or without it. Both of you.’
‘Deal,’ Finn says, stroking his thumbs over her forehead. ‘But right now we need to get up and clean up all the hair from Poe’s bathroom floor.’