Many threads make the weave, and no story has a single beginning. There are a thousand points of light in the galaxy, a million twists in the Force, where things might have gone differently. Beginnings are infinite: we cannot know their number. And sentient minds only trace a few, for we do not remember every detail that passes before us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter, but even a luminous being cannot bear all the universe on its shoulders.
We remember the partings, the meetings. The explosions and the fresh hopes. We don't remember turning left, stopping for a drink, choosing a blue shirt, smiling for no reason. These are beginnings so small they pass unnoticed; slubs in the thread so fine that only a master artisan could sense them.
No thread remembers every part of the story; we know only our own place in the weave.
Some of us know less than that.
In a clinical bright ship Breha was crying. She was no longer covered in blood; Ben had hustled her into the fresher, cleaned her hands and face, wrapped her in a clean blanket and ordered one of the creatures in black to see her clothes washed. Breha had flinched from the creatures and clung to Ben - a darkness swirled in him that frightened her, but it did not reach out for her and brush her skin with corroding fingers the way the darkness that hung about the creatures in black did, and he was still Ben, still her brother Ben. He whispered lullabies to her, and pulled her hair out of its night-time plaits and tied it into three buns with bony, oversized hands that trembled, and he cradled her on his lap and told her to sleep.
Breha was afraid, but she was not afraid of Ben. He still smelled of blood, and she was scared of a world ripped inside out and unravelling at the seams, but she was not scared that Ben would hurt her. The tears that leaked from her eyes were fear of the creatures in black, and fear of the blood and fire that had laid waste to the Temple, and fear of whatever it was that was making Ben shake very slightly as he held her head against his shoulder and stroked her cheek. The ship they were in did not rattle around them the way home did, and the perfect silence of the creatures in black, all their attention focused on Breha and Ben, was making every hair on the back of Breha's neck stand up.
Don't cry, he murmured to her, the way they'd always spoken to each other, since Breha was old enough to remember forming words. Don't cry, Rey, don't be scared.
I want Mamá! Breha packaged up images of their mother's small, blaster-scarred hands, her wide brown eyes and small smiling mouth, her soft hushing when one of them woke with a nightmare, her warm strong arms, and pushed them at her brother.
Ben shuddered all over. I know, he said. Go to sleep.
Ben pulled a fold of his black robe over her face.
Breha slept. She woke when Ben shook her gently and carried her to the fresher to re-dress her in the loose tunic and trousers and slippers she had been wearing at the Temple, now clean and unstained; he neatened her hair and rinsed her face. The tears still leaked from the corners of her eyes, drawn by a grief she didn't understand, and her skin felt sticky, her skull-bones sore.
Do what I tell you to, Ben said to her. It's very important. It's very, very important. This is really dangerous for you and I have to keep you safe. Do you understand me, Rey?
Breha nodded, staring up into his eyes, a perfect match for their mother's. His dark hair was standing on end, his wide flat mouth twisted, but as she watched he forced a compliance over his face, a blankness, a cruelty. Breha's lower lip trembled.
Don't be afraid, he said to her silently. This is not for you. I love you, Rey.
Love you Ben. Breha wiped her tears with her own small fists.
He rested his hands on her shoulders and kissed her forehead.
One of the creatures in black insisted on coming with them out of the ship, out onto the desert planet Breha hadn't even felt them land on. Ben gave them orders, said they were searching for a powerful Sith artefact Lord Snoke wanted.
Lord Snoke is the -
Ben hushed Breha abruptly, and squeezed her small hand very tightly in his.
The creature said she would be a fine asset, far stronger than any of the Knights had realised. Breha felt an instant of pure terror.
"That is why Lord Snoke ordered me to bring her," Ben said coldly.
The creature said they had wondered.
"You should not question me," Ben said, hard, and when the Knight turned their back nearly an hour later, he put a lightsaber right through their insect-like body, burning through layers of black cloth and armour, tearing the creature in half.
Breha gagged on the smell of cooking meat, the sight of the little blood that had not immediately been cauterised soaking into the sand, but did not throw up. Ben had given her a few small energy bars hours before, but there had been nothing more to eat.
He had let go of her hand to kill the Knight, and Breha stumbled backwards, tripped and sat down hard on the burning sand.
Ben, she sobbed, and when he looked down at her his expressive face was cold and still and unfamiliar.
Ben! Breha wept, and the red lightsaber crackled.
"You could stay," Luke Skywalker said hopefully, tucking his hands into the pocket of his robes. They were longer than he usually wore; he seemed to be attempting the gravitas of the old Jedi, of Obi-Wan Kenobi carrying the grace of his power and long penance like gilding on his rough homespun robe, the same way that Leia Organa still dressed as a princess and a senator. It was as if they were trying to sneak the building of a better galaxy past every vested interest who might have objected by turning themselves into a representations of a saintly past.
Baze rolled his eyes, both at Luke's ill-fitting Jedi finery and the concept behind it. Luke was an Outer Rim boy; he should know better. He probably did know better. But the man who would seek for the Light in Darth Vader was not going to fear using the symbolism of the old Jedi Order.
"Come on, Master Malbus; I'm not that bad."
"That is just Baze's face," Chirrut announced, tapping his staff on the duracrete, a mischievous grin playing about his lips. "He cannot help it. He has not been able to help it at any time in the last thirty years. Don't call attention to it, Luke."
Luke grinned. "You're always hilarious, Master Îmwe." He sighed, and ran a hand through his blond hair, which was growing out messily. "Are you sure you won't stay? Just for a while?"
"It was 'just for a while' a year ago," Baze rumbled.
Luke had the grace to look mildly ashamed. "I needed you," he said. "I still need you. The Jedi need you."
"We are not Jedi," Baze pointed out.
"It is time we left," Chirrut said, in a voice which was not hard but brooked no argument. "The Force calls us elsewhere."
"Us," Baze scoffed.
"It's not my fault you don't listen, Baze Malbus."
"You are honestly worse than Han and Leia," Luke observed.
"Ha," Chirrut said. "I don't believe that. We were all on Hoth."
"Complaining about your bones and whacking me with a staff," Luke said, wide mouth quirking with amusement. "Yes, I remember." He set his hands on his hips. "You've got a pilot, of course?"
"You know where to find me. If anything happens." Luke folded his arms and shrugged his shoulders. His smile was still as winning and open as the Tatooine farm boy's. "You can take care of yourselves, but you call, and I'll come."
Chirrut smiled and looked up at the sky. "What about the Temple?" he said. "The Order?"
"I owe you a debt," Luke said. "That means something, where I come from." He dropped his hands to his sides, and tucked them back into his pockets. It was true, Baze thought; a Luke Skywalker who was still, not fidgeting, was a Luke Skywalker who was dangerous. Leia Organa was the same; lethal always, but most dangerous in her stillness.
Baze sometimes wondered what would come of the princess's marriage to the smuggler, and of their son. They certainly all loved each other, would-be crusader and accidental war hero and innocent toddler, but Baze knew from painful personal experience that that was not enough.
"We will not forget," Baze said.
Luke nodded, and squinted out among the landing pads, presumably looking for Bodhi. Now there was another pair Baze sometimes wondered about.
"Safe flight," Luke said. "May the Force be with you."
In the humid darkness of Yavin IV, the heavy silence was broken by laughter from the main streets and whistling from the insect life, and - in one generous apartment, close to the government buildings - the sound of a boy, tossing and turning on a bedframe that creaked. He was groaning, his face screwed up against some dreadful pain, and he was whispering under his breath, tormented, hissing -
Tiny pattering footsteps ran up to the door; the handle sank, pressed by a force that hadn't come from a hand, and a toddler stumbled in.
"Ben!" she chirped, holding her hands out towards the sleeping boy, and the boy's eyes slammed open and he flung himself upright.
"No!" he snapped, holding out a forbidding hand. "Breha, no!"
The child's eyes widened with hurt, and her lower lip wobbled.
Ben grimaced. "I'm sorry, Breha, but no!"
Breha started to cry. Ben dropped his head into his hands, and quick, heavy adult footsteps were heard outside as a light switched on in the corridor.
"What in the galaxy are you kids doing in here?" Han Solo demanded, appearing wrathfully in the doorway, and then his shoulders slumped as he saw his son's anguished face, the sheets that had been sweated through, Breha hiccupping with tears that just meant she'd been rejected by her adored older brother and was confused. "Oh, Ben, kiddo. Not again."
"I'm fine," Ben mumbled sullenly. "Don't call me kiddo."
Han raised his eyebrows and scooped his daughter off the floor, jiggling her against his shoulder and murmuring to her until she quieted, turned her face into his chest and put her thumb in her mouth, closing her eyes. "I'll go and get you a glass of water," he said, "and a change of sheets. For the nightmare you didn't have."
Ben covered his face with his hands again and nodded.
Han paused. "You know," he said, awkwardly, "there are people you can... talk to, about this sort of thing. I can’t get rid of - him - for you, Force knows I wish I could, Force knows I’ve tried, but -"
"I'm fine, Dad," Ben droned.
"We just don't like seeing you suffer, Ben," Han said. "Your mother and I."
Ben said nothing.
Han left the door open behind him. Ben shut it.
"Chirrut!" said Baze. "This is the wrong ship!"
Chirrut leaned his head back against the wall and grinned. "On the contrary. The Force -"
"Is the Force going to put us on the manifest?" Baze said, with extreme sarcasm.
"I have already spoken to the captain, Baze."
"We were going to Onderon!" Baze's coat rustled as he threw his hands up in frustration, and Chirrut's grin only widened. Blind or not, he knew every lineament of the expression Baze must be wearing right now, every infuriated flail. "This ship is going to Jakku! What the hell do we want with the Western Reaches? Has Luke commed you asking us to go lightyears out of our way to pick up some Force-damned holocron again?"
"No," Chirrut said mildly, "as you know perfectly well." He pulled his robes out of the way of a harassed Nautolan with two small children who was trying to sit down on the bench next to him.
"This ship is going the wrong way!"
"It is not," Chirrut said. "The Force is calling me. You, too, if you would only listen."
Baze let out a roar of exasperation and several swearwords highly specific to Jedha City, and stormed out of the economy passenger bay.
"How long have you been married?" said the Nautolan.
"About forty years," Chirrut said, and touched the very tips of his fingers to the kyber crystal around his neck. "It depends whose proposal you count."
The throne room echoed in the presence of the massive creature on the dais; swathed in robes of darkness, its rounded grey head sinking onto its malformed bones, its oversized, many-jointed hands gripped the arms of the throne as it watched the boy kneeling before it.
"You have not brought your sister, Lord Ren," Snoke said. "I confess, I am disappointed. I had looked forward to making her acquaintance."
"It was not for lack of trying, Master," said Kylo Ren. "I brought her safe onto the ship, but the Knights of Ren had not understood your latest orders, and to them she was... a toy. I kept her close, but she was so young she was not careful. One of them caught her on Jakku." Rage and hate touched his voice. "I killed him. They listen to my orders more closely now."
"A shame," Snoke said lazily. He probed the boy's mind, and saw nothing but a little girl sprawled on the sand and Ren standing over a crumpled darkly dressed corpse. It was a pity; the girl would have been a useful tool, but she was useful dead, too. Ren’s mind roiled with fury and grief and pain; he was closer to the Dark than ever. "Well, Lord Ren. You have avenged your sister. It was well done. And you will have ample opportunities to remake the galaxy in her image, once your training is complete."
"I place all my trust in you, Master," Kylo Ren said. He lifted his eyes worshipfully to Snoke's, and his face was quite blank.
The Temple had been ruined. Leia would know; she had walked over every inch a thousand times, looked into the eyes of every corpse, entered every half-burned building. The Force screamed its agony here, and Leia's brain throbbed dully in her skull, and still she walked. Searching for her daughter's footprints, her son's lightsaber.
They did not know who had carried out the strike yet. None of the Republic soldiers and senators and intelligencers who had descended on Luke's Temple had any idea, though Leia strongly suspected whatever entity had been curling sharp talons at the corners of Ben's mind since he was a boy. But whoever they were, they had left no-one alive, and all the bodies were accounted for, identified first by Luke and other ashen-faced Jedi, drawn from the outer reaches of the galaxy as fast as hyperlanes could carry them, and then by inconsolable family members. There were only two missing individuals, both children: Ben Solo Organa, aged fifteen, and Breha Solo Organa, aged four and a half.
Her children's faces, and the ruin of the dormitories where they had been staying while Leia attended the opening of the Senate session on Chandrila, were plastered all over the holonews. Leia walked around the no-longer-smouldering, still bloodied remains of the Temple in search of their bodies. Han was hunting for them in the surrounding area, convinced that Ben would have picked Breha up and run if anything had threatened her, but Leia was sure - she didn't know how or why she was sure, but she was - that her daughter had not left the Temple either of her own free will or Ben's. She knew Ben would defend Breha to the death. She just didn't know where or how he would try to do so.
She often thought she didn't know much about her son, and she knew it wasn't just because he was a teenage boy.
Listen to me, Rey, Ben said to Breha, kneeling before her, stroking strands of brown hair off her face. Listen. Listen.
Ben, I'm scared, Breha pleaded. The shadow of the salvage dealer loomed over them. Ben, please, Ben, let's go home.
I'll come back for you, Rey. When I'm free, when I've fixed this, I'll get you home.
Take me home now!
"Are you done?" said Unkar Plutt.
Ben looked up. His brown eyes were shining with tears, but his lips pulled back from his teeth in a way any fool would have known for a threat. "Shortly."
"Time is credits."
Ben laid his hand on his lightsaber. "And you will be well-paid."
"Ben," Breha said aloud.
Hush. Listen. Ben took hold of her shoulders. Your name is Rey. Your name is Rey.
My name is -
Breha felt her eyes widen so much they hurt; she saw nothing but white, surrounding her, blinding her. The brightness forced its way into her skull.
Your name is Rey. Your family will come back for you.
Daddy, Breha whispered, a tiny thread of colour in the searing whiteness. Mamá.
The brightness forced its way further into her mind, erasing, scouring. You're just Rey. Just Rey. And your family will come back for you.
The little girl's eyes rolled back in her head and she swayed. Unkar Plutt looked down at her dispassionately.
"Will you still pay me if she dies?" he enquired.
"If she dies, I'll pay you in blood," Ben growled. Tears slid down his pale cheeks.
Unkar Plutt laughed. Ben snarled soundlessly, but said nothing; he rose to his feet, fingers still steadying light on the little girl's shoulder, and held out a credit chip.
"Your money," he said coldly. "Keep her safe. Or I'll kill you and everyone you care about. Slowly. I'll start with your children. You'll go last."
Unkar Plutt looked amused, but he took the credit chip.
Ben waved one of his hands before Unkar Plutt's face in a practised, smooth gesture. "I was never here," he said, in a voice that echoed strangely. "The girl's family are spacers and they'll be wealthy when their trip comes off - merchants. She's worth a lot to you alive."
Ben glanced down at his sister. "I was never here," he repeated. His echoing voice cracked, and he stooped to drop a fierce kiss on the top of her forehead before turning and striding away. The child stood still as a statue.
By the time the little girl blinked and shook her head and stirred, the ship was barely more than a streak of silver in the sky.
Rey reached a desperate hand to the sky. "Come back!" she cried.
Unkar Plutt yanked on her hand. "Quiet, girl," he said.
Rey howled up at the sky, and knew nothing at all.
Niima Outpost was an absolute hole, and Baze hated every square inch of it, from the rusty buildings to the ragged market. He despised the falsely genial, cruelly smiling junkyard owner who held a monopoly over the trading place because he controlled all the water sites, and he hated the people. They all looked at him like they were costing out the worth of his armour and guns, estimating the price they could get and the ease of killing off an old man.
Baze wasn't that old yet. He knew that much. And Chirrut had already successfully frightened the life out of a couple of little sneakers who'd thought a blind man would be easy prey, so Baze was less worried about that than he could have been. Still, he thought that of all the places he'd been on Jakku - and after four years, he'd been to quite a few - he hated Niima Outpost the most. It was vile.
"Remind me why we are here?" Chirrut asked, and because it was Chirrut the enquiry sounded mild and cheerful. Baze knew Chirrut was not impressed with this place either.
"Because I need parts for that speeder, and this is the best place to buy them cheaply." Baze glanced down at Chirrut, who was sitting bolt upright with his back against a tent wall and his staff laid across his lap, a small wooden bowl in front of him. "Will you be all right here?"
"Of course," Chirrut said, and smiled. "Tell a few fortunes. Give a few blessings. It will be just like old times."
"I don't think they go in for religion much here."
"A people like this," Chirrut said very seriously, "live close to the edge of life and death; and so they live close to the Force."
"Save it for Luke."
Chirrut's gnomic smile split into a mischievous grin.
Baze eyeballed the rough customers sitting near Chirrut, one hand on the nearest available gun, until they looked away or nodded slightly. His fingers brushed Chirrut's short-cropped hair as he left, and Chirrut leaned into the touch almost imperceptibly.
Baze wiped the smile off his face. It didn't do to be too chipper when trying to haggle anywhere in the galaxy, especially not here.
An hour later, half the parts on his list ticked off, he wasn't having to try to keep any smiles off his face. It was hot, too hot, and he was having one of those days when the dry heat of Jakku reminded him of the dry heat of Jedha, and that never failed to put him in a bad mood.
There were only two or three dealers he hadn't tried yet. He trudged towards the nearest lean-to, with its complement of emaciated organic beings and half-broken droids scrubbing industriously at parts or dragging more salvage in across the sands, and asked peremptorily after the head salvage worker.
A scrawny child looked up and said, in good, still Core-accented Basic: "He's gone to take the midday meal and a sleep. He's not back yet."
Struck by the voice, Baze stared at the child, and after a few moments they came into focus: a girl, perhaps seven or eight, filthy and skinny with obvious mats in her dark hair twisted into its three buns, but still with a strong chin tilted high and bold hazel eyes. "When will he be back?" Baze demanded, and wondered where a child like that got that strength, and why she drew the eye. He had seen many child orphans. Not all of them turned out as resilient as Han Solo, or as prosperous as Lando Calrissian, and most of them looked weaker and less wily than this little slip of a thing.
The girl shrugged. "Don't know. He's weird. Sorry."
She didn't sound sorry; Baze wouldn't have done, in her place.
"I'll come back," he said, and walked away.
He had finished haggling for another quarter of the parts on his list when he realised what was getting at him, and swore aloud.
"Something wrong?" The dealer curved a protective set of talons over their wares. "If you can't pay -"
"I can pay, I can pay," Baze snapped, snatched the parts, and stamped back to Chirrut, cursing in the privacy of his own mind.
"We're staying," he announced, when Chirrut had finished reciting a prayer with a Togruta curled over and twisted against the sun, and seen them off with a blessing.
"I beg your pardon?" said Chirrut.
"There's a child here who sings with the Force," Baze said with extreme grumpiness. "She's alone. She works here. We're staying."
Chirrut looked up at him, and smiled, and for the moment he said nothing.
Later, after they had found a lodging and Baze had finished preparing a rough evening meal, Chirrut spoke into the darkness. Their one sputtering lamp wasn't doing much for the absolute blackness of the freezing nights on Jakku, and their cheap room had no heater; Baze had wrapped them both in blankets and Chirrut was wearing his heavy robes.
"The Force called us here for a reason," Chirrut said very calmly. And then he added with glee: "I told you so."
"I will divorce you," Baze threatened half-heartedly.
Baze got to his feet and stared out into the night, leaning on the doorjamb of their room.
The little girl with the curious accent was out there somewhere. Sleeping, he hoped, while the Force sang around her. Safe, he hoped. The Force was capricious; on the rare occasions he admitted its existence to himself he always thought that. But it sometimes cared for those it was drawn to, whose kyber hearts thrummed with the sweet clear note of the Living Force, which Baze had only ever heard rarely, which he'd spent so many years closing his ears to. There was no other explanation for the fact that Luke Skywalker and Chirrut were both still alive.
Baze had always had a soft spot for orphans. There had once been parentless children in Jedha City who knew for certain that he would buy them a meal, or scare off a predator. But that had been a long time ago, and on the other side of the galaxy, and all those children were dead.
If she was clever, this child wouldn't trust him the way those children had.
"We will protect her, Baze," Chirrut said, somewhere behind him.
"The Force will provide."
"Agh," Baze said again, and closed the door on the night.
Baze was right about the child. She was extremely mistrustful, and her duties - she worked for Plutt, indirectly, too young to manage without supervision - kept her busy from before dawn until after dusk, except in the brutal heat of midday. In any case, Baze and Chirrut themselves had a great deal to do, moving their remaining possessions from the settlement further east where they had lived, and establishing themselves in this new place, Chirrut the sage and adviser who told sweet lies to travellers who wanted to be fooled, and Baze the specialist in guns who sometimes fired them... for a price. There was little time to look out for a single urchin, no matter how much she stood out. There were not many children here, and there was no-one at all who shone in the Force the way that little girl did. They caught enough glimpses of her to know she was still alive, and satisfied themselves with that.
She was curious about them, Chirrut thought. Wary of Baze, who was taller and stronger than Chirrut, and who could see. But sometimes, Chirrut said, he would hear the faint skip of her feet on the sand when she should be running errands, and feel the banked inferno of her Force presence close by.
"See if you can find out her name," Baze said, reassembling a Corellian heavy blaster by the light of a solar lamp. Cassian had liked these for their firepower, and Jyn had liked them because they were Cassian's, and the faces he made when she borrowed his things without permission entertained her. Baze had perforce spent a great deal of time working with Corellian heavy blasters during the war, and he appreciated them for the way they reminded him of scattered but intact Rogue One.
"I will try," Chirrut said.
The next time he heard the girl's footsteps, he said: "Little sister."
She stopped. "Are you my family?" she said, and Chirrut heard a deep longing in the echoes of those words that was not reflected in the almost rote curiosity of her tone.
"In a manner of speaking," Chirrut said. He was not strong as the Jedi were strong; he certainly lacked the little girl's raw power. But there was an affinity between all Force users, and he felt it now. No wonder even Baze's deliberately dulled senses had woken to it.
"That means 'no'," the girl said, with a seriousness and a scorn.
Chirrut smiled. "In some ways. My name is Chirrut. What's yours, little sister?"
"Everyone knows your name. You tell fortunes, and say prayers, and Unkar Plutt says it's rubbish, but he's afraid Luke Skywalker will come and strike him down." Some children might have sounded bloodthirsty; this girl was merely extremely matter-of-fact.
"He might," Chirrut said very seriously. "I've met him. He does not like bullies, little sister."
Chirrut had visited Tatooine with Baze, less as a pilgrimage and more out of curiosity. He thought that saying Luke Skywalker disliked bullies was a very watered-down description of the man's visceral hatred of sentients like Unkar Plutt, and it had been very plain where Luke had learned that hatred.
"He's not real. Everyone knows that."
"Oh, do they?" Chirrut said, privately amused. "And does everyone know you, little sister?"
"Yes," the girl said. "I live here." She hesitated. "But I'm not from here." She hesitated again, doling out pieces of information like single grenades. "My name is Rey."
Sometimes, after that, Rey would stop in her errands to say hello to Chirrut. It took her longer to be prepared to stop when Baze was there, and longer still to accept any food from them. But - though guarded, and wary in a way Chirrut knew seized at Baze's heart - she was a sweet child, with a ready smile and gentle instincts Niima Outpost had not yet beaten out of her, and she plainly loved her absent, unidentified family very much.
She had no surname, Chirrut learned, teaching her to scratch the letters of her own name onto her salvage so deeply anyone could find them by feel. She remembered nothing of her parents, though sometimes she made up stories, in which the only consistent thread was that her family would return for her. Chirrut sensed nothing behind these stories; no images, no faint sense-memories, nothing but a faith as absolute as the burning heat of the sun.
Her parents were spacers, Rey told Baze one day while Baze showed her how to clean delicate electronic components (sitting carefully several metres from the open door of Chirrut and Baze's small house, with plenty of escape routes for Rey). It chimed with the stories that Chirrut had heard in the market, that one day a family of spacers with a cargo that would be very valuable in Coruscant had been obliged to leave their daughter behind before taking to the skies. Chirrut didn't believe them, and neither did Baze, when they talked it over at night under their blankets. Rey's accent had only the faintest overlay of Jakku, and beneath that it was almost pure upper-level Coruscant. Whoever her parents had been, they could not have been spacers in such poor circumstances they'd abandoned a four-year-old daughter to work for her keep in a junkyard. Sentients like that never went anywhere near the upper levels of Coruscant, except maybe to collect the rubbish.
She had been here three years, Rey informed Chirrut, showing him the tallies she had made on metal pipes, guiding his fingers carefully along the heavily-marked lines to prove that she could count. She only jumped up to say she had to return to her threadbare berth in the back of Unkar Plutt's den when they heard the howling of a storm start up, and for the first time she did not refuse Baze's offer to escort her.
She was going to fly ships when she grew up, Rey announced to both of them, working over some of the smaller pieces of a late Imperial shoulder-mounted cannon in return for her dinner - Baze and Chirrut would have fed her for free, but she had been on Jakku long enough to view anyone who offered her something for nothing with extreme suspicion.
"I believe you," Chirrut said, thinking of another young Jedi with very bright eyes and a keen sense of debts who loved to fly, and whose spirit sang truest in the Force when he was in the cockpit of an X-wing. But Baze assured Chirrut that Rey looked nothing like Luke, however much she sounded like him occasionally - but perhaps that was what it was, to be young and optimistic and a hardened child of the desert.
"Find a good simulator first," Baze grunted, casting a brusque eye over Rey's too-skinny frame and ladling extra stew into her bowl when she wasn't looking.
Rey grinned at him, bright and sweet. "Yes, grandfather," she said mockingly, and now she sounded like Jyn to Chirrut's ears, Jyn holding her people close, circling wary with the burned fingers of one who had trusted and been betrayed too often, showing affection in sudden bright flashes.
Chirrut heard Baze rumble about the disrespect of the young, and listened to his husband's heart melt.
There was a man wearing dirty brown desert clothes sitting on the gangplank of Bodhi's ship instead of the designated sentry. Bodhi’s first mate started, exclaimed something in words pronounceable only by Togrutas, and laid a hand on his blaster.
"Don't bother," Bodhi said, on a heavy sigh. The man had grown his hair long, now heavily sprinkled with grey, and he looked very tired and a little green, as if he'd picked up some stomach bug in a dodgy cantina; his poncho was stained, and he wore spacers' heavy, steel-toed boots. With his lightsaber hidden, not one in a hundred would recognise the hero of the Battle of Yavin, the Retreat from Hoth, the Battle of Endor, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Nobody would recognise the Tragic Jedi Knight who had dressed in mourning black-trimmed grey to preside over the mass funeral of his students and acolytes and a prayer of safety for his lost niece and nephew, either. Even if it had been recorded for the holonet and beamed all over the galaxy. Luke had been clean and well-dressed then, and far less ground down by the painful crumbling of the Jedi Order, the wrenching loss of Ben and Breha - still gone without trace - and the slow, bitter corrosion of Han and Leia's marriage. The six intervening years had worn on Luke more heavily than Bodhi would have believed possible.
But Luke Skywalker had been sharing Bodhi's bed, on and off, for the best part of twenty years. Bodhi would know him anywhere, even if Bor Gullet turned his brain upside down again.
"But," said Anteli.
"Go and see that that idiot isn't tampering with the cargo, will you?" Bodhi said, without looking at Anteli, who had been working for Bodhi long enough to feel safe rolling his eyes as he acquiesced.
Bodhi strolled up to Luke and sat down.
"You're not on my passenger manifest," he observed. "And you have to have special permits to export biohazards from Bestine. What did you do with my sentry?"
Luke smiled, as he was supposed to, but it was a thin, pale thing. "Convinced her I could watch the ship for five minutes."
"Did you tell her who you are?"
Luke pushed his poncho aside. The hilt of his lightsaber gleamed. "She didn't ask."
Bodhi tutted. "Falling down on the job." He sighed. "What is it, Luke?"
"I need a ride towards the Shaamun Nebula," Luke said. "As far as you can take me. I think I have a lead."
Bodhi stared at him. "On the kids? Why aren't you going back to Yavin, then? Or no - Leia's on Hosnia."
"Seen Han lately?" Luke said, instead of answering.
"No." Bodhi's cargoes were all strictly legal, and Han liked playing a little fast and loose with the rules.
"Jyn and Cassian and Kaytoo?"
"Off doing something for Leia," Bodhi said. "You should comm your sister more often." Bodhi ran his hands through his hair, now far shorter than it had been as an Imperial cargo pilot and even more heavily greying than Luke's. But at least it suited him, or so Jyn said. "If you do have a line on Ben or Breha, you should tell them; they're taking it personally, you know that. They're still looking."
"Any word of Baze or Chirrut?" Luke asked, completely ignoring much of what Bodhi had just said. Bodhi reminded himself there was a reason he was glad that his and Luke's relationship had always been loving, but had frequently taken a back seat to other things, such as Jedi training. Bodhi had never had to count on Luke not to be maddening in order to retain his sanity. That would be like wishing that Tatooine's twin suns wouldn't rise just so you could avoid sunburn.
"Last heard of several years ago, heading for the Western Reaches, and Baze was seriously pissed off about that."
"Training pilots in the Chandrilan system," Bodhi sighed. "We had a drunken reminiscing session last month."
Luke, whose regular boyfriend before Bodhi had been Wedge, had the grace to look faintly alarmed - but he recovered rapidly. "You must have seen the Damerons."
"I work for Kes, Luke. You know that." Bodhi sighed, and rested his arms on his knees. "Poe's gone to the Republic Academy. He wants to be a pilot. Kes is trying to stay calm about that."
Luke grinned and looked away.
Bodhi nudged Luke's shoulder with his. "What are you not telling me?"
Luke turned back, and his eyes fell immediately to Bodhi's lips. "I'll tell you later," he promised, and leaned in to Bodhi's orbit to kiss him.
Later, sitting in Bodhi's tiny cabin with the remains of their meal and half a sabacc game between them as the ship sped along a hyperlane, Bodhi set his cards down on the table. "Why do you want to go to the Shaamun Nebula?"
"Not to," Luke said. "Towards."
Bodhi waited, his eyes on Luke's face.
Luke sighed, and put his own cards down. He put his face in his hands, and then, after a moment, ran his hands through his hair and lifted his head.
Bodhi resisted the temptation to reach out to him, to sit down beside him and draw that heavy head down to his shoulder until Luke's tense muscles relaxed.
"I blame myself," Luke said finally.
Bodhi leaned back on his chair and reached for the Corellian brandy on the shelf behind him.
"I should have been able to protect them," Luke continued, tracing patterns on the plastic coating of the table. "From Snoke. From his Knights of Ren."
"You think that's who it was?" Bodhi poured two glasses of brandy. Leia had always had a strong notion that this Snoke, whoever he was, had been responsible; Han had been inclined to blame the First Order. Jyn had said that they were probably one and the same, a magnificent piece of paranoia which was now being borne out by the available intelligence.
Luke shook his head, hands steepled together and elbows resting on the table as he watched the level of the brandy rise through hooded blue eyes. Cleaned up and dressed in Bodhi's clothes, with a proper meal inside him to combat the nausea of hunger so that the life had come back to his skin, he was still the breathtakingly handsome man Bodhi knew.
"I know that's who it was," Luke said heavily. "And I know where Ben is. With them - Snoke and the First Order."
Bodhi spilled his glass of brandy.
"I don't know if he originally went willingly," Luke continued miserably, "or under some compulsion. Ben... struggled. With Jedi life, with life in general, with Snoke always trying to get into his head, with the possibility that Snoke might be able to break through the walls we were able to construct around Breha. And you could see him twisting under the strain some days. I thought it was helping, I thought it was enough, I thought he would never -"
Silence hung heavy between them: the silence of that mass funeral, of the burned and ruined Second Jedi Temple taped off against intruders. Bodhi took a drink. His head was spinning.
"There's a man called Kylo Ren," Luke said, staring at the glass of brandy he still hadn't touched. "They call him the Master of the Knights of Ren. Our best guess at his age is early twenties. He is... brutal. He fights with a red lightsaber, with great physical skill and no subtlety." Luke fell silent for a few moments, and then volunteered: "He wears a mask. It's impossible to find anyone alive who's seen his face."
Bodhi felt sick and breathless with shock. "Breha?" he said.
Luke shook his head. "I don't know." He hesitated. "She must be ten years old now. That's too young for combat. But there have been no... whispers. That I know of." He took an injudicious gulp of his brandy and winced as he swallowed. "Ask Han. Or Cassian and Jyn."
Bodhi sat back. "Luke," he said eventually, turning his glass of brandy between his palms. "Have you considered..." He stopped, and tried again. "She may not be..."
"She's alive," Luke said simply. "I'd know. I'd know if she was dead - I'd know if either of them...I'm sure." He closed his eyes and took another sip of his drink. "I'm almost sure. I know Ben would not have killed her. It was - the one thing I could always count on. Around Breha, he could force himself to remain calm."
For some time Bodhi searched for the right words. And then he said, as gently as possible: "What if he thought it was the only way to keep her safe?"
Luke's eyes remained closed for several moments. Bodhi's heart sank.
"Bodhi?" Luke said finally, without opening his eyes.
"Here," Bodhi said quietly.
"I love you," Luke said. "Never say that to me again."
"Understood," Bodhi said. He finished his glass of brandy, and got up; went round to Luke's side of the table, and stood leaning against it, his knee against Luke's thigh.
Luke opened his eyes and looked up at him.
"Finish your drink," Bodhi said, and Luke smiled faintly and knocked it back. Bodhi held out his hands, and Luke set his hands in Bodhi's, allowed himself to be pulled to his feet, tugged gently towards Bodhi. Luke's hands slid from Bodhi's grip to around Bodhi's waist, and Bodhi cupped Luke's jaw with his hands, his thumbs stroking lightly over Luke's cheekbones.
"I'll take you anywhere you want to go," Bodhi murmured, just before their lips met. "Kes'll understand."
Luke pressed his face into Bodhi's neck, kissed the pulse point behind Bodhi's ear exactly the way Bodhi had always loved, and just breathed for a second. Bodhi wrapped his arms tightly around Luke's shoulders.
"Just promise me you'll come back," Bodhi said.
"I promise," Luke said, his voice muffled in Bodhi's collar and the skin of Bodhi's throat.
The day came when the sun was falling in the sky and Rey did not come to find them, to help with whatever small mechanisms Baze had started work on that day and receive her evening meal.
"She's a child," Baze growled, prowling the swept veranda outside their house. He had lit all the lamps and left them blazing long past nightfall, in defiance of Niima Outpost custom, in case Rey couldn't find them. Absurd. She'd been visiting daily for years. "She can't be more than eleven. This isn't a good place for her. Unkar Plutt is a failure as a guardian." He spoke heavily, each word falling like an AT-AT's feet, a vicious, heavy-handed judgement.
"He's not her guardian," Chirrut said, from his seat just inside the main room, cross-legged on a cushioned mat with his staff resting across his lap, though he could feel his own forehead creasing with worry. "He's her employer."
He heard Baze spit on the ground. Fortunately, that wasn't the killing insult here that it had been on Jedha.
"Where the fucking Force-damned hell is she?" Baze demanded, his voice rising to a roar.
Chirrut took a deep breath in and a deep breath out. I am one with the Force and the Force is with me. The kyber crystal Baze had given him long ago, during the war, thrummed against his breastbone. And somewhere in the far distance, somewhere Chirrut wouldn't have been able to see even had he working eyes, a little girl was crying.
Chirrut got to his feet. His bones creaked more than they had when he'd picked Jyn Erso and her distrustful shadow out of a crowd, but he thought he was still equal to rescuing a girl with bright eyes and a hard life who took big risks.
"Come on," he said, and that was all the excuse Baze needed.
Unkar Plutt's scavengers took their evening meal later than Baze and Chirrut did, because Plutt disbursed portions as late as he could manage. Chirrut and Baze found them picking over their meal around a small communal fire in an upturned can: Chirrut could feel the fire's heat, and hear the way it crackled against the hot metal.
"The girl Rey," Baze said, voice hard. "She hasn't come back. Where is she?"
A creature came forward. Chirrut recognised him by the way he rustled and the creaking of his voice, never meant for Basic: Yizik, perhaps ten years older than Rey and close to becoming an independent scavenger. Rey didn't like or trust him, but she didn't fear him either.
"She went out to the wreck of the Emperor's Pride," Yizik volunteered. "She thought she could get in to get some of the small pieces from the communications hub. Old Manka told her about it, said she'd pay her extra if she sold to Old Manka, not Plutt."
"How did she get out there?" Baze rumbled. "It's fucking miles away."
"Speeder," someone Chirrut knew by their voice admitted, sounding reluctant. They came to pray with Chirrut weekly; they were not fervent, but they clung to the rituals of the Force that Chirrut had been able to establish. Chirrut suspected a childhood faith, somewhere kinder than Niima Outpost, and a brutal life - they had always refused to give Chirrut their name. "I gave her a lift. I thought she would catch one home with someone else."
"She's a child."
"She looks out for herself," Yizik retorted, "same as any of us can, same as any of us do. Just because she's your special favourite..."
There was a nasty tone in his voice, and Chirrut felt Baze tense furiously.
Chirrut laid a hand on Baze's shoulder and smiled - which is to say he bared all his teeth. "I would not," he said gently. "Think of the mess."
There was a silence.
Eventually, Yizik said in an ungracious, embarrassed voice: "That wasn't..."
There was another silence.
"You should go after her," Yizik said. "You're right. She is - little. She's little."
They found the Emperor's Pride easily enough - a great, jagged hunk of metal, just this side of the quicksands. Chirrut had feared that Rey would be a great deal harder to find, given that she had gone into the depths of the wreck and the smaller passages purely because she was small enough to get away with it, but no. The scavenger who came to pray with Chirrut had told them about a place where the scavengers mostly met, an entrance - a hole torn in the old destroyer's side, marked with bioluminescent paint, a gathering spot shielded from the fiercest of the midday sun where those who might be willing to give a lift in return for a favour might meet, an old place where custom bound even Jakku's scavengers against stabbing each other in the back. Chirrut and Baze found the place easily enough, since it shone so clearly Baze could see it a mile off. Once there Chirrut could sense Rey, hiding nearby, just out of the weak moonlight.
The greatest proof of Rey's trust in them that Chirrut had ever witnessed was that when they called out for her, she came to them, moving at a stumbling, staggering run that sounded oddly on the sloping sand, and betrayed both her fear and her injuries. She ran straight to Chirrut, and when she crashed into him she let out a single sob and was silent.
"Little sister," Chirrut said, stroking a hand over her hair, feeling the strands that had come loose from her characteristic three buns. "You're out very late."
"It was an accident," Rey said, muffled by Chirrut's robes. "My arm hurts."
Her hummingbird heart was beating too fast, her breath ragged, and Chirrut could tell with his arms around her that she was favouring one side. He could smell blood, and that wasn't good; if he could smell it, what else could?
Rey slept all the way home in Chirrut's arms, her injuries roughly bandaged and her sore arm splinted. One hand tangled so tightly in Chirrut's robe that Chirrut didn't have the heart to shift her, even though she was extremely bony and his legs were going to sleep. The bag of small, delicate, valuable pieces she had gone to fetch rested in her lap; it jingled every time she twitched in her sleep.
"How does she look?" he said to Baze.
"Terrible," Baze growled.
Baze carried Rey into their tiny house when they reached Niima Outpost; he brushed straight past the scavenger who had given Rey a lift out to the Emperor's Pride and not checked for her return, and left Chirrut to explain that the girl was still alive, and not fatally hurt. He felt like snapping the necks of every last scavenger who had known Rey from her earliest childhood, and who had never considered searching for her in the darkness. Perhaps they would have gone back in the morning, when it was safer - but Baze didn't feel like giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Baze cleaned her wounds properly by the light of the solar lamps, and worried over the fact that the lamps did not wake her even though they were bright. The injuries were mostly superficial scrapes and bruises from her fall, and ensuing painful climb; they'd asked, and she said her back and neck didn't hurt. She was coherent, too; her mood was stable and her pupils the same size. Baze loosened her hair with careful fingers, and found no soft spots on her skull. He washed her hands gently, and trimmed away pieces of torn and broken nail. She had had to fight for every handhold - with, Baze discovered, as he pressed his fingers along the sore-looking flat of her swollen forearm, a left arm that was certainly broken. He was only grateful it hadn't broken the skin.
There was no healer in Niima Outpost. Baze woke Rey to feed her a little thin soup Chirrut had heated up and gave her a stiff dose of painkillers, and then waited for her to fall asleep again, Chirrut's fingers sliding gently through her dirty hair as he hummed a mantra that had always soothed the most fractious novices. After a while, he nodded at Baze, and Baze set the arm, as best as he could.
Rey stirred and whimpered in her sleep. Baze gritted his teeth and carried on.
Eventually, he sat back on his heels, which creaked. He grimaced. "I can't do better than that."
"We'll have to take her east, to get it seen to," Chirrut said. "We have the money."
Baze nodded. They didn't have much, but they were doing better than most... and they were wilier than most, too. "And that woman. Old Manka. She promised Rey extra for those banthashit pieces."
Chirrut nodded. "Twice what Plutt would give." He was silent for a moment, contemplative; Baze cleaned his hands and started rolling dumplings to go into the thin soup. "Do you know what that is worth?"
Baze nodded. "I think so."
They fell into a comfortable silence.
"If Plutt refuses to let her return," Chirrut said, one hand resting lightly over Rey's pulse.
"She comes here," Baze said, stirring the dumplings. They were heating through, but extremely slowly. "Of course."
In the morning Baze went to see Old Manka, carrying the parts that Rey had broken her arm over. Old Manka's stall was filthier than Plutt's, and her wizened face could hold depths of secretive cruelty that would have made the Emperor himself recoil, but her prices were generally fairer than Plutt's.
Baze pushed back the patterned reddish drape without ceremony and put the bag of parts on the table.
Old Manka sat back in her cushioned chair. "I heard the little scavenger girl didn't come back."
"We brought her back," Baze said flatly. "She broke her arm. She needed a little help."
"Well, it's lucky you were there, then." Old Manka turned over the pieces with gnarly, knobbled hands, her fingers delicately testing and pressing key elements.
Baze nodded. Old Manka gestured at the other low chair without looking up, but Baze did not move.
"I promised her extra," Old Manka said finally, and named a price. It was more than Plutt would have given. Quite a lot more.
Baze narrowed his eyes and considered it for a moment, then nodded. "Done," he said.
"You'll be taking her to a healer," Old Manka said casually, producing the credit chip and charging it from a rackety old machine.
Baze nodded again.
"When she's well enough to work," Old Manka said casually, "tell her I pay better than Plutt. Especially for the delicate pieces." She shook her head and tutted. "She's got an eye. Wasted on the rough work Plutt gives her."
"She's a smart girl," Baze said, without moving a facial muscle as he tested the chip against his own machine. It was correctly charged.
"Tell her what I said!" Old Manka called after him as he strode away through the market.
He heard Rey crying before he opened the door, and when he walked in found that she was lying flat on her back among twisted blankets, her face red and slick with tears and fever-sweat. Chirrut was holding her down with one hand on her chest, and he looked, for a few moments, almost worried.
"She is feverish," Chirrut said, over the sound of Rey's low, fretful murmurings. "And convinced that she cannot leave Niima Outpost or her family will not come back for her."
Every now and then Baze thought he would give up anything for the faith to curse Rey's family into the deep, dark pit of hell in which they undoubtedly belonged.
"We can't risk letting her sweat it out," Baze said instead. "I have the credit chip."
Rey did not sleep quietly until her arm had been reset and medicines poured down her throat by the healer they found her in a town forty miles out. Baze was surprised by the relief that flooded through him when she calmed, and the unnatural flush of panic eased; he knew, from the way Chirrut let out a very tiny sigh and his shoulders slumped, that Chirrut felt the same way.
"Your granddaughter isn't out of the quicksand yet," the healer said sternly.
Neither Chirrut nor Baze corrected her.
Rey slept easily for the rest of the day, and into the night; she became feverish while Baze paid a surprise visit to Unkar Plutt's in-house scavengers to check her belongings hadn't been stolen and repurposed, and was delirious not long after he returned. She still calmed for Chirrut, in a way she would not for Baze - Chirrut half wondered if she recognised the glimmerings of the Force in him, but Rey had never shown any sign of understanding her own gifts, and remained firm in the belief that the Jedi were a myth - but she was restless, confused and querulous, and didn't seem to know where she was. She didn't seem to know where anything was; Chirrut had hoped that the fever might unlock some memory that they could use to identify her, but she complained only of how bright everything was, and called repeatedly to someone to come back.
Chirrut wiped her closed eyes and her forehead with a cloth dipped in fairly cool water, and murmured to her. She wasn't crying any longer; in her delirium she seemed angrily bewildered rather than sad.
"Come back," she was wailing. "Come back, you promised, you promised -"
"It's enough to make you want to lie to her," Baze said quietly, as Chirrut caught one of the girl's flailing hands and stroked his thumb over her knuckles soothingly, murmuring to her.
"No," Chirrut said, although he knew what Baze meant; the new lines of worry that he could feel creasing his forehead testified to that. "The healer told us this would happen."
Chirrut heard Baze shift and stand, and then cross the room to rest one of his still-broad, still-strong hands on Chirrut's shoulder.
"She'll pull through," Baze murmured.
Chirrut leaned back into the comfort of Baze's grip. "Try prayer," he said. "I am."
Baze was silent for a moment, and then he said finally: "If you think it'll help."
Chirrut smiled, but effortfully. "You know what I think," he said.
The fever broke some time in the night. Chirrut heard Baze rustling around to be awake for the dawn not long before he heard a sigh and a stirring on the pallet next to him, and a small, weary voice saying: "Grandfather?"
Chirrut turned and smiled down at Rey. He touched her forehead with gentle fingers and found it was cool, though damp with sweat.
"You're awake, little sister," he said, and let his relief and pride seep into his voice. "Well done."
They fed her a little and she slept, but by the evening she was awake again and irritable, convinced that she had contracted a life debt, and concealing her fear of paying it off very badly; even her usual curiosity about Baze and Chirrut’s ways could not distract her. She was also terrified that Unkar Plutt would discard her. Since she was sick enough that her normal high standard of persuasive debate was somewhat lacking, this made for a very tedious and heartwrenching argument.
"If he does, more fool him," Baze growled, when the argument had yet again circled around to the idea that Plutt would toss her out like yesterday's rubbish for her absence. "You're a good worker. Not that you should be, at your age."
"I'm old enough -!"
"Yes," Chirrut said calmly, with a frown at Baze. "We have discussed this."
Baze subsided; Chirrut heard the creak of his chair and the grumbling as he settled back into it.
"You have to work to earn stuff," Rey said, with a heartbreaking logic. "Like food. I have to work."
"Yes," Chirrut said patiently. "You have plenty of people to work for, even if Plutt throws you out. Old Manka, for one. And Baze always has more detail work that needs doing. You have a gift for that."
There was a pause; Chirrut knew Rey was staring at him, and then Baze.
"But where will I live?" she said finally, in a very small voice. "I'm not old enough to find my own -"
"Here," Baze burst out, emotion making him gruff. "Here. You can do an hour or so's detail work a day - help Chirrut with his stall - pay for your keep, if you want -"
"Yes!" said Rey indignantly, reminding Chirrut so much of Baze that he struggled to keep a straight face.
"- and live here. You can't read or write -"
"I can, sort of!"
"You'll need to know that to help deal with the business, so we'll teach you," Baze continued, ignoring her. "It's our responsibility to see you get fed, and yours to take care of yourself and help with the business. Understood?"
"Understood," Rey said readily. "I can start now, if there's anything -"
Chirrut heard her stir, and put a firm hand on her shoulder, pushing her down and tucking the blanket over her. "You can start now by resting and getting better," he said. "Baze can start now by going to fetch your things from Unkar Plutt."
"Should've known that would be my job," Baze grunted.
Chirrut smiled. "Yes. You should."
When Baze was gone Chirrut managed to get Rey to eat; she was hesitant at first, clearly costing out each free dinner in her mind, but soon relaxed at least a little, and eventually made quite a healthy meal. She was obviously tired, despite her protests that she could stay awake until Baze got back, and when Baze finally came through the door with a small bundle of Rey's possessions she was fast asleep.
"Any trouble?" Baze said to Chirrut.
Chirrut shook his head. "Any trouble?" he parroted back, smiling, as if they were sentries on guard at the sanctuary again.
"None," Baze said. A dark satisfaction rang in his voice as he set Rey's bundle down beside her bed with a clatter and knelt beside her for a moment. "The old fool tried to say she was bound over to him, but I put a stop to that." He paused slightly. "Everyone knows Rey was abandoned, not indentured."
"A waste," Chirrut said quietly.
"Someone else's loss is our gain." Baze paused again. "Maybe they were afraid of her skills. The Force-sensitive..."
"I know." Chirrut laid his fingers over the pulse of Rey's unhurt wrist, felt it beat light and steady against his fingerprints. "We may never know."
Baze was silent in a way that strongly indicated he was angry. Chirrut recognised the symptoms: the stillness, the tension. He let go of Rey's hand and reached up for Baze; Baze sat down beside him with a creak and a groan as he hit the mat Chirrut was sitting on, and gathered Chirrut into his arms.
"I'm not resigned to that," Baze murmured into Chirrut's ear, quiet so as not to wake the sleeping child. "Not yet."
Chirrut wove his fingers into Baze's. "I know," he said again.
Hover over the Spanish to read an English translation. :)
Spanish with special thanks to Eriah211 and Dog_Roses, without whose grammar and word choice corrections I would look very silly.
The house on Yavin IV never failed to give Leia a faint sense of vertigo. It was so nondescript; a decent little place in a decent little neighbourhood, not far from the Damerons, in an area full of other veterans, most of whom had children and almost aggressively normal lives and scars Leia knew off by heart. The house was freshly painted, probably because the owners had paid one of the girls down the street to do it. There were flowers in the window boxes and somebody had mowed the lawn fairly recently; Leia knew for a fact Poe Dameron had done that on his last leave.
There were also some carefully hidden cameras, unusually robust doors, and shutters that would hold under light blasterfire, and Leia could count at least three escape routes. She found these obscurely reassuring. She very seldom saw Cassian Andor or Jyn Erso out of their natural habitat, which was to say lurking in a dodgy cantina or the back corridors of the Senate with intel for her, and the idea of them with a little house in the suburbs made her dizzy.
The late-Imperial security droid that opened the door to her also struck an unusual note.
"Are Jyn and Cassian home?" Leia asked politely.
Kaytoo considered her. "Yes. But Jyn is ill. Much more so than she admits to. Please do not disturb her."
"Kaytoo." Jyn's voice echoed into the little hall, irate, and Leia felt a smile twitch at her lips. It was strange. The entire process of smiling felt rusty.
Kaytoo sighed, with an immense creaking of mechanical joints. "I don't know why I bother. Senator." He stepped aside, and Leia entered the house.
"Thank you," she said, her eyes sliding past the droid to the woman leaning down the stairs with one hand resting heavily on the banister. Jyn Erso was usually bursting with coiled energy and a sense of restlessness; even when she was still, she seemed like she might do anything next. Right now she looked tired and annoyed, her nose and eyes reddened, a blanket wrapped round her shoulders.
"Hello," she said, and sneezed ferociously. "Cassian's in the kitchen. If he's not out here to greet you by now he's probably set the caf pot on fire."
"Good afternoon," Leia said, in much the same tone. "Is that Corellian frijke flu? Don't come any closer."
"Well, I got it in Corellia," Jyn said, and broke into a series of hacking wet coughs. "But if you ask me it's just a cold."
"Go back to bed, Jyn Erso," Kaytoo said, folding his arms with a metallic clank. "I calculate you are -"
"Oh, fuck off, Kaytoo."
Kaytoo made an offended noise and stalked out of the house. Leia, who had seen them do this to each other hundreds of times over the decades since Rogue One had formed and scattered, paid no attention.
"Jyn," Cassian said, emerging from the kitchen at last, wiping his greasy hands on a tea-towel. "Please. Before you fall down the stairs again."
"That was unrelated," Jyn said, and grimaced as she shifted her weight. Leia noticed now that she was favouring one side. "I'll go back to bed if you'll take that burn to a meddroid."
"It's just a scratch."
"And that's just a cold," Leia remarked, meeting Cassian's eyes. "Cassian, I can't give you orders any more -"
"Ha," Jyn said, without any bite to it. "You could, and he'd listen."
Cassian sighed deeply. Leia controlled the twitch of her mouth.
"I'm going, I'm going." Jyn shifted round to get herself in a better position to drag herself up the stairs. "It's not good news anyway, Leia, so I'm not missing out on anything."
"Would it help if I said I wasn't expecting good news?"
"Cassian might feel less bad about delivering it."
Leia looked at Cassian, whose mouth compressed itself into a thin line for a moment.
"Better get it over with," Leia said. "Tell me the worst."
Cassian, who hadn't sugarcoated anything she was told since she was Princess Leia of Alderaan, nodded. He turned his head and called up to Jyn, whose stiff, halting progress had now reached the top of the stairs. "I'll bring you a hot drink."
"Please," Jyn yelled back, and Leia heard another explosive sneeze.
"Definitely frijke flu," she murmured.
"You try telling Jyn that."
"Honestly," Leia said, taking a seat at a scratched and scarred wooden kitchen table, "I know better."
Cassian allowed himself a raised eyebrow and a faint rueful quirk of the lips, and busied himself with the recently reassembled caf pot.
There was a long moment of comfortable silence; Leia felt herself relax into it instinctively. There were so few people she could be quiet around - had been so few people, over the course of her life so far. And most of them had left her. Mon Mothma, dead; Luke, disappeared. Han, leaving for long periods of time, demanding that she be someone she wasn't, accusing her of giving up on Breha, telling her to give up on Ben. Shara Bey, dead. Chirrut Îmwe, gone, somewhere.
Leia's stomach clenched. At least Chirrut Îmwe hadn't witnessed the disintegration of the Second Jedi Order, any more than Mon Mothma was here to witness the spreading cracks in the New Republic. Leia cared more about the latter than the former - she had built the New Republic with her own bloodied hands, and to see it creaking under the strain of oncoming darkness was heartbreaking.
But Leia's heart had been broken a number of times. She took a deep breath, sitting in the kitchen with familiar Yavin sunlight streaming in on her and her father's favourite spy making a pot of caf as easily as he killed off turncoats, and was surprised when it became a heavy sigh.
Cassian set a steaming hot cup of caf down in front of her and gave her an extremely small, lopsided smile. His dark eyes were bracketed with lines, now, the same way hers were. They were all old enough to be resting; to be leaving this kind of thing to the young whippersnappers. Leia ought to have had a teenaged daughter by now, an adult son. Cassian and Jyn had never had biological children, and remained so terrifying to most that no-one dared to suspect them of any nurturing impulse, but Bodhi had pointed out with some justice that the string of young waifs, strays and putative troublemakers who had been in and out of their lives over the last fifteen years could be accurately described as foster children. Leia thought she could count on those promising young sentients, fed by Cassian, worried over by Bodhi, taught the finer points of blowing things up by Jyn, the same way she thought she could count on Shara Bey's son for a squadron commander when the time came.
And the time would come. She was already almost certain of that, and she was fairly sure Cassian's news would make her certain.
Leia wondered for a split second what she might have been able to count on her own Breha for, what she might have been able to trust Ben with, and - as she always did when she thought of Ben - she felt wracked with a lightning burst of grief and guilt for how she'd failed him.
"You'd better not have frijke flu, too," Leia threatened, pretending as assiduously as Cassian did that he hadn't done that on purpose just to break her reverie.
Cassian shook his head. "Unlike some people, I turned up to the clinic to get a full panel of shots." But he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and Leia's eyes narrowed. Either one of the extremely rickety kitchen chairs had just caught him somewhere unfortunate, or Jyn wasn't the only one who had got hurt. She could see the bandage around one wrist, probably the burn Jyn had referred to; but what else had he contrived to do to himself? Jyn, Cassian and Kaytoo were exceptionally efficient - that was why they were still alive. The First Order were a slick operation for a fledgling bunch of privately-funded fascists, but they shouldn't have been sophisticated enough to see even half of Rogue One coming.
Cassian caught her eye and sighed. "It's not bad. We'll both go to the clinic and Lila Kalonia will shout at us."
Leia left it at that. She sat back in her chair, sipped at her caf and looked at Cassian. "Tell me," she said.
Cassian swallowed a mouthful of caf, and said, succinctly: "Brendol Hux."
There was a long silence.
"It's enough to make me wish I'd executed him," Leia said, fighting to keep her voice steady. Brendol Hux had been a good strategist and tactician for the Empire. A brilliant one, in fact. And wily enough, and just low-ranking enough, that they'd never been able to indict him on war crimes successfully. Leia had negotiated with him, at the fall of the Empire, and his eyes had been as grey as his uniform and as cold as the bodies on Hoth when he offered her his condolences on the destruction of Alderaan.
Leia had kept a straight face, and thought of how Jabba the Hutt's windpipe had felt when she crushed it.
Cassian compressed his lips. "He's put money into the First Order. But mostly he's committing space, facilities and expertise, which worries me more. His personal power base is significant, as you know. His son is up to the elbows in the First Order's command track - as brutal as his father, by all accounts, and heavily involved in their stormtrooper programme, which I'm almost confident is drawing its recruits from mass kidnappings and orphanage chains."
Leia's hands clenched around her mug.
"I've heard from a couple of Skywalker's old Jedi, too," Cassian continued, and Leia knew who he meant; former acolytes and partners of Luke's, who had scattered to fight the First Order in other ways after the destruction of the Temple. "In fact, one manoeuvred a meeting with Jyn, and passed us this." He produced a data chip from nowhere and set it on the table. "She said that the Order feels Dark no matter where you go. She did a little digging, and here's proof - the First Order is the Knights of Ren, and the Knights of Ren are all Dark Force-users."
Leia took in a shaking breath. "And Ben is with them."
"Whether he originally went willingly or not," Cassian confirmed. "Ben is with them."
Cassian shook his head. "Minna looked and found nothing. An absence of evidence is not evidence of absence - but..."
There was no sound in the kitchen but their breathing, and it was far too loud.
“ La estamos buscando, ” Cassian said, very low, in their first shared language. “ La seguimos buscando."
Leia closed her eyes.
"She was very small," Cassian said, so clinically that in that moment she almost hated him, even though that very capacity to force detachment was why she trusted his word, even though it had been him and Jyn and Kaytoo she had trusted with the search for her children. Even though that search had now been running nearly ten years, and all three of them refused to give up. "Young, sheltered, and valuable. She probably isn't alive any longer."
"So why are we still looking?" Leia said, and it came out in a whisper.
Cassian met her eyes, and his own were implacable. "Because neither you nor Jyn really believe she's dead."
Leia finished her caf slowly, staring at the scarred table. She blinked several times. Her eyes stung.
She remembered carrying Breha to bed in the dormitories, tucking her into the bed next to a sleepy-eyed, trustworthy older acolyte, kissing her soft rounded cheek and making promises, tu verás a Mamá en poco tiempo, en muy poquito tiempo, sí, Mamá te ama más que a todas las estrellas en el cielo, te lo prometo-
A week later the acolyte had been dead and Breha had been gone.
Leia swilled a gulp of caf round her mouth. It was made harshly, and caught at her throat.
"There's no word of Luke, either," Leia said, when the mug was empty, nothing but a ring of brown liquid at the bottom. "But he's an adult and can take care of himself."
Cassian shook his head. "Bodhi's furious."
"Yes, well -" Leia got up to make a new pot of caf, waving irritably at Cassian when he tried to get up, wincing visibly at the movement. "When Luke comes back, Bodhi can have first punch."
It was only fair. Bodhi had trusted Luke, after all, with a heartbreaking absoluteness, and Luke had used his trust to vanish into the galaxy. Luke had disappeared when Leia needed him - needed him all the more desperately with the rise of the First Order, especially with what Cassian had just told her about the Knights of Ren - but at least he hadn't used her to do it.
Bodhi had searched the Shaamun Nebula top to bottom. Leia had helped him do it.
Cassian made a non-verbal noise of acknowledgement.
"I get second," Leia said, staring at the steam caf pot. "And third."
She knew he was probably off doing something vital for the Jedi, for the Force, for the Light. Whatever he'd learned from Yoda on Dagobah - it had never quite worked with Leia's own way of understanding the Force - he had technically deserted to do that. And he'd come back a Jedi, one capable of turning Darth Vader's face into the Light and destroying the Empire. It had been important, he had been right, Leia herself had been far from Central Command at the time, but...
He had left without thinking about when or how. The Force drove Luke hard, and it drove him in directions Leia didn't always understand.
She wished so badly that he had just told her where he was going and what he meant to do. She understood why he'd felt the need to go on some mad quest to find the secret to rebuilding the Jedi Order for the second time; she knew the depths of the grief, the pain and the anger that had wracked him, and made him worry that he himself might fall.
But he'd just left, and here stood Leia. Separated from a husband who might still love her but who blamed her for not personally leading the search for a daughter who would probably never be older than four every minute of every day, facing the rise of a second fascist conquering force, feeling the knowledge that her son had succumbed to the Darkness and joined them like a shard of durasteel between her ribs. And she didn't even have her twin to stand by her.
The caf pot whistled imperatively. Leia took Cassian's mug from him and poured two cups; then thought, and put the kettle on with plain water.
Cassian raised his eyebrows at her when she handed him his mug, at the same time as he nodded his thanks.
"You owe Jyn a hot drink," Leia said, sitting back down at the table. "If I were you I'd spike it. You'll never get her to stay in bed and rest any other way."
A startlingly sweet, wry smile curled at the corner of Cassian's mouth, and Leia remembered better things than the loneliness that kept her up at night, the times during the first war when she had been separated from Luke and the absence of his presence had felt like a missing limb, throwing her off-balance, aching at nothing. She thought of Jyn and Cassian circling each other in sparring rooms, Jyn laughing with blood on her teeth and tell-tale red lip-prints on Cassian's mouth and throat. She thought of two people at least who still loved each other and were still happy, and prayed with a sudden, startling fierceness that they got to keep that.
"Well," Cassian said, without bothering to confirm or deny, and looked down at his steaming mug of caf. After a moment, he looked up again, and raised it slightly. "Old soldiers," he said.
"Old soldiers," Leia repeated, and drank.
"You creak in the mornings," Rey announced, standing over Chirrut in the shade and scowling ferociously.
Chirrut tilted his head up to the sound of her voice; with his feet stretched out he could feel the baking midday sun, and knew Rey must be returned from her morning's scavenging for the midday meal, which explained why she'd come to collect Chirrut.
"It isn't polite to say so," Chirrut observed.
He heard the rustle of protective fabric as Rey folded her arms, and a huffing noise that came direct from a frustrated Baze. He smiled.
"Help an old man up, Rey," he requested.
It was a process. He was stiff from sitting in one place for such a long time, and yes, as he had told Rey, he was old. He had seen many more years come and go than he could ever have predicted; by rights, he should have died on Scarif, more than a decade before Rey had ever been born. That would have been a pity, he thought, though he and Baze had both gone to Scarif recognising and accepting the strong probability of their own deaths. If he'd died on those beaches, he would never have witnessed a war won, the Jedi reborn, or Rey shining in the Force.
Rey lifted him to his feet with the careless strength of the young.
"You can still teach me staff work," Rey objected.
"That's because you're not very good yet," Chirrut said, listening to Rey collect up the moveable or valuable portions of his stall for the midday break, and heard Rey huff again. Truthfully, she was good for her age, and improving rapidly; she moved with the Force, drew on it instinctively to guide her, and was beginning to use it with an impressive fluency. She enjoyed it, too. Reluctant as she was to take on lessons with no practical purpose - persuading her to sit down to literacy lessons had been a nightmare at first, until Baze had convinced Rey that reading and writing fluently would make her harder to cheat, and that investing some time in that instead of further study of the innards of TIE fighters would be worthwhile - she had taken to the meditative forms and exercises Chirrut taught her, striving to remain as casual as if they meant nothing. She even, increasingly, took part in Chirrut’s prayers, though he had been careful to ensure that she only ever joined in the rituals when she wanted to, rather than out of her overactive sense of obligation.
She said the prayers and exercises made her feel peaceful. Thinking of the havoc a Force-user with Rey's power could wreak if they lost control, Chirrut could only be thankful for that.
There was a clanking noise, probably of Rey heaving his things over her shoulder, and Chirrut offered her his arm ceremoniously, smiling at her.
She snorted a laugh and took it, and they ambled home.
"You should move more," Rey said earnestly. Chirrut could hear the frown in her voice.
Chirrut's smile softened. "Getting old is preferable to the alternative, Rey."
"That's not what I'm talking about."
Rey's struggle with herself was almost audible. Chirrut left her to it, until they reached the small house - not as small as it had been when Rey had first joined them, three years ago - and Rey swung her burden down off her shoulder and sorted through it.
"It's a hard life here," Rey said unexpectedly. There was a clang as she put down a part with unnecessary emphasis.
Chirrut laughed. Rey was not sheltered; how could she be, with the life she'd led? But she was only fourteen, and her voice was still a child's. Her remark sounded strange.
"I have common sense!" Rey said, apparently outraged. "I know -"
Chirrut heard Baze's heavy tread in the sand, and turned his head to the other man, knowing a smirk was still dancing on his lips.
"What are you two arguing over?" Baze demanded. "I want my lunch, not to have to arbitrate between the pair of you."
"Rey was just telling me how hard life here is," Chirrut said sweetly.
There was a slight pause. "Well," Baze said gruffly. "The girl's right. Don't know what you find funny about that."
"See?" Rey said, and Chirrut heard her stamp into her room.
One of Baze's hands settled on Chirrut's back, and Chirrut turned towards him like a flower facing towards the sun. If there were such a thing in Niima Outpost, which by and large there wasn't.
They had talked about it. Niima Outpost was rough, and it wasn't safe. Chirrut now doubted their ability to hold off a concerted attack from even a small group of desperate individuals. In a few years Rey would be a formidable protector - but not yet, and as Baze and Chirrut had repeatedly tried to explain to her, it wasn't her job. There was also still no healer in Niima Outpost, and Plutt's grip on the oases and food resources only grew tighter. He wasn't fond of Baze and Chirrut, who had taken a promising young scavenger from him. He was even less fond of Rey, who now sold most of the fruits of her scavenging through Old Manka. Rey knew that; she knew the risks of remaining here, and perhaps she was also starting to be aware of Baze and Chirrut's doubts. But Rey was still convinced, Chirrut was sure, that the only way to find her family was to stay in Niima Outpost where they had left her. She still wore her hair in the three buns someone had taught her as a young child, a safeguard against their failing to recognise the abandoned four-year-old in the fourteen-year-old who had survived.
"We'll manage," Baze rumbled, low enough that even Rey's excellent hearing probably hadn't picked it up, and brushed a kiss over Chirrut's lips.
Chirrut smiled, and his hand curled into the back of Baze's shirt.
"Are you coming for lunch or not," Rey shouted from inside the house. Chirrut could hear terracotta and metal brushing together as Rey emptied their rickety coolbox and cupboards.
"Teenagers," Chirrut remarked, pulling Baze's head down to his a little, and Baze laughed.
Rey was quiet and thoughtful all afternoon, which made both Baze and Chirrut suspicious. She was as methodical as ever as she painstakingly went over the weaponry that Baze had handed her, remaking it into something that fired once more, or in some cases fired better than it had done. Chirrut sometimes daydreamed about what might happen if a lightsaber were to fall into Baze's hands - but that kind of thing would be quickly snapped up by another dealer, and Rey would probably not be enormously interested anyway. She liked to focus on her staff, on the blasters Baze had taught her the use of, and (whenever she could get to one) flight simulators. She would pick up a little of any skill if she thought it was useful, but would never really work on it unless she truly judged it important.
She was stripping down and reassembling a large blaster cannon with Baze's help when Chirrut returned from his afternoon's work in the market; Chirrut knew, because before his feet even came within ten metres of the doorstep Rey let out a warning yelp and Baze described a detailed minefield of carefully laid out pieces that would no doubt be ruined if Chirrut stood on any of them. Apart from that one noise, though, Rey spoke only when spoken to, and the small furrow Baze told Chirrut she wore between her brows was worrying them both. Sometimes Rey went quiet; she had been quiet for the last few days, and Chirrut and Baze had assumed she was working something out in her head. She did that occasionally. It usually led to some insight that was too mature for her years, or some remark that made perfect sense to a girl who couldn't remember ever living off Jakku but that made it clear she knew very little of the wider galaxy.
There was nothing to do but wait. Chirrut picked his way through the debris and went to make an evening meal. He tried not to think about what he and Baze would do if Rey said that when he and Baze left, she would stay.
He meditated with Rey after dinner, sitting cross-legged and listening to his own heartbeat, listening out for the Force. He could feel Rey's disquiet at first, something churning under the surface of her bright mind, and then that something settled, took on a new ease. She had made a decision, Chirrut thought, and steadied his breathing very consciously.
All is as the Force wills it. But it was impossible to know what the Force willed for Rey.
He tried not to be afraid for her, and said nothing. Baze waited until the two of them finished, a silent warm presence like a banked fire in the corner of their central room, and then spoke up quietly to offer them tea.
"Please," Chirrut said, bowing his head and then tilting it back; rolling it on his neck. He heard Baze and Rey both get up, and listened to the pair of them moving, Rey on light whisper-feet, Baze heavier, more decided, and with a slight halt in his gait. Old wounds, troubling him after a long day. Their kettle boiled, and there was a hiss as the hot water was poured onto tea-leaves, a crunch as the pot settled back onto the coals. Rey walked past Chirrut, touching his shoulder with soft, affectionate fingers, and checked all the bolts and locks on the door and the shutters. Chirrut listened to the squeaks and taps and rasps of her work.
"Don't trust me?" Baze grunted, setting a half-brewed cup of tea between Chirrut's palms.
Rey snorted, and returned no answer. She always checked the locks in the evenings, and had done ever since she came to live with Baze and Chirrut. Another one of those small things Chirrut stored up, to tell whoever had been responsible for leaving Rey in Niima Outpost alone.
"Sit down and drink your tea." Baze settled next to Chirrut with a grunt, and Chirrut leaned into his arm.
"Yes, Grandfather," Rey said, deceptively meekly.
"No respect from the young." Warmth curled in Baze's voice like woodsmoke on a cold night, and Chirrut smiled as Rey collapsed ungracefully next to him and leaned her head against his shoulder, the one not pressed against Baze.
Chirrut freed his arm and put it around her shoulders. He felt her bony back, the flat, wiry muscle of her shoulders and upper arms, and her loose hair streaming over her shoulders and the felted material of the wrapped jacket Baze had bought for her in the last cold season, coming to a roughly-cut end at her collar bones. Curious about the absence of her buns, Chirrut ran his fingers lightly through her hair and found that the top half had been pulled into a knot at the back of her hair, the rest left loose, the way Chirrut himself had pulled it back for her, once. All the novices and the younger monks had worn their hair like that, in the Holy City of Jedha. Chirrut had only shaved his off for grief when the city fell to the stormtroopers.
Chirrut thought of Baze's description of the jacket - thigh-length, nearly black, with a thin piped pale trim and a red lining, and a belt that was black on one side and red on the other, with deep pockets and cuffs that could be buttoned up at the elbow - and the loose trousers that Rey usually wore in the evenings. His heart jolted. She must look like a novice, and she had no idea, and suddenly that struck him as terribly sad.
There were a few long moments of companionable silence, and then Rey said tentatively: "There are villages. Near here. That are... better. More comfortable."
"We know," Chirrut said. His breath was very controlled.
"I could... I have the credits, now. To pay someone to keep a message. If we stayed close - my family could find me. Still. And you'd be more comfortable."
"We were thinking of Tuanul," Baze said carefully.
"Tuanul's nice," Rey said encouragingly. "I mean, I've seen it - from a distance. It's close, too. Less than a day on a good speeder."
"Handy," Baze agreed. "If you ever want to come back here for any reason, though Force knows it's a hole."
"Yes," Rey said absently, and then swallowed audibly. "I'll come with you. If you want me to."
"We were hoping you would," Chirrut told her.
There was a sniffling noise and a choking sound, as if Rey were trying to push back tears. Chirrut turned his head against hers in silent reassurance, and Baze reached one long arm around Chirrut's back and gripped Rey's closer shoulder firmly.
"None of that," Baze said gruffly. "Drink your tea."
Rey snuffled again, and this time when she said "Yes, Grandfather," both laughter and tears made her voice uneven.
The move to Tuanul, of course, was a pain. Their new neighbours were curious and suspicious, especially of Rey, who was still plainly a scavenger; thirsty scavengers had been known to attack herders and villages before now, and were unafraid to strip down a legally-owned speeder or droid set carelessly aside for a moment. Rey met their eyes clearly and said please and thank you for everything in the Coruscant accent that wouldn't shift, and Baze watched the people in the market and the small village square warm up to her.
Their own house was a little way out of town. Baze had always preferred cities to villages for their anonymity, and had considered the studied lack of interest shown by people in Niima Outpost to be its one positive trait. Chirrut took a mischievous joy in rumours, in spreading them and toying with them, but Baze had always been disturbed by the way a story mutates. There had been several bar fights, back in the day, that could be attributed entirely to distorted versions of the legend of Rogue One.
Baze was too old to start fights in the village's one tiny mildly illicit cantina - which thought it was very daring for not paying its liquor taxes correctly and giving the one inspector who sometimes flew out here a couple of drinks to stay quiet about it - so he growled and hitched his shoulders under the persistent itch of village curiosity and waited for them to become yesterday's news. It took a while, since the village had never seen a Guardian of the Whills before, and since it was, apparently, unusual to adopt a scavenger girl, and especially since few people dared to live so far from the village's walls and redoubts.
Baze, who considered the redoubts little more than decorative tissue paper, got Rey to stay home from exploring the local possibilities for salvage one morning, and went over all their own walls and fences. Rey built little security droids, too, sitting out on the edge of the flat porch and watching the sun set over the smudge of the village as she finished off her supper and twisted broken bits of droid back into working order.
Chirrut named them Kay One, Kay Two and Kay Three. Baze thought of a seven-foot-tall security droid who would be outraged, and snorted a laugh, and then Rey wanted to know why, so Baze started telling her stories of Rogue One without the disguises or obfuscations he'd used when they lived in Niima Outpost. He thought she was old enough, now, to learn about Jyn's viciousness or Cassian's self-hatred or Bodhi's fear; she had certainly seen worse.
"I didn't know you were with the Resistance," Rey said, sounding deeply impressed.
"Rebellion," Baze corrected.
"Or Rebel Alliance," Chirrut chipped in. "Princess Leia always preferred Rebel Alliance."
"They call it the Resistance now," Rey said. "Mattia told me in the market."
"That boy would tell you anything," Baze said, but a frown lowered his brows, and it wasn't because Mattia Leeun stared at Rey like he had stars in his eyes; he wasn't a bad kid and the Leeuns were good people, and Rey liked him. "Resistance, hmm? And now? That war was won before you were born."
"Maybe it's a new one," Rey said, with the unconcern of a desert girl accustomed to violence, and the confidence of a child who believed war would never come to a backwater like Jakku.
Chirrut lifted his head. Baze glanced across at him, and knew they were thinking the same thing. Mattia Leeun's mother was a pharmacist - a real pharmacist, not a healer. She got her medicines from Yarrow, two hundred miles away, and regularly fetched them herself. Of all the families to be up to date on the news...
Baze made a mental note to pay more attention to what was said around the bonfire in the village square, and ask Chirrut more questions about the things he overheard in his market chapel.
Tuanul remained quiet, sleepy, but in its own way a drastic change for them. Chirrut enrolled Rey in the village school, which she hated; he taught her more of the Force and the practices of the Guardians of the Whills, which she sincerely enjoyed. Baze watched her light the morning and evening lamps with old familiar ritual movements and pretended not to feel homesick; he saw her slide effortlessly through forms and wished she had a decent sparring partner. Neither he nor Chirrut was young enough for a real bout any more.
The days came and went. They grew more embedded in Tuanul, and Rey started to forget to keep her tally on the wall of how many days they'd been there, which meant she would curse and try to remember how many days she'd missed, and that she could no longer be sure her count was completely accurate. A storm came, once. Rey stood in it, spellbound, and caught a cold so virulent she practically hid from Baze and Chirrut, saying she was afraid it was infectious, and she was scared of giving it to them. Time passed - a dry season and then a drier one, and a mid-year celebration around a bonfire twice as large as Tuanul could reasonably afford: Baze watched Rey dance around the bonfire with Mattia Leeun, and trip him straight into the limited communications array when he did something to offend her. He let Chirrut drag him into the dance, allowed himself to be distracted from Rey's argument with the Leeun boy, whirled and stamped along with everyone else, though mostly in the wrong directions. They kept bumping into people, but everyone was drunk by this point, and no-one seemed to mind.
"We're happy," Chirrut yelled over the slightly discordant music.
"What?" Baze shouted back, cursing his increasing deafness. It was possible a life around large weapons and explosions had not preserved his hearing well.
Chirrut repeated himself at a bellow, pearly eyes alight.
Baze turned Chirrut under his arm, clapped twice and stamped with the beat, then twirled Chirrut again. He glanced around the firelit village, the sentries still on guard, the laughter and the half-empty tables of drink and food, Rey giggling with the few girls from Tuanul and the surrounding farms who were close to her own approximate age.
"Yes," he shouted back eventually, and was not surprised when Chirrut stopped them both dead in the middle of the dance and kissed him.
Rey had had a glass of irak, or perhaps two, it transpired; at the end of the night she was plainly tipsy and confident in her own ability to hide it. Baze snorted at her and Chirrut mock-earnestly pretended to agree with every word she said about her own sobriety, and the pair of them guided her home, let her sleep late the next day, and teased her mercilessly about it for most of the morning.
That evening Chirrut found her on the small flat porch outside their doorstep, eating her slightly off-schedule dinner and staring moodily out into the sunset. With the heavy bead curtain pulled half back, Baze could see the pair of them silhouetted against an orange blaze, the dark shape of Rey's head tilted towards Chirrut's. He drifted a little closer to the doorway, the better to eavesdrop, and the movement of his polishing cloth on already well-maintained blasters slowed.
"We've been here a year today," Rey said, and then added conscientiously: "Ish."
"That seems right," Chirrut said, with his usual cheerful calm.
"I... I'm fifteen, right?"
"We think so," Chirrut agreed.
Rey set her bowl aside and wrapped her arms around her knees, squinting out into the sun. "It's been eleven years. Since my family left."
Baze's hands had stilled entirely on the blaster.
"Do you think they'll ever come back?"
"I don't know, Rey." Chirrut paused. "You might have to go and find them."
Rey snorted. "How?"
Baze winced. It was a fair question, and he didn't think Rey would react well to a flippant statement involving the Force. Luckily, Chirrut was wise enough not to deliver one before Rey spoke again.
"Would you have come back for me? You and Baze, if it were you?"
"Yes," Chirrut said immediately. "Of course."
Rey was silent for a long moment, as if she were digesting this, and then she said - with a defiance that made it seem as if she was uncertain of this in her own mind, and trying to bolster herself -
"I don't think they're coming back. And I don't care."
"You don't owe them anything," Chirrut said firmly.
"No," Rey echoed. Baze thought he saw her hands form into fists by her sides. "I don't."
There was another long pause. Neither Baze nor Chirrut moved a muscle. Kay Three trundled across the porch and fell off the edge; Rey clicked her tongue and retrieved it, turning it over in her hands for several minutes and picking bits of debris out of its treads before setting it down in her lap.
"Will you meditate with me, before we light the lamps?" Rey said unexpectedly, still staring at her little droid. "I like it. It helps."
"Of course," Chirrut said calmly. "Here?"
Rey looked out into the sunset again, painting the sky pinks and oranges and dull blood reds. "Why not?"
The incomer arrived when Rey was sixteen. Baze was introduced to him in Tuanul village square, during the market, and took an unaccountable dislike to him instantly; maybe it was the faint hint of condescension, maybe it was the air of distance and floating above everyone else's petty concerns, or maybe it was the way his eyes widened when Violi Leeun said Baze's name. Baze knew a Core accent when he heard one, and one of the Rebellion's petty idealists when he met one.
Unfortunately, Baze also knew that he couldn't move from his stall while the market was on. Profits were doing all right, especially given the locals' appreciation of Rey's ability to see a use in anything and coax that use out of it, but they could always be better. He scowled and hoped that a ray of sun poking through the awning would explain it away.
Violi wasn't fooled. Baze didn't think the newcomer was either. Master Lor San Tekka - whoever he might be; San Tekka, the name sounded a little Alderaanian, but his accent was more Coruscant than Ciudad Alderá - bowed, said some polite words about his interest in meeting another devotee of the Force in Chirrut, and then wandered tactfully away. He was careful to wander in the opposite direction to Chirrut’s chapel.
Baze turned his attention to a fiddly piece of sand-sieve he had been adjusting. Violi Leeun sat down by his stall and laughed.
"What's so funny?" Baze said gruffly.
"I would've expected you to be nicer to a fellow outlander."
"It's a big galaxy," Baze said. "I haven't got something in common with everyone in it." He sighed, and set the sand-sieve down. "Where did he come from?"
Violi laid her hands on her knees, and tilted her head back a little, as if she was thinking of the best way to put it. "He says he belongs to the Church of the Force, and he's seeking a little peace. A hermitage."
"Ha," Baze said. "On Jakku?"
Violi shrugged fluidly. "No accounting for Core worlders."
Baze grunted his agreement. "Well. I'm sure he'll make things interesting. Does he bring news?"
"More than we get from that useless old thing," Violi snorted, jerking a disdainful thumb at the communications array. Baze knew Rey was itching to take it apart and put it back together again so it worked better, but her teacher at the school had gently discouraged her and the village council had said they preferred not to fix that which wasn't broken. Lost in the memory of Rey trying to face down an entire council of people twenty years older than her and more, and nearly succeeding, Baze's attention was suddenly jerked back to Violi by the change in her expression. "And he knows more than I get when I go to Yarrow," Violi finished, and tugged on her lower lip, raising her eyebrows. "Not that he's giving it away all at once. Interesting."
"Dangerous," Baze corrected, head spinning a little. "Where's he staying?"
"He's taking the old Geralt house. They're moving back to Yarrow."
One of the biggest in Tuanul, in the centre, by the square. Comparatively expensive, for a backwater like this... and not precisely a hermitage. Baze wondered if a man from the Core with Alderaanian connections who was well-informed enough to recognise Baze's name was, perhaps, expecting visitors. And if so, what sort of visitors.
"He says it will be ideal for services, though I told him there aren't that many who follow the Force around here. And I don't think that many are actually Church of the Force."
"Taking Chirrut's business," Baze grunted. "Are you expecting me to approve?"
"No," Violi said, with the cheeky grin her son had inherited from her. "No more than I'm expecting Mister Tekka to succeed in taking Chirrut's business."
Baze granted her the smirk her comment deserved, and said: "Maybe I'll pay him a visit."
"Try not to frighten him off," Violi advised. "We could use a little excitement around here, and he's the closest we've got for years."
Baze kept his opinion on that to himself.
In the end, he didn't have to pay a visit to Lor San Tekka. The man came to him, one evening when the sun was already low in the sky, and tripped straight over Kay One, which dutifully delivered a mild electric shock and set up a caterwauling noise that could be heard for miles.
"Here comes trouble," Chirrut said, mildly, but with a certain schadenfreude. All of them had been caught out by Rey's security droids at one time or another, and - after the whispers they'd heard, of the distinguished white-bearded man who asked casual questions about them just a little too often - Baze knew Chirrut felt, as he did, that it couldn't happen to a nicer spy.
"I'll go and put the kettle on," Baze rumbled, heaving himself off the bench they had installed outside their front door.
Chirrut didn't take his unseeing gaze from the figure of Lor San Tekka in his shapeless robe, picking himself up off the desert sand. "Make sure you stew his tea."
"Your wish is my command," Baze said sarcastically, and went inside to set the kettle on the banked fire, where parcels of food were cooking among the low charred coals. He gave thanks, in a general direction he tried not to think too hard about, that Rey was not at home yet, spending a rare day out scavenging on a wreck she thought she could pick a little cleaner. She had told Chirrut she would probably miss his evening prayers, which meant that she might not be back for another hour or two. Baze hoped very much that this was the case - or at least that they could get rid of Lor San Tekka before she returned.
Baze checked the kitchen baskets for the spare blasters, and tucked a small one into his boot. Not that he was planning on killing the man, but it paid to be prepared.
When he came back outside and lit the small beacon lights, though there was still plenty of sun to see by, Lor San Tekka had managed to hobble to the bench and was sitting beside Chirrut. Chirrut was smiling with a blank pleasantness that Baze found very ominous.
"Welcome," Baze said, though not in a particularly welcoming tone. "What brings you here?"
"I might ask the same question," said Lor San Tekka.
"Oh," said Chirrut, "we live here."
There was a brief, startled pause. Baze caught his snort in his throat before it could escape.
"I meant to Jakku," Lor San Tekka corrected. "I did not expect to meet Rogue One here."
"You haven't," Baze said. "Rogue One disbanded a very long time ago, and none of us use the name any more."
"I'd heard that," Lor San Tekka agreed, as mild and pleasant as Chirrut. He sounded like an elder statesman or a senior priest, placid with confidence.
"We didn't come here for any special reason," Chirrut said. "We are pilgrims. We go where the Force takes us."
"But it is a strange place to come."
"Tuanul?" Baze said. "Jakku? Or out here? Yes, this is a strange place for you to come, alone, on foot, so late."
Lor San Tekka merely smiled. "I have my reasons."
"I bet you do," Baze said. "Don't drag us into them."
The kettle boiled with a high sharp whistle; Chirrut got up and went indoors, returning with three steaming cups of tea, one of which was noticeably darker. Lor San Tekka drank it without wincing, despite its bitterness.
"I believe the Force has called you here for a reason," Lor San Tekka said with gravity. "As it has called me."
Baze drank his tea furiously and thought of that day in the marketplace, when he had first seen a scruffy little girl with clear hazel eyes and the Force draped around her like a cloak.
"The ways of the Force can be difficult to decipher," Chirrut agreed, taking his seat again. "And yet, I think perhaps that you have a slightly clearer notion of why you are here than we do."
A blatant lie: there was a very short list of reasons they were still on Jakku, and it began and ended with Rey.
Lor San Tekka was silent.
Baze sighed shortly. "What are you running from?"
Lor San Tekka looked at him too clearly. "Nothing. But there are those, perhaps, who would be glad to know where I am. As there are those who would be glad to know where you are - for kinder reasons."
Baze thought of Jyn, whose last message had been years ago, bumped from pillar to post and distorted; he thought of Bodhi, who had dropped them off near Ord Mantell and waved goodbye for now, more than ten years ago. He thought of Cassian, who probably had a list of places they might be, and Kaytoo, who had certainly organised it by the likelihood of their presence. And then he thought of the Rebel Alliance's Central Command, and snorted for real this time.
"We have our fair share of enemies," Chirrut said.
"Doesn't everyone who has lived a little while in the galaxy?" Lor San Tekka asked.
"No," Baze said.
"In any case," Lor San Tekka continued, "I fear we will all have enemies shortly."
"The First Order," Chirrut said calmly.
"You know of it?"
"We do get news here," Chirrut said. "A little."
"And you send news, I suppose," Lor San Tekka said.
"Not much to send out here," Baze said, rolling his empty cup between his palms.
"Surely Captain Erso and Colonel Andor were delighted to learn you'd adopted a granddaughter." Lor San Tekka shifted in his seat and sat up straighter. "I think I have seen her occasionally? Tall girl, with long dark hair?" His voice turned a little reverent. "She blazes with the Force. I don't think I've ever seen anyone shine like that, except perhaps Luke Skywalker and some of his stronger Jedi. She seems well-trained, though; it's a controlled fire."
"That's not why we took her in," Chirrut said, and Baze could hear the razor edge of his anger if Lor San Tekka couldn't. "She was a very young child, and alone."
"She must have been terrified."
"No," Baze said roughly. "She's always been fearless."
At this unfortunate moment, a silhouette appeared in the gathering darkness; a slender girl bent over a speeder with a heavy net of salvage, heading for the house.
"That must be her now," Lor San Tekka said.
"Yes," Baze said, and stood, folding his arms. "Listen, Lor San Tekka, or whoever you are. We don't care who sent you. We don't care what you're doing here. Just don't trouble us, and we won't trouble you."
Lor San Tekka looked up at him with calm eyes. "Understood," he said.
"That includes our granddaughter."
Lor San Tekka was wise enough not to hesitate. "Understood."
With a slight screech of brakes that needed modifying again, Rey pulled up at the house. She was wearing a helmet - Baze had insisted - but when she pulled it off, she still had her head and face wrapped against the sun and sand. Baze was suddenly, obscurely glad of that.
"I didn't know we had guests," Rey said.
"Master Lor was just leaving," Chirrut said.
Rey looked around her and plainly saw no speeder. "On foot?" she said, politely trying to hide her doubt.
"As to that," Lor San Tekka said meekly.
Rey looked at Baze and Chirrut for a long moment, eyes telegraphing confusion and a firm desire not to go anywhere after the day she'd had, and then unhooked her salvage nets from the side of the speeder. "You can borrow my speeder," she said firmly, and held out her helmet to Lor San Tekka. It was an old X-wing pilot's helmet; he took it gingerly, as if afraid of the ghost. "She's a very easy ride. You live inside the walls, so just clamp it outside your house when you get to Tuanul. Everyone knows she's mine, I can just collect her tomorrow."
"It's the only orange speeder on Jakku, that's why," Chirrut said. "It's a horrible colour."
"It's red," Rey said indignantly, "and how would you know?"
"Baze told me."
"Baze hates my speeder!"
"I don't hate it," Baze interrupted, enjoying Lor San Tekka's look of confusion - maybe he'd spent too long venerating Jedi and Skywalkers without ever hearing them squabble or complain. "I just think you should spend more time on the brakes."
"The brakes are excellent." Rey handed over the keys. Lor San Tekka did not look as if he knew what to do with those either. "Ignore him, Master Lor, he only does blasters and farm machines, he doesn't know a thing about vehicles."
"I've taken apart enough of them," Baze said contrarily, although it was true that he generally left anything actually intended to move to Rey's greater expertise - especially if it was supposed to fly.
"Perhaps you could come and collect it tomorrow morning?" Lor San Tekka suggested, and Baze wondered if he was going to have to punch the man to get the 'no interference' point across. "I rise early, as I understand everyone does here. A little after dawn?"
"I..." Rey looked at Baze and Chirrut. "Later would be better. I keep the hours with Chirrut."
"You're a Guardian of the Whills?" Lor San Tekka said, too obviously surprised for Baze's liking. Maybe he thought a girl like Rey, with more power than most could hold between their hands, should be a Jedi, all whirling lightsabers and moral quandaries. Maybe he thought the Guardians of the Whills were dead, along with the Holy City. Well, Baze would have agreed once.
"No," Rey said. "A novice." She stepped away from her speeder, dragging her salvage net. "Have a nice evening, Master Lor. You might want to leave soon; the pick-vultures hunt after dark."
"I thought they only scavenged," Lor San Tekka said.
Rey shrugged. Baze recognised a distinctive expression and tone of voice that came with Rey lying through her teeth for a reason she believed in very fervently. "It depends."
When Lor San Tekka had gone, Rey stared after his disappearing silhouette and unwrapped her scarves almost absent-mindedly.
"What did he want?" she said, slinging the loose cloth over her shoulder.
"To be nosy," Baze said.
"Stay away from him," Chirrut said. "He's going to bring trouble, and I don't think he's going to be intelligent about it."
"Hmm," Rey said, and then: "Aster Hardin said she heard the New Republic's going to split properly. She says she thinks there's going to be a war." Rey picked at the layer of cloth over her hip. "She says it won't come here." She sounded sceptical, though whether it was of Aster's pronouncement that they were safe in Tuanul or the war itself Baze didn't know. They had all grown warier over the last year.
Neither Baze nor Chirrut said anything for a long moment.
"Maybe we'll build a few more of those security droids," Baze said at last. "See if any of those village kids can shoot as well as you."
"But not today," Rey said.
"No," Chirrut answered. "Not today."
There had been a time when a call like this would have been the highlight of Leia's week; when she would have poured herself a glass of wine and curled up on a chair to relax in the moment, rather than to fortify herself.
But that had been years ago, when the children were still safe at home, and Breha might sit burbling on Han's lap, or a scowling Ben be persuaded to pass by the camera for a grudging wave. Leia watched the lights blink as her holocam made repeated attempts to communicate with Han's current ship, and then they flashed green as Han came within range. Leia supposed she should be grateful that she still had his latest comm details; Chewbacca sent them through, regular as the tides on Yavin.
Leia took a deep breath and glanced around the small, secluded cabin of her senatorial corvette. Her tiny staff had tucked themselves into the back of the craft in a different compartment, working on the breakdown analysis from their mission to Hosnian Prime, and in any case Leia knew Korr Sella and young Kaydel would keep quiet. The ship's small crew were taking their rest, and had all been vetted fourteen times over by Lando Calrissian. The pilot was the only person who might hear her, and Leia placed as much trust in Bodhi Rook as she did in any of her most loyal followers.
Leia pressed the button that would make the connection.
When the picture flickered into view, it was bluish, like the low-quality holos of Leia's childhood, the ones transmitted through deep space and not meant to be heard. Either Han had been cheap about the quality of his equipment, or he was an extremely long way away, dodging meteors in some ill-advised attempt to shave half a parsec off his latest venture. Or both.
He was plainly sitting in some kind of captain's cabin, though, and his half-reluctant smile was so familiar Leia missed him for one mad moment, a sudden burst of static in her chest.
"Princess," he said, and there was a softness to it that stopped her from complaining.
Her own half-reluctant smile made its way onto her face. "Han," she said, and took a sip of her wine. Han was rolling a bottle of beer between his hands, and Leia thought again of those other holocalls, the ones that had been the highlight of her week, the closest they'd ever got to a date night.
"Senate giving you trouble?" he said.
"What makes you say that?" Leia replied dryly.
"You're wearing white." Han took a gulp from his beer bottle. "I used to think I'd never see you wear white again. Except for Reset, but that's - that's different."
Leia glanced down at the white suit she was currently wearing, and recognised it - somewhat belatedly - as one that she had repeatedly worn to the Rebel Alliance's annual ceremony of remembrance. She hoped the press photographers who had swarmed on Hosnian Prime noticed that and took it as a bad omen. If the Senate didn't start paying attention to the massing forces of the First Order, it would be.
"Things are changing, Han," she said. "You must hear it coming."
Han shook his head. "Not out here. They're still all quiet. Waiting for a solution with words instead of weapons."
Leia thought of the most recent Senate session - their unwillingness to hear her, and the way she'd almost been thrown out because she no longer held a seat, regardless of who she was and what she had to say - which was to say that they'd disregarded her years of service and her increasingly compelling evidence, and focussed only on the fact that she was Leia Organa, once a Rebel commander, and wanted them to arm to defend themselves. She took a deep breath in, and another sip of her wine.
She'd even been accused of missing the war, this time. It stung because it wasn't entirely false: at least then things had been straightforward, with one great evil to fight instead of a million jobsworths. And at least Leia had been surrounded by friends and supporters and one smuggler who worried at her relentlessly until she ate and slept and drank something other than the pilots' foul caf.
"It's not going to happen, Han," she said. "They're sheep, they won't listen to me, and the First Order will take their willingness to concede and turn a blind eye as weakness -"
"So the solution is to arm the Resistance for war?"
Leia stopped mid-sip, hovered in midair for a second, and then set her glass of wine down before she could spill it.
"Have you got any better ideas?" she said, even knowing how this conversation would go.
"Go back to the Senate. Keep yelling at them. Don't give in, Leia, they have to listen to you -"
"I'm not -" Leia cut herself off and took a deep breath. "I've been doing that for the last three years, Han, and if you'd been here for more than five minutes at a time you'd have known that."
It was Han's turn to cut himself off and take a deep breath. "Leia, you know why I left - you know why it was a bad idea to stay -"
"I know you are the last person in the galaxy to talk to me about giving up."
Han's face twisted. "Breha," he said, and Leia's heart hurt so badly that for a moment she almost called out for a meddroid.
"Ben," she replied, when her chest no longer felt like it had been struck by lightning.
"That's not -"
"No, it's not! Ben was almost an adult when he disappeared, and we can be fairly confident he's still alive. Breha -" Leia's voice broke on her daughter's name, and she cleared her throat, forcing herself on before Han could expostulate. "She wasn't much more than a baby. She couldn't defend herself, Han."
"That's not a reason to give up!"
"And I haven't, but -" Leia choked on her words, and stopped. Her entire throat hurt, and an additional sip of wine did not help. "Han, can't you see -"
"I see you'd rather start a war than hunt for your daughter."
Leia felt herself flush with rage, and her grip on her glass tightened. "That's not fair," she spat. "And it’s rich, coming from the man who'd rather run away than plan to get back his son."
"There's nothing to get back! He's stewed himself in the Dark, Leia - even Luke -"
"Don't you dare," Leia hissed, "don't you dare, Han Solo - don't you throw my twin in my face -"
"Maybe he understands being half a Skywalker better than you do!"
"I am not -" Leia caught herself again. "You know who my parents are!"
"I know who raised you!" Han opened his mouth and closed it again like he was hunting for words; when he spoke again, she was pathetically relieved - and furious with herself for it - that he chose to be clumsily discreet. "Even Luke - You know what he said."
There was a good man in there once, Luke had said, quiet and exhausted in those days after Endor, but he was so twisted by the Dark - the Light in him had almost been strangled to death. It was the only thing Han could mean; the only time they'd spoken of him freely.
Like he strangled everyone who annoyed him, Leia had replied at once, conveniently forgetting how she herself had killed Jabba the Hutt, forgive me if I just don't care, Luke, and Han's arm across her shoulders had felt steadying and accepting. Like a man who had looked at her and said, I know your father is Darth Vader, and I know you. I don't care, Leia.
Leia had been so young, and Han had been so young, and maybe it was inevitable that they had both changed their minds.
"Ben has done so much less," Leia said. "Believe me. I know." Darth Vader had had twenty years to wreak havoc on the galaxy, and Leia had, one way or another, become privy to every relevant detail. The same was true of Kylo Ren; everyone effective seeking intelligence on him reported direct to her.
"You know what he's done."
"Breha - there are still leads, Leia -"
"And half a minute's thought would tell you all of them have been lies, but no, you plunge off into the middle of nowhere and leave me to deal with this alone -"
"You didn't want me there, General -"
"And why do you think that was, you couldn't open your mouth without calling me a bad mother for not dropping everything to chase ghosts -"
"You wouldn't listen!"
"You don't listen! If Breha's alive, if - if - the best thing I can do for her is stop this war as fast as I can! I know what wars do to children who are separated from their parents. Why do you think Jyn cares so much?"
Leia's gesticulation was a little too forceful; the wine slopped in her glass.
"Because she can't turn her heart on and off whenever she wants," Han snapped, and then looked shocked at himself. Leia almost spilled her wine. "I'm sorry - Leia, I'm sorry - that wasn't fair."
"No," Leia said, breathing through the blow; it landed where a hundred other similar blows had, adding to that long-purpling bruise. "It wasn't."
They watched each other for a long moment.
"I'll tell you," Han said at last, "if I find any sign of Breha. This is just a trading trip, but - you know I always listen out for her. You know you're the first person I'd call."
"I know," Leia said, and smiled without very much behind it. "I'll tell you, if the First Order declare war."
"You think they will?" Han said, and sometimes, times like these, Leia could believe he still trusted her judgement.
"No," Leia said. She took a sip from her glass and cupped the bowl of it in her hand. "No." She raised her eyes to Han's; his were serious, listening, she could tell even through the bluish distortion of the holocall. "I think they'll just start the war. The rest of us will be left to catch up."
"If that happens," Han said, "you'll have a head start."
They were both quiet for a moment, and then Han shifted his weight and took a gulp from his beer bottle. "Hey. Leia."
She lifted her head.
"You know I love you, right?"
Leia's smile was bitter. "I know," she said. "I love you, too."
It wasn't enough; that was the other thing she knew. With Breha's ghost and Ben's phantom and the crushed remains of the New Republic between them, it wasn't enough.
They signed off the holocall, and for a moment Leia sat quietly, twisting a gold and purple ring on her finger. Then Leia finished her glass of wine, set it down on a small side-table, and then wandered through into the cockpit. Bodhi Rook was slouching in the captain's chair and running hyperspace calculations. He'd sent his co-pilot away before Leia's holocall had started.
He looked up and nodded to her when she came in. A younger man, someone Leia owed less, might have saluted. She nodded in return, and sat down in the co-pilot's seat.
"How much of that did you hear?" she said.
"Enough," Bodhi Rook said, feeding another string of numbers to the ship's computer.
Leia sighed, and caught Bodhi's eye, and neither of them said anything for a while. Hyperspace streaked past them, as blue and distant as Luke's eyes.
"You think the First Order will just - what, open hostilities?"
"I know they will," Leia said. "If I knew where, or when - that might actually make a difference." She shook her head at herself.
Bodhi Rook made a non-commital noise. "Did the Senate listen?"
"Have they ever?"
"Sometimes," Bodhi said.
"Not often enough," Leia replied.
Bodhi let it slide. Leia leaned her head back against the chair and watched the stars streak past.
"Thank you," Leia said eventually. "For doing this."
Bodhi Rook had come to the Resistance not long after Poe Dameron; Kes had been furious, his son and his closest colleague signing up for a war he didn't yet believe in, but Bodhi seemed to let it all roll off him, the way he'd let the stares of the men and women at the Senate roll off him, with a minimum of the stuttering and avoidance Leia remembered from the last war. They knew Bodhi Rook's name, and Kaydel and Korr Sella had made sure they recognised his face, too. Bodhi had to know that had been why he was asked to take time from organising supply chains to ferry Leia to the Senate. He had to know that he was as much a living reminder of the cost of the last war as a trustworthy pilot.
There had been a great deal of staring. And Bodhi Rook had always been a very private man. Leia felt bad, though not bad enough to regret asking him to do it in the first place.
"No problem," Bodhi said, and gave her a quick, dark-eyed look that said he'd wised up to Skywalker twin tricks decades ago, and - while he hadn't decided whether or not to resent her for it - would have found a way out if he'd wanted one. He patted the ship's console. "I like your ship. Handles better than anything I've flown for years. She looks like a repainted senatorial corvette."
"She is," Leia said, and then, because Bodhi was politely not asking why she had a senatorial corvette when she was no longer a senator, said: "Han bought it for me when I left the Senate. He'd just had a business deal come off."
She'd wondered at the time how legal it was; she could see Bodhi wondering too. There were days when she never knew how he'd made a successful double agent. Perhaps Galen Erso had given him the information and sent him on his way at once.
Leia folded her arms. "It was a forty-fifth birthday present."
Bodhi glanced at her. "Thoughtful of him."
"He said I was still representing the Senate; they just didn't know it."
There was a long silence. Leia thought of D'Qar, and how much it reminded her of Yavin: fewer temples and less humidity, but the same sense of purpose, the same greenery. Leia had felt at home the minute the first runways went down and the first barracks were cleaned up, and it made her wonder if Han had been right; if she was starting a war just because it felt familiar and understandable when nothing else did.
She let out a short breath. There was no arguing with the intelligence that Cassian and Jyn and Kaytoo had brought her, and she was as confident as she could be that she'd made the right decision based on that.
"How long before we make planetfall?" she asked.
"Eight hours," Bodhi said, barely glancing at his computers.
It was a long way from Hosnian Prime to D'Qar - from the futile seat of the New Republic to Leia's fledgling prayer of a Resistance. She tried not to see a metaphor in that.
"I'll try and get some sleep," Leia said at last. "Get Kaydel or Korr to wake me up if we're attacked by the First Order."
A tiny smile curled at the corner of Bodhi Rook's mouth. "I'll do that," he said seriously.
Leia got up and went back to her small cabin, sparing a few words for Korr to tell her she wanted to sleep, and that she wasn't to be disturbed unless they found a previously unsuspected Death Star in the data. The cabin was quiet, soundproofed, and peaceful; it was small, but cleverly designed to make use of every inch of space. Leia had slept in bunks as crowded, or more so, for years: she had curled up with Han in corvettes like these for decades, Han's warmth solid against her back, his muffled complaints about the absence of legroom more than half a ritual.
It was always hard not to miss him when they'd spoken, and had done something other than just scream at each other.
Leia ran a finger along the rim of the single holoframe in the cabin, stuck firmly to a cabinet in case of a bumpy landing. It shifted between images; now Han, smiling at her on their wedding day and tucking blue flowers back into her braids; now Ben, teething on a tiny, round-cornered X-wing model; now Breha, mere months old, curled up against Leia's heart in a wrap while Leia voted in the Senate.
Leia's heart hurt. She hoped it was only grief: she had too much left to do. But the meddroid had cleared her last time Lila Kalonia dragged her to sickbay for a medical, wearing her new rank with comparative unease and her doctor's privileges like a second skin.
Leia lay down and called to the lights to turn off. They dimmed slowly to blackness, and she was left staring up at the ceiling, feeling Han warm and sleepy against her back, the weight of her children in her arms, the steady candle of her brother's presence not far away.
All of it was a lie, and Leia Organa was a practical woman. She turned over, pulled a light blanket over herself, and went to sleep.
She had no dreams.
The night they all sat round in the square in Tuanul and listened to a recording played off the news - atrocities in Qu'dan; one and a half thousand children missing; New Republic condemns the use of lethal blasters on civilians - was a cold one. Rey was wrapped in blankets and still shivering; Chirrut placed a hand on her shoulder and she stopped.
He thought it was not the cold that made her shiver.
"Children," she whispered, a half-voiced prayer edging into the hissed breath that came after, and Chirrut tightened his grip. He had been right.
Baze shifted slightly beside him, and Chirrut set his other hand on his husband's knee. He knew Baze was mentally running through all the precautions they'd put in place, all the villagers they'd taught to shoot and handle weapons as if they'd be facing down something crueller and stronger than hungry scavengers, the rebuilt redoubts and walls of the village that Rey and the other boys and girls of her age had spent half the winter sweating over, the escape plans they'd cooked up.
Not all of those plans involved getting the rest of Tuanul out alive, and Chirrut held that close to his chest, a sharp bitter thing that caught at his heart as if he had a burr stuck between his ribs. He and Baze were old men now, and the first responsibility they recognised was to Rey - not merely because the First Order would get its bloodied talons on their granddaughter over their dead bodies, but also because the thought of what an organisation like that could do with someone of Rey's raw power made Chirrut feel sick. Rey was well taught, highly controlled and possessed of a strong natural ethical sense; she showed no interest in being a Jedi and reviled the Dark side of the Force. But neither Baze nor Chirrut possessed any illusions as to what the right sort of cruelty could do to a fundamentally decent person.
Chirrut prayed that if - and it was looking increasingly like when - the time came, Rey would not refuse to go.
He heard her breathe in through her nose and shift; the blankets brushed his arm as she resettled again, the heavy, strong weight of her arm curving around his back. She leaned her head against his, and her loose hair brushed his neck as Baze got to his feet on his other side and went to talk to someone. Probably Aster Hardin's father, the strongest and shrewdest of the village men, and the only one who could lift and handle Baze's old shoulder-mounted blaster cannon - and therefore, by default, the leader of the village militia.
"I'm not cold," Chirrut murmured, and shifted his shoulders against the low terracotta wall they were sitting in front of. The bonfire had been built up high; it crackled now into the dead silence, the shuffling of people getting up and leaving. The only speech came in hushed whispers, and Chirrut couldn't catch any of it.
"Sorry," Rey said, but she didn't move.
After a few minutes, Baze came back, and pulled Chirrut to his feet; they held on to each other in silence for a long moment, and then Baze let out a sigh and said gruffly: "Let's go home."
For some reason, Rey's footsteps fell behind on the way to their larger speeder, and they both turned.
"What is it?" Chirrut said. "Not the Leeun boy. Surely not."
"No." Baze sounded quietly furious, the first rumble of a volcano. "It's Lor San Tekka. I told him to stay away."
"He generally does," Chirrut said in a vague attempt at fairness, though he was also annoyed; Lor San Tekka's footsteps passed by his chapel-stall without speech far too often for it to be anything other than a false casualness, and Baze frequently noted that the man was watching them. Chirrut tended to act up in response, seized by mischief, but Lor San Tekka always just smiled and moved on, according to Baze.
He also watched Rey sometimes, Baze said; out of the corner of his eye, and not in a fashion anyone else would necessarily notice. Certainly, nobody had commented on it either to Chirrut or Baze.
The night wind curled around them with cold, insinuating fingers, and Rey caught up with Chirrut and Baze, not even a little out of breath.
"What did he want?" Baze demanded.
"To tell me I reminded him of someone," Rey said, making a characteristic thud as she hopped over the side of the speeder to drop into the front seat. Her voice was thoughtful and wary.
"He's an old man," Chirrut said. "We see the faces of those we knew around us all the time. If we can see."
"Did he ask about your family?" Baze said.
"Yes," Rey replied. She didn't sound amused. "I told him my parents were spacers, and he knew my grandparents."
Later - much later, after lying awake under the blankets for some endless time - Chirrut rolled over and poked Baze in the ribs.
"Ugh," Baze grunted. "What?"
"Do you know who he means? Lor San Tekka."
Baze turned onto his back and stared up at the ceiling; Chirrut pushed Baze's hair, disturbed by the movement, out of his face. "Chirrut, nobody knows what that old bastard means. He does it on purpose."
"Rey has always seemed... familiar." Chirrut pulled his arms from under the stifling shelter of the blanket - curled up next to Baze, he was now far too warm.
"She reminds you of Jyn," Baze said. "She reminds me of Jyn too. And Luke." He sighed.
"Hmm," Chirrut said. Something was nagging at him. "You're sure...?"
"There's no big, obvious resemblance," Baze said, on another long sigh that clearly telegraphed that he had had enough of this, but was tolerating it, saint-like, for Chirrut's sake. "Not to anyone we know well. She doesn't look especially like anyone I can think of."
"It must be nothing," Chirrut muttered.
Baze said nothing for a long moment, and then he turned back over onto his side, throwing an arm across Chirrut's chest. "She does remind me of Luke, sometimes," he said grudgingly. "I think - I think of Jyn when I see her, sometimes, but that's not because she looks like her, or acts like her."
Little sister, Chirrut thought, with a sudden curl of affection for Jyn, angry and defensive and loving.
"Luke, though," Baze continued extremely reluctantly, "she... there's something in the face shape, square with that pointed chin, but more, the attitude to life, the way she talks sometimes..."
"That could very easily be coincidence," Chirrut said. "Coincidence, and the fact that the Force is both with them so strongly it could blind me again."
Baze huffed, and tugged Chirrut closer against him. "You exaggerate."
"Always," Chirrut said, and grinned into the night.
He couldn't stop wondering, though. What was it Lor San Tekka had seen? The man was dangerous, but that didn't make him a fool.
The stranger came to market two weeks later. Baze spotted his craft casually landed in one of the big paddocks just inside Tuanul's village walls - he must have been a sweet talker to pull that one off - and saw him wandering through the market, dull beige shirt and pilot's leather jacket, black curls and buckets of charm, going by the way he was chatting up Violi Leeun.
After a while, he disappeared into Lor San Tekka's house. So did the small orange and white droid following him around. Going by the vigorous peeping Baze could hear even with his dodgy hearing from the other side of the square, it was as opinionated as Kaytoo.
Baze narrowed his eyes and went to tell Chirrut to beware of handsome strangers, and then went to Violi's pharmacy to ask her what the hell was going on with the stranger. He was grateful, suddenly, that Rey had chosen today to bunk off her lessons and go scavenging.
Nothing Violi told him reassured him. A son of one of Lor San Tekka's old friends, in the neighbourhood, just dropping by - very handsome, wasn't he? And it wasn't surprising, that Master Lor had a visitor, given that he'd now been here three years.
Honestly, Baze wasn't surprised either. It had been three whole years without any of the trouble both he and Chirrut knew was coming.
The day was quiet. It didn't feel subdued to Baze; it felt like Jedha, a few weeks before the occupation, when only a few people had really understood what was coming for them. Deceptively calm, and almost dreamlike.
Baze clenched his fists and tried not to give in to his instincts and call Rey to come home. He had no reason to believe anything was going to happen - not today, not now. He watched Chirrut carefully and tried to keep his hands from twitching towards the comlink hung around his neck. All of them wore one to match; Rey had made them, for the fifth anniversary of the day she came to live with Baze and Chirrut. She had tuned up Elij Massa's speeder in return for etching their names into each link, so deeply and clearly that Chirrut could feel the letters on each one.
The sun set. Rey did not come home; they were not expecting her until after full dark. She had gone to a wreck some miles away, closer to Niima Outpost than to here.
Even Chirrut was keeping a wired, anxious grip on his comlink when Baze saw the first fires light up Tuanul. They were sitting on the porch bench in the darkness, no lights to show their small home, so every flame was a beacon in the night.
Baze got to his feet like a mountain rising. "No," he said, a growl grinding its way from between his teeth.
"What is it?" Chirrut said. His free hand was tight on his staff.
"They've come for Tuanul," Baze snarled. Even though his eyesight wasn't what it had been, he could pick up those red streaks of blaster fire: nothing like them, too bright even at this distance to be anything else. By the returning fire he could pick out the redoubts and walls, the positions he had trained their fighters to take.
His hands curled into gnarled fists. Once he would have gone straight to the village, plunged into the fight, but there was nothing he could do against what he guessed to be at least two platoons of stormtroopers, and he had Rey to protect.
"I'll call Rey," Chirrut said, staring sightlessly but unerringly towards the village. Baze could just about pick out his features in the darkness, twisted in a pain that was not physical.
"I'll pack," Baze said. It was half done already; perhaps it had not been entirely unconscious, the decision to put everything away so neatly, pack it tidily, put the essentials in the go-bags they still kept as a matter of habit.
Their large speeder was quickly loaded. Rey's, of course, was still with Rey.
Baze rejoined Chirrut on the porch as the fires of Tuanul spread.
"She's not answering," Chirrut said tightly. "Baze. She's not answering."
Poe Dameron ran towards his X-wing as the stormtroopers battered their way into the village, sparing a few moments for shots snapped off as he ran. He almost tripped and fell over his own rifle when he was ambushed by a tall, wiry young woman, who grabbed him by the shirt, dragged him into a deep shadow, and demanded to know what he'd done.
Poe tried to twist free, but the woman was strong, and she tripped him with a staff.
"Listen, kid," he gasped. "I have information. Important information. For the Resistance."
"You're with the Resistance?" The woman dropped him just as BB-8 caught up with them, and a strafing run blew up the X-wing. Poe shielded his face from the blast, and the woman spoke again, all traces of eager interest gone from her voice. "And you've brought the First Order here! Fucking Lor San Tekka! Grandfather always said. You have to get out of here, go on, go -"
"You too," Poe said, grabbing her wrist. She had to be in her late teens or early twenties, no older by her voice, and in a backwater like this she could have little experience of pitched battle. He couldn't leave her to charge in alone.
"They're my friends!"
"Yeah, but -" Poe glanced around and made a rapid decision. "We have to think this through, come on."
Once her mind was made up not to strangle him and dump him, she moved swiftly, leading him out through the village's surprisingly extensive defences and into the shadows. She stopped near where a speeder was parked; a small net of salvage weighed it down, and Poe could just about see that it was an incredibly offensive shade of orange, only slightly less virulent than his jumpsuit.
They took cover behind a small hillock of sand, and considered Tuanul - the thin slice of it that they could see. Poe saw that most of the adults and the older teenagers had been herded into the central area, by the communications array, and he knew that the youngest children, the babies and toddlers, would have been removed.
"What's your name?" he murmured to the woman who had ambushed him, as Lor San Tekka was brought forward. Poe's heart hurt. BB-8 warbled sadly and very softly.
The woman's harsh breathing didn't ease. "Rey," she said.
Poe blinked and looked sideways. He could barely pick out her profile in the darkness. It was a common name - he'd spent the last fifteen years startling every time he heard some variation of it. But he usually didn't hear it from young women of about the right age. And he never heard it from people who sounded so wrong for where they lived; that was a Coruscant accent, as Poe lived and breathed (and fully intended to keep on doing so). "Really?"
"I knew a girl called Rey." Poe squinted into the darkness; a line of children, between the ages of about five and thirteen, were being led into a sort of shed close to them, stormtroopers on the front and back doors. His heart sank, watching the troopers march into position, perfectly identical, perfectly in step - except for one with a bloody handprint smeared over his helmet.
"It's a common name." Rey swore in Huttese as the stormtroopers took up position. "What are they doing?"
"You don't get much news out here, huh," Poe said, although this particular chilling detail wasn't actually common knowledge. "They take the little kids, they torch the parents and the teenagers. But if they want something... they use the kids in between, the ones who are too old for - whatever they do with the babies - and use them for leverage."
Rey was silent for a second. Then she looked sideways at him. "What's your name?"
"Poe Tekka," Poe lied, and a sudden shiver went down his spine, as if all his blood had suddenly been turned to ice. He could just about pick out the accusing gleam of Rey's eyes.
"We don't have time for lies," Rey said, soft and angry.
"Dameron," Poe confessed. "My surname is Dameron. What's yours?"
"Haven't got one." Rey didn't look away. "What do they want, Poe Dameron? I know you know."
This was beginning to feel familiar and Poe couldn't work out why. "The information," he admitted at last. "It's a map. It's important. It has to go back to General Organa."
Rey bit her lip. "Right. You go to my grandfathers'. They'll have seen what's happening, they'll take you somewhere safe and get you off planet, to your Resistance." She pointed into the blackness; Poe squinted and could just make out a low line of markers. "Keep those on your left and run for about half an hour. You'll find the house - it's the only place out that way. Tell them I sent you. And tell them you need to see General Organa. Baze might not shoot you outright that way."
Baze? Poe pushed the familiar name aside and focussed on essentials. "What are you going to do?"
Rey braced herself against the sandy ground, ready to spring to her feet. "Make a mess," she said, and almost stopped Poe's heart in so doing. She was hardly more than a kid, and to be running into the battle alone...
Poe grabbed her shoulder, and she gave him a poisonous glare. "You can't do it alone," he said, and patted his rifle. "I got them into this."
"Lor San Tekka got us into this," Rey grumbled. "And what about your information? This has to be worth it."
Silently, Poe wriggled back down the hillock and handed the tiny chip Lor San Tekka had given him to BB-8. "You heard her, BB. Go to her grandfathers. I'll come and find you."
You'd fucking better, BB-8 chirped, winning a snort from Rey - but she was staring down at the hut where the older children were being kept, frowning.
"What is it?" Poe whispered, as BB-8 trundled rapidly off.
"Something," Rey said. "That stormtrooper - bloody helmet - he feels different, in the Force."
"What?" Poe said blankly, too shocked to even comment on the fact that this woman with a missing girl's name used the Force as well as speaking with an unmistakable Core accent and giving orders in a way that was so familiar Poe responded without questioning them.
"Different," Rey said, "look," and fifty metres from them, the stormtrooper with the bloody helmet shot his companion silently and lowered him to the ground.
FN-2187 was shaking and he felt sick. Sweat was running down the inside of his helmet and pooling at his neck as he let Slip fall slowly from his arms, the dying touch of Slip’s hand burning on his face like a brand. Blood ran slickly from Slip’s armour, trickling from the ragged hole where he’d been shot by a curly-haired fighter FN-2187 had barely glimpsed before the man vanished into the village’s outbuildings, and FN-2187 stared at the red stains in confusion. The village was in chaos; they'd put up a good fight, FN-2187 registered, better armed and defended than the stormtroopers had expected, but the First Order's firepower was still superior.
He looked up slowly. His fellow troopers were already sorting the civilians into groups.
"Get up, trooper," Captain Phasma snapped, and FN-2187 startled to his feet like a puppet whose strings had just been mercilessly yanked.
Phasma ordered him and FP-3846 to lead the five young villagers separated from their parents and older siblings into a hut, and FP-4279 and FP-1568 shook fuel over it and set fuses at its base. It would burn rapidly, FN-2187 calculated automatically, and - just as automatically - realised that he had been separated from his platoon. Standing at the hut's back door, staring into the darkness, he knew that could not be a good thing.
The children were crying. They were young; the oldest no more than twelve cycles, and he'd carried a child of five or six cycles into the hut. But they were not stormtroopers, FN-2187 reminded himself, and tried to add they didn't matter in his mind. The concept wouldn't take. He remembered the marketplace six months ago, on a planet he didn't know the name of, and felt himself shaking. He tightened his grip on his blaster.
FP-3846 kicked the back door. "Quiet," he ordered, and added "scum," with a disdainful shake of his head and shrug.
FN-2187 wanted to close his eyes. The children in the marketplace had been that age, too, and FP-3846 had called them 'scum', as well, the same way Hux did, with the same inflection. FN-2187 had fired over their heads; FP-3846 had aimed for their eyes. The other trooper was more senior than FN-2187 and had seen more combat, despite being from the same cycle, and he had recommended FN-2187 for reconditioning. The recommendation had got as far as Captain Phasma, who had considered it for an unsettlingly long time before turning it down, on the grounds that there was no proof FN-2187 had not aimed to hit the children.
It was after that that they'd been put on sanitation duty, for which FN-2187's squad mates had yet to forgive him.
"I said quiet!" FP-3846 barked, when one of the children crept to the back door whimpering, and aimed a kick at her which she dodged. "Unless you want to die now?"
"Go back inside," FN-2187 said, and knew instantly that he had said it too gently. The tilt of FP-3846's helmet said so.
"You're too soft on them," was all he said. But there was a savage glee in it FN-2187 recognised; the glee of being proven right, of putting FN-2187 forward for a fate FP-3846 was convinced he richly deserved. "The captain should know."
"It's your duty to tell her, then," FN-2187 said calmly, heart hammering. He had closed the hut's screen door properly, but he could still see the child, watching him from the shadows. Her eyes reminded him of Slip's, pale and oversized and too knowing. Mostly what Slip had known was that he was running out of time; this girl seemed to know it too, and that grated on some part of FN-2187's soul that he knew a good stormtrooper didn't possess.
He also knew, as a good stormtrooper did not, that he too was running out of time.
After a few silent minutes, FP-3846 turned his head slightly to the side. FN-2187 saw his blind spot move into FN-2187's frame of vision as clearly as if it were painted on the other trooper's helmet.
He raised his rifle and shot FP-3846 cleanly, and then he caught him before his body hit the ground and lowered him gently to the sandy floor. The screen door was well-maintained: when he opened it it didn't creak.
He pulled off his helmet and knelt down to speak to the girl with the pale eyes. "How quiet can you be?" he whispered. "And do you know the way out?"
A hand wrapped around his mouth and a blaster touched the side of his throat very gently; he choked off a scream.
"I do," said a woman's voice, half breathless, ringing with challenge.
"Rey," whispered the girl with pale eyes, and her face lit up in a smile.
At the little house outside Tuanul, a small orange droid rolled out of nowhere and immediately picked a fight with Kays One through Three. Baze waded out and separated them, and passed the security droids to Chirrut to deactivate and pack away into one of those neatly locked cupboards, ready for the unlikely day when they might come back.
"Where in all the Force-damned hells did you come from?" Baze demanded, scratching his head. The droid was warbling at him, something imperative and urgent he couldn't translate because it was too fast.
"What is it, Baze?" Chirrut said, making his way out towards Baze with care. He tapped the droid with his staff, and the droid reared back and produced a small electrical prod. Baze glowered warningly at it.
"A droid," he said. "Small. Orange. Obnoxious." He addressed himself to the droid. "What do you want? Talk slower."
Are - you - grandparental figures - Designation-Rey, the droid peeped, with a sarcastic slowness that reminded Baze a little of Kaytoo - distantly, somewhere at the back of his mind, somewhere that wasn't petrified for Rey.
"Yes," he said flatly. "Why?"
She - said - come - here, the droid continued. Have - important - mission - for - General - Organa.
Baze stared at it for several moments, then drew a deep breath and let it abruptly out again.
"What is it?" Chirrut repeated, betraying impatience. His hands were tight on his staff, and Baze knew he was afraid.
"We're going to the first rendez-vous," he said. "The Resistance is here, as well as the First Order."
Poe wasn't sure who had lost their mind in this situation: himself, the renegade trooper, Rey, or all of the above. The children were quickly and quietly led back to Rey's speeder, and Rey managed to pack all five of them on, helping them secure themselves with straps and telling them where to run, and how much to sell the salvage for if they had to pay their way. Poe was just wondering how the hell they were going to cover the noise of the speeder when he heard the noise of a shuttle landing, and the trooper - who had shucked off his armour, so that he would be less easily spotted in the darkness, and given his blood-smeared helmet to a little girl who seemed fascinated by it - went ashen.
"Kylo Ren," he said over the sound of the shuttle, and Poe felt a shiver down his spine. If the trooper was right, they were all about to face the First Order's most feared tool. "You have to go!"
The speeder sputtering to life was drowned out entirely by the landing. Poe, Rey, and the trooper took a firmer grasp on their weapons, and turned back to Tuanul.
"What's the plan?" the trooper said.
"Make the biggest diversion possible," Rey said before Poe could speak. Poe closed his mouth. "Then get out of here." Her mouth twisted, like she was uncomfortable with leaving before she'd freed all the villagers.
"The hut will go up if we blast it," the trooper offered. He was trembling slightly, and staring in the direction of the now-landed shuttle. "But we have to go fast. Kylo Ren -"
"I know, buddy," Poe said, and shuddered himself. Colonel Andor had told him about Kylo Ren in exhaustive detail before even letting him off D'Qar for this mission.
The trooper blinked and looked at him. "Well, thank fuck, someone has some sense."
Poe considered the events of the past couple of hours and decided to let the trooper keep thinking that.
"So," Rey said, as they edged round the village. She looked like a hunting cat, moving silently in the darkness, heavy blaster in one hand and staff in the other. "We need to give the adults an opportunity to break out. The Leeun boys and the Hardins are desperate for it - I can see them. Strike rapidly, take out part of that stormtrooper circle while one of us blows up the hut - you see that house there?" She pointed. "There's a weapons cache in there. So we hit the stormtroopers there." She looked at Poe and the trooper. "You come with me," she said to the trooper, "and you, Poe Dameron, go and blow up that hut."
Poe made to protest; she shouldn't be stuck with the trooper. No offence to the guy, but he'd never heard of a stormtrooper turning, and he had no reason to believe that this one had turned for good. His friends were all still here, the squad mates he'd always known: he could run back at any time. But then his mouth fell shut. The trooper had killed a fellow trooper to rescue five young children, and he'd never heard of that, either.
He made his way back to the shadows behind the hut, and waited the count of thirty that Rey had asked for. Then he tucked the butt of his blaster rifle carefully against his shoulder and fired at the hut, aiming for the fuses he had seen the stormtroopers lay. At least one of them caught, and the hut lit up like a Reset bonfire, roaring to life. Screams and shouts from the villagers became a roar of rage, and as Poe scrambled backwards, shielding his eyes from the light and hiding himself in the shadows once more, he glimpsed part of the stormtrooper circle collapsing and Lor San Tekka looking around, visibly bewildered. He must have expected to become a martyr for the Resistance hours ago.
Poe felt fierce victory rush through his veins, and savage joy drew his lips back from his teeth as he watched the villagers of Tuanul beat and fight their way out of the circle, seize fallen blasters or steal stormtroopers' weapons and fight back - and then a nightmare swept into the market square, and a coldness seized Poe, every inch of him.
He slid backwards into the night and began to make his way cautiously around the village as Kylo Ren quelled the villagers with a wave of his hand that forced them flat to the ground. He hoped the Force had warned Rey early enough for her to pull herself and the trooper out of the way of that compulsion.
Before even a minute was up, he met the trooper hurrying the other way, half-carrying Rey. Her face was screwed up in an expression of pain and nausea, dimly visible in the capricious orange glow from the still-burning shed; she was not limping, and Poe couldn't see any blood. She still had a tight grip on her staff, but the blaster was tucked into the trooper's belt.
"The second she saw Ren she got this headache," the trooper said, in a breathless, petrified whisper. "Practically collapsed. We've got to get out of here, Dameron - you don't know what Ren can do."
"I have a good idea," Poe muttered back, lifting Rey on her other side. She was solid; must be at least five and a half feet of wiry muscle.
"I've been deployed to Starkiller Base," the trooper said, "that's where Snoke keeps him. He's -"
Several of the villagers rose into the air, choking, and fell. Their families' screams covered Rey's sob of pure rage.
"Left," she whispered. "Left here. There are speeders."
She brought them to a small, backyard-like paddock of two speeders, one big enough for the three adults who needed to leave, and which looked like it had the engine power to lift all three of them over the village wall, which hadn't been breached here. Rey pulled herself from Poe and the trooper's grasp, and staggered over to this one. Her face was slick with sweat, her hair damp, but her hands were sure as she pulled a panel off it and began to hotwire it. Poe and the trooper turned their backs to her and kept watch - not that it would do any good, if Ren noticed their disappearance.
"You know how to fly that?" the trooper muttered to Poe. "'Cause I don't think -"
Poe clapped him on the back silently. "I can fly anything, buddy. Best pilot in the Resistance."
That got him a surprising flash of a grin. "I fucking hope you live up to the hype, then."
Rey let out a small, stifled groan, and dropped her tools. Instantly, the trooper turned and hurried to help her, and Poe stared urgently towards the drama going on in the village. From this angle he could see nothing, though he could hear Lor San Tekka's low, wise voice reproaching Kylo Ren, and the sibilant dark croak of Ren's replies.
The trooper worked fast. It felt like agonising minutes later, but was actually seconds, when the speeder sputtered into life, quietly but still too loudly; Poe leapt onto it as if electrocuted, and helped the trooper drag Rey onto the back. Her head was lolling, but she grabbed at the speeder and feebly tried to help herself, so she was presumably still in there.
"Go, go, go!" the trooper hissed, as they heard running feet and shouted orders. Poe gunned the engine and forced them over the wall, and they sailed into the night.
FN-2187 clung to the back of the speeder, sweating and shaking and feeling distinctly separate from his surroundings. He held tightly to the woman who had dragged him into this, her solid weight pinning him to the seat, and prayed that she was all right, that Ren hadn't got inside her head, the way he could - the way FN-2187 had seen him do, to prisoners and traitors.
For less than half a second, before Dameron wrenched them off the road, they came directly within Ren's line of sight. He was holding his lightsaber, red as Slip's arterial blood and crackling with malice, and his head was lifted in a way it almost never was; usually FN-2187 saw him with his head tilted down from his great height, stooping like a vulture.
Rey stirred in his arms and raised her head. Her eyes came open, and she stared at Ren: blankly, so far as FN-2187 could tell, blindly. He couldn't see much of her expression, from his vantage point - but what he could see looked soft and puzzled and afraid, like a confused child.
"My name is Rey," Rey croaked, and passed out again.
"Uh," FN-2187 said.
They didn't stop weaving and ducking and hiding for about half an hour, by which time they had lost the limited pursuit and Rey had regained full consciousness and control of herself.
"We have to go to my home," she said, the moment she was speaking in full sentences again, and clambered over the speeder until she was sitting in the driver's seat. "If they go out there - my grandparents will never be able to defend themselves. They're strong, but they're old!"
"Speaking of your grandparents," Poe said, and got an imperiously pointed finger in his face.
"No," Rey said categorically. "Not until I can talk to them."
Then a comlink around her neck started beeping, a low blue light flashing, and she grabbed it, held it to her ear, and listened to the message. Her face grew grim. "Change of plan," she said, and threw an indecipherable look at both of them. She dropped the comlink back into her shirt, where it dangled on its chain, and swerved sharply left. Poe found himself hanging tightly onto the stormtrooper just to stay balanced. He hadn't been aware you could twist a speeder at that angle.
About another half an hour later, during which Poe contemplated asking her to slow down and decided that he preferred to keep all of his remaining limbs attached to his torso, they pulled up at a deceptively large hollow in the ground with some dead vegetation, dried bone-white by the sun, where an oasis had once been. Only once they reached the lip of the hollow did Poe see the two men waiting for them with a large, well-packed speeder, its lamps lit and dimmed to avoid detection: very old, grey-haired, and plainly extremely worried, but Poe stared at them and saw legends.
Their gazes were focused on Rey.
"Why didn't you answer your comlink?" Baze Malbus, member of Rogue One, hero of Scarif, demanded.
"We were worried sick, Rey!" the equally legendary Îmwe exploded, a frown creasing features that had always been peaceful or mischievous in the holos Poe had seen. "Do you have any idea -"
"Yes," Rey said, sounding penitent, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I was at Tuanul-"
"That is not an improvement!"
"I thought it would give me away," Rey said, throwing her hands up. "We have to go, we may have been followed -"
"Who's we?" Baze growled, squinting dangerously at Poe and the stormtrooper.
At this point, BB-8 managed to propel itself out of the speeder and flung itself across the sandy hollow at Poe, screeching imprecations. You banthafucking little shit! You said you'd come back! You didn't say say anything about being chased by Designation-Evil-First-Order-Sons-of-Bitches!
Rey giggled, a sweet, bright and wholly incongruous sound. Poe was knocked off his feet by ten kilos of furious droid.
"I take it the angry little stripe-melon is his droid," Chirrut said, folding his arms.
"Looks like it," Baze said.
"Ease off, buddy, I did what I had to," Poe croaked, shoving BB-8 off his diaphragm, and (unable to stop himself) added: "Colonel Andor isn't going to believe a word of this."
There was a short silence.
"What?" said Chirrut.
"Who?" said Rey.
"Uh," said the stormtrooper, who looked both overwhelmed and fidgety when Poe prised himself off the sand and got a good look at him, "you know, we've got, uh, a bit of a First Order problem...?"
"Who in all the Force-damned hells are you?" Baze demanded. He was holding a rifle, and looked more than prepared to use it. Poe didn't blame the stormtrooper in the slightest for lifting his hands above his head.
"I used to be a stormtrooper," the stormtrooper said, sounding distinctly doubtful. "I think I'm a traitor now."
Both men turned their stares on Rey, who raised her hands defensively. "He feels different. In the Force. And he shot another stormtrooper to save a lot of children - it was his idea. I couldn't leave him behind!"
"I don't want to go back," the stormtrooper added hastily. "I mean, I don't want to die, but I'd rather die out here in the desert than go back, or get caught, and they're going to catch us if we don't move."
"Hm," Chirrut said. "What's your name?"
"Uh," said the stormtrooper, "I - my designation is FN-2187."
"You don't have a name?" Poe said, shocked for reasons he couldn't quite parse. Maybe it was that the stormtrooper looked so human with his helmet and armour gone, the speeders' dimmed lights gleaming off the thin film of cold sweat on his handsome features.
"Only officers rate names," FN-2187 explained, as if that made sense at all. "Most stormtroopers never get that far." His face twisted; Poe wondered what he was thinking.
"You can change that," Rey said, with a gentleness in her voice that surprised Poe. "And you can put your hands down now. Grandfather won't shoot you."
FN-2187 lowered his hands very slowly. He was staring at Rey with wide dark eyes, and in the faint light Poe could see a look on his face like Rey was the dawn - dawn with one more sun than expected, awe-inspiring and beautiful and kind of alarming.
Poe squinted at her profile. Now that they weren't in immediate mortal peril, she was so familiar, and there was a half-stunned voice at the back of his mind saying maybe, maybe -
"And you," Baze Malbus said, making it plain that he had not forgotten Poe or any of his possible misdemeanours. "Who are you? And how do you know Cassian Andor?"
"My name's Poe Dameron," Poe said. "My parents are Kes Dameron and Shara Bey. I grew up on Yavin IV."
"I remember Kes Dameron," Chirrut Îmwe said, tapping the end of his staff in the sand. "And Shara Bey. So you're their son, are you?" He tilted his head to one side. "What does he look like, Baze?"
"He has the face of a friend," Baze pronounced, and then tilted his head on one side and scowled. "And an extremely bad spy."
"Well," Poe said, huffing out a small laugh and raising his hands a little, placatingly, "I'm more of a courier than a spy, really." He turned to Rey. "Uh, I was just wondering - who are you? Rey, is it short for anything? Are you from round here?"
He could hear the trembling note of excitement in his own voice, for all he tried to tamp it down, and knew it was too much from the way Rey's face twisted with annoyance.
"No, it isn't," she said. "And I'm not from anywhere else."
"Can this wait?" Rey said peremptorily, folding her arms and scowling at him. More familiar than ever. Poe was probably going to be on the business end of that facial expression when he got back to D'Qar, just for the sheer amount of chaos he had managed to trail behind him on Jakku. "FN-2187's right. The First Order will be chasing us. We need to go."
"We need to get off-planet," Chirrut said. There was a strange timbre in his voice that Poe couldn't parse until he saw Rey's mouth fall open, and heard the panic in her reply.
"But - my family -"
"It can be temporary, Rey," Baze interrupted. He sounded resigned. "They can't come back for you if you're dead or worse. And believe me, the First Order will choose worse."
"That means we need a ship," Rey said.
"Yeah," Poe said. "Doesn't matter what sort of ship, I can fly it -"
"You really are Shara Bey's son," Chirrut said, and smiled genially as Poe flushed with pleasure. "Shut up."
Poe let his mouth shut with a snap. Chirrut's smile broadened.
"It means Niima Outpost," Rey said, scrubbing her hands over her head, wrapped in a cap that presumably protected it from the sun; she readjusted it on the way down. "But we'll never be able to buy one, or pay for passage, and you know how they charge there when you're desperate..."
"It's been a long time since we stole a ship," Baze said. "But we probably haven't lost the knack." He laid down his rifle. "You know where Unkar Plutt's shipyards are, Rey. The hidden ones."
"They're guarded," Rey said.
"Not a problem," FN-2187 said, and coughed when they all turned to look at him. "I mean, uh, I'm presuming everyone here can handle themselves. And they won't see us coming."
"Right." Baze gave them an assessing look. "That speeder is overloaded; one of you needs to come with us."
"Dameron," Chirrut said firmly. "Rey, you take our new nameless friend and lead the way."
Poe hesitated. Defector or not, FN-2187 was still...
He glanced at Rey, who drew herself up to her full height and glowered at him exactly like Baze. "Go on," she said, and made a small gesture with her staff. "Get on with it."
She climbed onto the stolen speeder, and FN-2187 followed. Reluctantly, Poe climbed into the back of Chirrut and Baze's speeder; it was a little cramped, and he struggled to rearrange himself as Baze got into the driver's seat and took off at speed after Rey and the stormtrooper.
"Uh," Poe said, "can I just say, it's an honour. I grew up with so many stories of you -"
"Save it," Baze grunted, and Poe fell silent. Dark hillocks of sand, barely distinguishable from the black sky or the hulking dunes that shielded their lights from pursuers' eyes, sped past.
"How are they?" Chirrut said, with much less hostility. "Are they all still alive? Despite Jyn's wildest schemes?"
"Yes," Poe said quickly. "Yeah, uh, they were all well, when I last saw them. I think Kaytoo's gone through a chassis or two since you last met. Although I don't think any of them are too happy right now. War, the Organa kids disappearing, Luke Skywalker vanishing while out searching for... something..."
"Disappearing?" Chirrut said. "We heard they were dead. We sent a message..."
"Oh!" Poe exclaimed. "No, and - uh, this might be important. Very important." His voice was shaking with excitement again. "See, Ben Organa... we know what happened to him."
"He's still alive?"
"Yes, but, uh - his little sister. Breha. Nobody knew what happened to her, nobody's had any news of her for years." Poe leaned forward, hand on the seat in front of him. "How old is -"
"No," Baze snapped. "We are not talking about this when Rey is not here. You wouldn't know, Dameron, and we'll forgive you that, but Rey has been cheated and lied to long enough over her family. Whoever they are. Bastards who left her behind."
"Right," Poe said, sitting back. "Okay."
"She was seven when we met her," Baze began, and then stopped abruptly, hands tightening on the controls. "Chirrut. You tell it."
"She was seven," Chirrut repeated, and sighed. "She told us she had been here three years. On Jakku, that is; she was dumped in Niima Outpost by someone. All she knew was that her parents were spacers, that they were coming back for her, and that her name was Rey. That's all." He turned his head, looking sightlessly out into the night. The stars were beautiful here, Poe would say that much for Jakku. "We persuaded her to trust us and adopted her when she was eleven or so. She has lived with us ever since."
"That was a good thing," Poe said. "A good thing to do."
"You knew the Organa children?" Chirrut said.
"Used to babysit Breha," Poe said. "Ben..." He stopped, and rolled his lips together nervously, thinking of that nightmare dressed in a billowing black cloak. Ben had been bad enough as a child, volatile and harsh; you could only predict his actions when Breha was around, when his harshness would melt into a protectiveness even Poe had respected. "I don't think any of us really knew Ben."
"Hmm," Chirrut said, and blessedly did not say anything else about that. "Why were you sent here?"
BB-8 let out a string of profane bleeps and whistles about classified information which Poe hoped were too fast for Baze and Chirrut to follow.
"It's okay, BB," he said, resting one hand on the droid's dome. "I was sent looking for pieces of a map which Lor San Tekka has- had."
"He's dead, then?" Baze said gruffly.
"I think most of the village must be," Poe said. He leaned back into his seat and looked down at his feet. The memory of that firelit circle of implacable stomtroopers, the children herded into a small dark hut, and Lor San Tekka crooked but proud in the light, wouldn't go away. He cleared his throat, but his voice was still rough when he spoke again. "They'd - the stormtroopers. They took the babies from the parents, put the teenagers and adults in a firing circle, put the young kids in a hut rigged to burn to use as leverage... FN-2187 was guarding the back door. He killed the other guard and let the kids out. Rey grabbed him and dragged him along with us, sent the kids away on her speeder with some salvage to pay their way, and I blew up the rigged hut to cause a diversion while Rey and FN-2187 took out parts of the firing circle. The villagers broke out, but then... then Kylo Ren arrived." Poe swallowed. "Have you heard of him?"
"No," Chirrut said. Baze had fallen ominously silent.
"He's a Sith, or something like that." Poe thought of the places he'd flown relief missions where Ren had burned swathes through towns and cities, the twisted bodies left behind, the whispered tales of cruelty. "He's... I don't think they stood a chance." He shifted a little in his seat. "FN-2187 said Rey got a terrible headache the moment she saw him. We practically had to carry her to the speeder. We would never have got out alive if Ren had been a bit faster."
Neither man said anything.
"I'm sorry," Poe said, wondering how long they'd been living there, how well they'd known Tuanul.
"There was nothing you could have done," Chirrut said eventually. His voice was distant.
The wind rushed past Poe's ears, and he remembered a flypast he'd once done of the Holy City of Jedha - what remained of it. Baze and Chirrut had actually been there as the city collapsed into a ruined sinkhole miles wide.
"What's the map for?" Baze growled eventually.
Poe considered the highly classified nature of his mission, and then decided that the degree to which everything had already gone tits-up was so great that information sharing with heroes of the Rebellion was likely to be the least of his problems. "It's a map to Luke Skywalker. He went searching for - something, nobody knows what, to defeat the First Order, and the Sith who destroyed the temple. Razed it, actually, killed everyone inside but Ben and Breha Organa. There's nothing left of the New Jedi Order except a few scattered individuals." Poe fell silent. "It's been years."
Chirrut looked over at Baze. "We should have come back sooner," he said, his voice heavy with grief. Poe wondered how much news they'd had, over the fifteen years since anyone had seen them alive. They'd spent at least twelve of those years in backwater Jakku, so probably very little; he looked down at his hands and twisted his jacket between his fingers, and wished he'd had a better way of telling it.
"We couldn't have done," Baze said, his own voice rough as he steered them over a field of quicksand, trailing his granddaughter closely. "Rey."
"You couldn't have brought her with you?" Poe asked. While he recognised that the sudden irruption of First Order troops onto Jakku had more to do with Lor San Tekka's presence and his own arrival than anything else, it still seemed an exceptionally bad place to raise a child.
"Rey knows two things for certain about herself," Baze said flatly, following the young woman in question through a twisting, turning wadi. "That nobody else told her. One: her name is Rey. Two: her family are coming back for her. Rey is convinced that that will only happen if she's near Niima Outpost, which is where she was abandoned."
"But if she's - who I think she is -"
"We warned you once, Dameron," Baze said, with a certain finality.
Poe let his mouth shut with a snap. BB-8 warbled at him, and he rubbed a hand soothingly over the droid's dome. "Easy, buddy," he murmured. "Easy."
The darkness cloaked them. Poe settled back into his seat with his rifle on his lap, and tilted his head back to stare out at the sky, and try to pick out the stars. He wasn't familiar with the Western Reaches; he couldn't identify a single one.
The little girl he'd babysat since she could first babble his name had grown up here, unimaginably far from home, believing herself forgotten and unwanted, without even familiar stars. It made Poe's chest ache and his throat close up.
Jyn and Cassian had an office to themselves because the vast majority of the Resistance was either frightened of them or unnerved by the close synchronisation in which they moved, and it was incredibly cluttered. That, Leia thought, leaning against the doorjamb and watching Jyn forge something with meticulous hands, was Jyn's influence. Cassian liked things neat. Jyn, cat-like, enjoyed the little frustrated noises he made when things were not neat.
Leia counted herself privileged to know both of these things. She almost smiled at the obsessive tidiness of Cassian's desk, and the contrast with Jyn's, exploding with datapads, material, and bits of weaponry, some of which were outlawed under several galactic conventions. Leia chose to turn a blind eye to those: there was absolutely no way Jyn would listen if she remonstrated with her.
"Come in, General," Jyn said, her voice somewhat muffled by the way her tongue was caught between her teeth.
"I'm already in," Leia pointed out. "Captain."
"It's polite to make up for your superiors' bad manners," Jyn shot back, holding the identity card up to the light. She was distressing it; making it look a little worn and carefully used. "At least, that's what Cassian says."
Leia removed a stack of flimsis from a chair and sat down. "Cassian has known me for forty years and still uses usted."
"Breaking news, Leia," Jyn said. "He's never going to stop."
"What did you come here for?" Jyn laid the card down, propped her chin on her fist, and widened her durasteel eyes at Leia.
"The pleasure of your company," Leia said very dryly.
"Bullshit," Jyn said, sitting right back and propping her feet on her desk. Leia noticed that despite the apparent carelessness of the motion, she didn't set her feet on anything.
Leia rolled her eyes at her. "Any word from Dameron?"
"No, not yet," Jyn said. She frowned, and tapped a spare small screwdriver against her knee. "Normally I wouldn't expect it. He's not late. But I'm hearing rumours of a big raid on Jakku..."
Leia took a deep breath; clouds rolled over her heart.
"Nothing confirmed," Jyn said. "And for all we know it might have been the wrong side of the planet. I've heard nothing from Lor San Tekka, but he wasn't meant to be in contact anyway."
Leia let her breath out. "Tell me if you hear anything."
She remembered when Kes and Shara's little boy had been someone who counted on her for sweets and a hug; she remembered thinking their bright-eyed young man was someone she could rely on. She remembered ordering him to Jakku. She remembered the way he'd smiled when he accepted the command.
Leia shook her head, and pushed those thoughts forcibly out of her mind.
"I suppose there was another reason I came here," she admitted.
Jyn glanced at the calendar glowing the date on the wall. Then she leaned back a little further and retrieved a bottle of moonshine probably brewed by X-wing pilots and two battered metal cups.
"Nineteen," Jyn said, pouring out shots into the cups. "Is it a good age for normal people?"
"I wouldn't know," Leia said, watching her hands. "I was watching my planet get blown up."
Jyn went still for a second, apart from the slight flicker of her eyes. She raised her cup to Leia - to Breha - and drank. So did Leia.
"She'd be old enough to drink now," Leia said, and almost sneezed on the sharp hard burn of the alcohol running down her throat. "But not this."
"Kept us warm on Hoth," Jyn said, clearly amused. She hadn't sneezed or coughed.
"Well, I hope she's got some better way of keeping warm, if... if." Leia stared over the top of her cup into the middle distance, past the rough grey duracrete of the wall, flaking under the cream paint.
Jyn said nothing for a while. Then she looked down at her cup, looked up again, and said: "Everyone thought I was probably dead, too."
Leia's eyes stung. She smiled at Jyn, and clinked her cup with the other woman's.
"Here's to precedent," she said, and drained her cup.
The group arrived at Plutt's secret shipyard shortly before dawn, the oncoming light already thinning the dark wash of the sky. FN-2187 and Rey were tucked neatly into a shadow; Poe noticed the way he was backing her up, like he'd been looking for someone to reinforce. When Baze, Chirrut and Poe stealthily slipped into the shadow next to them, her pat on FN-2187's hand looked an awful lot like reassurance.
What the hell is going on here, Poe thought, but not with any particular force.
"Which ship would you like to fly?" Baze said to Rey, and her stifled delighted laugh told FN-2187 and Poe - glancing at each other in, for once, total mutual understanding - that it was an old joke.
"That one," she said, pointing at one that gleamed in the halogen lamps of Unkar Plutt's security lights, blazing into the pre-dawn greyness.
"No," Chirrut said, pointing at a shape off in the distance, rendered fuzzy by shadow. "That one."
They all squinted at it.
"Grandfather, you can't even see it," Rey said finally. "I've been all over that ship. It's garbage."
"Uh," said Poe, thinking about the frankly absurd number of models he had built of this ship and schematics he had hand-drawn as a kid.
"It's stolen property," Baze said, a pleased note in the rumble of his voice. "Stealing it back would be only right."
"This is Unkar Plutt we're talking about," Rey said. "Probably ninety-five percent of this is stolen property. And the other five percent couldn't break atmo if you stuck a hyperdrive up its arse."
FN-2187 and Poe both stifled sniggers, and Rey cracked a brief smile.
"You don't get it, Rey," Poe said. "That's the Millennium Falcon." He couldn't mistake that shape, or the cockpit pod gleaming just under the cover of an immense tarp.
Rey's mouth fell open. "That ship? That ship made the Kessel Run in fourteen parsecs?"
"Twelve, I heard," Poe said, grinning at her. "She's a legend."
"Okay." Rey looked at the ship and shrugged. "I still think we can do better."
"No," Chirrut said, and there was a finality to his voice that - going by the way Rey glanced thoughtfully at him and Baze and ducked her head - she respected. "This is the right one."
"Okay," Rey repeated. "Well. We'll have to go round."
Baze assigned FN-2187 and Poe to move one of the speeders round, while Rey helped them with the other; FN-2187 suspected that they wanted to make sure FN-2187 and Poe weren't going to kill each other outright at their next opportunity. They were in a hurry, the light rising in the sky with every moment, but they couldn't afford to rush it; Poe remained calm and patient and easygoing, so much so that FN-2187 was almost suspicious. This was not how he'd been taught the Resistance treated First Order members caught off-guard.
"Rey and I were talking about names," he said after a bit, helping Poe manoeuvre the speeder out of a rut.
"Oh yeah?" Poe said, a little breathless and distant.
FN-2187 thought of the list they'd discussed, and the explanations that had come along the way. "She said I could call myself whatever I liked."
"Well, that's true," Poe said with a grunt as they both heaved and the speeder came free. "Although FN-2187 sounds kind of like a droid, buddy."
"There are worse things," FN-2187 said, and was surprised when Poe darted him a thoughtful, almost puzzled look. They hopped back into the speeder, and Poe sent it spinning round the corner, towards a position closer to what was apparently a legendary Rebel ship as well as a hunk of junk.
"Well, what did you pick?"
"I'm picking," FN-2187 said, even more surprised that Poe showed any interest. He knew the other man wouldn't even have brought him along if he'd had free choice; whatever Poe Dameron had been up to, it was plainly too sensitive to let a potentially unreliable recent defector loose on. It had been Rey who had insisted. "Between Efan and Finn."
Poe sounded them both out, extremely quietly; they were now lying within rifle range of a sentry droid. "I'd go with Finn. It sounds more different - if you want more different. A cleaner break."
"I want more different," FN-2187 confirmed. Poe gave him a quick, distracted, but genuine smile.
The droid moved across the sand, silvery in the sinking moonlight, and Poe swore. "I can't drop that from here, not for certain," he said. "Can you?"
"Yeah," FN-2187 said, glancing at the droid to make sure. It was a straight shot, though an intimidating distance, he supposed.
Poe handed him the rifle as if it was nothing - a Resistance fighter, who'd killed troopers without thinking about it, who'd shown no special fondness for FN-2187, handing him a weapon. FN-2187 took it, trying to conceal his astonishment, and lined up the shot. He breathed in, steadied himself, and squeezed the trigger.
The droid collapsed in a shower of sparks before it could send a distress signal to its companions, and a similar shower of sparks told FN-2187 that Rey had just dropped its pair, across the valley.
"Nice," Poe said, with a low, appreciative whistle. FN-2187 grinned at him. "Did Rey explain about family names?"
"Yeah, but she said you didn't have to have one. She doesn't."
Poe got a very odd look on his face. "Well, there's a lot of defectors that use Rook, after the most famous defector. I'll tell you about him, some time. Unless Baze and Chirrut get there first - they really know the stories, they were there." FN-2187 heard awe in the Resistance fighter's voice, and part of him wondered what he'd got himself into, and if it was more likely to be fatal than reconditioning.
The radio in the speeder crackled imperatively. FN-2187 glanced up at the sky; it was still quiet, still dark, but streaks of orange and pink were appearing on the horizon.
"Yeah," he said. "Some time."
They met Rey, Baze and Chirrut on the ship; Baze had already driven the other speeder into the cargo bay, and Chirrut, by the sound of the tapping and distant, shouted remarks, was exploring. Half of his commentary seemed to be cheerful references to the 'bad old days'. Looking at the ramshackle state of the ship, FN-2187 was astounded that they had even survived the bad old days.
FN-2187 followed Poe through a labyrinthine, antiquated series of passages that he seemed to know by heart to the cockpit, where they found Rey already in the pilot's seat.
“Hey,” Poe said, “do you want, uh. Do you want me to fly?”
“No,” Rey said, running through a prepare for takeoff sequence.
“If you’ve never left atmo -”
“You have no idea what’s been done to this ship,” Rey said, let out a noise of disgust that included the words ‘compressor valve’, and scrambled over the back of her chair to rip a panel off the cockpit wall.
FN-2187 saw Poe wince. He nudged the Resistance fighter gently. “Hey, man. She knows what she’s doing, okay?”
Poe sighed, and FN-2187 slid past him to take a look at the controls. He’d heard of General Han Solo, of course, had studied his tactics - learning from the enemy, so as not to repeat the Empire’s mistakes - but he’d imagined the man’s famous ship to be a bit less… ramshackle.
“This is a radar screen, right,” he said, peering at a round, flat, greenish screen. It didn’t look anything like the ones the First Order used, but the general concept seemed about right, and the more he stared at it, the more ice water trickled gently down his spine.
“Yeah, buddy,” Poe said. “Why?”
“‘’Cause there’s something on it, and it looks an awful lot like a TIE fighter formation.” FN-2187’s hand shook as he pointed to it.
“Force damn it,” Poe said, lunging across the cockpit to get a closer look as Rey slammed the panel back on and vaulted into the pilot’s seat. “Fuck, you’re right.” He dropped straight into the co-pilot’s seat, buckling himself in. “Warn the others! This is going to be rough. BB! Get settled.”
FN-2187 ran back to the cargo bay, nearly tripping over the little droid in the process, and found that the speeders had been strapped down and Baze was now trying to persuade Chirrut to take a seat instead of shoving his nose into every nook, cranny and smuggler’s hideout. FN-2187 babbled an explanation, which caused Baze to frown thunderously and Chirrut to beam.
“We’ll have to outrun them,” Baze snarled.
“I’ll need a seat near the action,” Chirrut said helpfully.
“You can’t see any of it!” Baze snapped. “And what you think you’re going to hear through the hull -”
“There is so much more to life than merely seeing,” Chirrut informed him, and Baze let out a frustrated growl.
“Get into one of the gunner’s pods,” he ordered FN-2187, who was staring between them like they were taking part in a wrestling match and he wasn’t sure who to back. “I’ll get this old fool sitting down and tell Rey to get us in the air.”
The ship lurched. FN-2187 thought Rey probably didn’t need telling.
He managed to get himself into a gunner’s seat several moments after Baze, who plainly knew the ship’s layout, and was more familiar with the pods’ workings. For a minute after Poe and Rey wrenched them into the air, bickering all the while about the modifications Unkar Plutt had ordered to the Falcon, FN-2187 spun crazily in his chair, making himself nauseous and the guns twist wildly. Eventually he regained control and got his head straight, and stared out of the pod’s viewport.
“There,” Baze said tightly, over the intercom. “You see them, trooper? Straight ahead.”
“I see them.” The Falcon was now blasting over Niima Outpost, FN-2187 could see running and screaming below them as the tents and markets were ripped up by the wind of their passage, but the TIE fighters were coming up close behind, throwing up clouds of dust behind them.
“Well, pick your targets, then, go on,” Baze said impatiently, as the TIEs screamed into firing range, and green lasers powered through the rapidly lightening sky. “I know you can shoot.” His own guns swivelled into action and blasted, close but not close enough as a green laser clipped the Falcon and both Poe and Rey swore.
FN-2187 took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger. The guns blasted, but he missed, and then he tried again panickily, and missed - and then he took a deep breath, steadied himself like he was on the rifle range rather than fleeing the First Order’s enforcement arm as a deserter, and fired again. This time he caught a glancing blow to a TIE’s vanes, and it lost control and crashed to the ground, taking out a tent on the way and bursting into flames. FN-2187 gulped, wondering who had been on the ground and if the pilot had been one of the ones who didn’t think stormtroopers were less than human, but Poe and Rey cheered over the intercom, and Baze told him gruffly that that hadn’t been bad shooting.
There were a lot of TIEs, and the Falcon’s shielding was poor and its gunner’s pods old; Baze’s guns failed as they ducked and dived and tried to lose the TIEs, never getting enough distance to hit atmo and go to hyperspace. He swore a string of words FN-2187 had never heard - and interestingly some old ones that troopers sometimes used, ancient ones so old FN-2187 wasn’t sure what they really meant - and started acting as a spotter and a teacher for FN-2187, picking his targets and critiquing his shooting.
“I’m getting a masterclass here,” FN-2187 remarked, struggling with the gyroscope, which had suddenly become sticky. There were now only two more TIEs following them, but the Falcon was whining and the TIEs were getting closer, bolder. “But, uh -“ he threw all his weight into shifting his seat, and found he couldn't move to respond to the TIEs, so they only had to evade one fixed position - “I’m stuck, Rey, I can’t move!”
“Okay! Okay. We have to lose them.” Rey sounded breathless; equal parts excited and scared.
“Lose them where?” Baze said suspiciously. “There’s no cover around here! Oh no - oh, karking hell - Rey!”
“Just don’t think about it too hard, Grandfather!” Rey shouted, and then suddenly they were nosediving straight into an old imperial star destroyer’s wreck. Everyone but Rey yelled in horror as sawn-off corridors, rusty vents and torn hull-casing whizzed past.
“It’s fine!” Rey cried, apparently under the impression that this was soothing. “It’s the Emperor’s Pride! I know it like the back of my left hand. Literally!”
“You are in so much trouble when you’re finished here!” Baze bawled.
In answer, Rey shifted the Falcon abruptly, swinging them past an old elevator shaft half-stripped of its casing and almost invisible in the dim shafts of light. One TIE, failing to see it, crashed straight into it with an explosion that made the entire destroyer shake, a creaking groan that FN-2187 could hear in the gunner’s pod. He swallowed hard, and decided that dying here was still better than being reconditioned.
“Okay. Right! I’m going to line the last one up for you.”
“Yep!” FN-2187 said, trying to hide his terror and clenching his sweaty hands on the controls. “Okay!”
Rey twisted and whirled the Falcon through the old destroyer’s skeleton, ignoring the tight silence from the rest of them, and then suddenly she wrenched them up into the sunlight through such a tight gap that Poe couldn’t stifle a swearword and FN-2187 felt all the air leave his lungs.
“Now!” Rey yelled, flipping the Falcon over to give FN-2187 the perfect shot as the TIE zoomed up behind them, and then it was in FN-2187’s sights, and he squeezed the trigger hard. A flurry of blasts caught the TIE dead-on, and suddenly all FN-2187 could see was the blossoming fire petals of an explosion, debris bouncing harmlessly off the gunner’s pod.
He and Poe and Rey were all shouting, and what they were saying FN-2187 didn’t really know; he ripped his headset off, shinned up the ladder and bolted into the central room to meet Rey, who crashed into him with delight.
“That was incredible! You were incredible! The perfect shot, how did you -“
“You were brilliant, I’ve never seen anyone fly like that, how -“
“Anyone else would have missed! Well, okay, maybe not Grandfather, but anyone else -!”
“It was you! I couldn’t have done it without you!”
“Take the credit -!” Rey stopped, and slapped him lightly on the shoulder. “What did you pick?”
“Finn,” Finn said. “My name is Finn.” Her eyes were shining, and he couldn’t catch his breath.
“Take the credit,” Rey said, said, softer. “Finn.”
“Beautiful work,” Poe said, after a moment, clapping Rey on the back; she grinned up at him like the sun, and gave him a quick hug as well. Finn noticed the tiny moment of wistfulness that flashed across Poe’s face, and wondered what he knew about Rey, or wanted to know. “You have nerves of steel, Rey!”
“What possessed you?” Baze growled half-heartedly, as he joined the reunion. “Diving into a wreck like that.”
Rey smiled at him, not the slightest bit put off, and darted into his embrace when he held out his arms to her. Poe looked sad again, for some reason Finn couldn’t follow and was suspicious about.
“The Force was with me,” she said cheekily, drawing a groan of frustration from Baze and a delighted laugh from Chirrut.
“Always,” Chirrut said, “the Force is always with you - and on a not unrelated note, who is flying the ship?”
“Autopilot!” Rey said, “I set a course to leave atm- oh, no, no, no.” She dropped straight out of her grandfather’s arms in response to a wailing klaxon and sudden curls of whitish smoke pouring from a panel, and both she and Poe dashed for the panel. “Masks! All of you! Grandfather, where did Han Solo keep the safety masks?”
“I don’t even know if Han Solo ever had a thing like safety masks!” Baze said, suddenly at Chirrut’s side and tensed as if to respond to some enemy.
“He did,” Chirrut said, turning and exploring the cupboards set into the bulkhead walls nearby with deft hands. “They were somewhere around…”
“Find them!” Poe said. Both Rey and Poe had gone headfirst into the open panel; Rey, smaller and more familiar with the ship, had disappeared it entirely. “This is poisonous! Finn, buddy, pass me that wrench-“
Finn seized the nearest one and thrust it towards the pair with shaking hands.
“No!” Rey said. “Not that one - no, not that one - look where I’m pointing - yes - give it here!”
Finn practically threw the wrench at her, and wondered if now was a bad time to think that Rey was pretty when she was determined. The little orange droid, Poe’s BB-8, ran up against him and butted imperatively into him.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what they’re doing either,” Finn said, resting a hand on BB-8’s carapace. It was almost comforting, particularly given how useless he felt, kneeling beside the open panel while Rey and Poe fixed things and Baze and Chirrut hunted for gas masks.
Poe and Rey let out matching cries of triumph.
“Ah,” Chirrut said, pulling down a large number of gas masks onto himself, which Baze swore and caught; one slipped out of his arms and bounced across the floor. “I take it you fixed it? Well, we’ve found the masks.”
“They might come in handy,” Rey said, scrambling out of the panel. “Later.”
“You know what would also come in handy?” Poe said, extricating himself and kneeling down on the floor to comfort BB-8. “A destination.” He shrugged and grinned, the picture of casual charm, but there was something tense under it. “Of course, I’m hoping you’ll stick with me for a while…”
Rey’s hair had come a little loose. She pushed it off her face with one of those clever, grease-smudged hands. “Where are we going?” She wrinkled her nose at Poe. “If you have to get to a super-secret Rebel base, I hope you know where it is - they can’t be using the same ones they had when my grandfathers fought for them.”
Baze snorted expressively, even if Finn wasn’t sure what he was expressing.
“Yavin IV would be a good bet for sympathisers,” Chirrut said.
“You just liked the temples,” Baze grumbled.
“They were very impressive!”
“You went exploring and nearly got flattened by traps!”
“We can’t set a course without somewhere to set it to,” Rey said, looking at Poe, who looked at Finn.
Finn realised with a start that the reason Poe wasn’t immediately speaking up was that he was in the presence of someone who had, until about six hours ago, been an enemy combatant. He raised his hands. “Hey, don’t worry about me. I don’t want to know where the Resistance is. Just drop me off somewhere a long way from here. I know what the Resistance does to defectors.”
“I’m sorry?” Chirrut said, at roughly the same moment as Baze and Rey said in identical dangerous tones: “What?”
They all turned to stare at Poe with forbidding expressions on their faces; Poe looked very startled, and put his hands up as BB-8 rolled around to defend him, clicking ominously over the metal grate underfoot and brandishing a small electric prod. After a moment, the droid lit up a tiny flame as well.
“I’ve never met a defector,” Poe said. “Not from the First Order. I’ve never even heard of one.” He shook his head. “General Organa wouldn’t hurt you, Finn; she’d want to hear your story.”
“I expect people would have said the same about Mon Mothma,” Chirrut said, planting his staff on the floor. “That didn’t stop Davits Draven existing.”
“I don’t know him,” Poe said. “He’s not part of Intelligence.”
“That you know of,” Baze said, and looked at Chirrut. “Although granted, he was older than us then. He could be dead. I nearly killed him myself for the way he treated Bodhi and Jyn; someone else must’ve been tempted in the last twenty years.”
Chirrut tapped his staff lightly on the floor, head tilted up to the ceiling and a small frown between his eyebrows. “You would be safe with Jyn, I think,” he said, once Baze had finished grumbling. “Cassian - I can’t be sure. It depends how the years have changed him.” Clouds passed across his face. “A great deal has happened that we didn’t know of. I doubt he would want to hurt you, but his primary concern would be any intelligence you might have.” He raised his eyebrows in Poe’s general direction. “And there is, of course, no guarantee that they are in a position to get anything done.”
“Colonel Andor is in charge of Intelligence entirely,” Poe said, hands still in the air. “He doesn’t answer to anyone but General Organa.”
“Then why is he still a colonel?” Baze demanded, folding his arms.
“He said he didn’t need a fancy title to keep doing his job.” Poe’s hands were wavering. “I think Captain Erso just snorted at General Organa when she offered something a bit higher than captain. Everyone does what they say anyway.”
Chirrut grinned. “Now that I can believe.” One of his brows arched again. “Which is not true of everything that comes out of your mouth, young man.”
Poe reddened, and he looked at Finn. “You could help the Resistance massively. We - there’s no-one like you, Finn. You’re unique. And you know more about the First Order than anyone else alive who isn’t still part of it.”
Finn felt an incredulous laugh bubble up from inside his chest. “Yeah,” he said. “And that’s why I want to get as far away from them as possible. You don’t know what they can do, Poe Dameron.”
Poe was obviously disappointed, but he sighed and let his head tilt in reluctant agreement. “I’m not going to try and convince you. But if we could maybe talk, before we set you down somewhere, about some of the things you know…”
“Yeah,” Finn said, aware that Rey was watching him with a sort of half-born sadness, her lips a little parted like she wanted to speak, and the look in her eyes made something nameless ache, deep in his chest. He looked away. “Yeah. I - I can do that.” Then he swallowed, and licked his lips, glancing back at Rey and her grandparents. “I don’t - I mean - maybe you’d want to go too? Anywhere’s got to be better than Jakku.”
Rey’s mouth twisted unhappily, and she looked at her grandparents. Baze looked grim, and a little sad; Chirrut, for some completely unfathomable reason, looked like he might start to laugh. Rey gave a little puzzled frown at this, but then her confusion smoothed away as if she was setting it aside. Obviously she was used to his peculiarities.
“We should go back,” Baze said slowly. “See Jyn and Bodhi and Cassian and Kaytoo. If they’ve got themselves mixed up in a war, it’s our war too. And… there are other factors.”
That they were old, Finn supposed. He’d never seen anyone so old before. He couldn’t help looking at Rey, who looked back at him and bit her lip, but nodded slowly.
“I should stay with my grandparents,” she said, and then perked up the slightest bit. “And I’d like to see the Resistance. Maybe I can - I can fly for them, or fix ships, or something.”
“Oh, kid, if you had any idea,” Poe began, half laughing, and then Chirrut gave him a very austere look and Baze narrowed his eyes, and Poe hurriedly choked back his laughter and said: “A flier like you in an X-wing? If you can fly like that in formation, the General will pin your wings on herself.”
What the fuck is going on, Finn thought with vague concern. Baze and Chirrut had just shared a glance the likes of which Finn had only ever seen from long-serving veterans who’d always shared a squad, and there was a new tension to both of them under Chirrut’s heavy robes and Baze’s dinted armour and padding.
“But let’s at least get to hyperspace first!” Poe continued, smile bright. “And on that note. Since I’m the only one who knows where we’re going, can I put my hands down now?”
Hover over the Spanish for the English translations!
When Poe had gone into the cockpit with BB-8 to set the course, Rey lingered. Finn tried not to stare at her; the confident, inspired pilot had turned into a hesitant young woman, brows drawn together, head drawn slightly back, her eyes a little narrowed. She shifted, and the light threw her shadow against the ship’s panelled wall. Something about her stance made it look like she was expecting a fight.
Still beautiful, Finn thought, and kicked himself.
“What did he mean?” Rey said, slow but insistent. “He wasn’t talking about my flying. If I had any idea - what?”
Chirrut drew in a small breath, and Baze looked at Finn. “Do you mind?” he asked.
Finn raised his hands. “Of course,” he said, quite thankful to escape; the emotional temperature in the room was rising, and Finn somehow thought that none of the approved outlets for stormtroopers - sparring, and (now he came to think of it) not much else - would help here. “I was just going to go look for the fresher anyway.”
But the Falcon was not large and its corridors echoed. As Finn hurried away, he heard Chirrut say: “Dameron thinks he might know who your parents are.”
Finn tripped into a wall and caught himself.
“I don’t care,” Rey said, wavering but stubborn. “They abandoned me.”
Baze sighed. “If Dameron’s right, you were kidnapped. Not abandoned. And it’s a big galaxy - they could easily have been searching for you for fifteen years and never come close to Jakku.”
There was a long pause. Finn held his breath.
“Right,” Rey said. “Right.” There was a silence just long enough for a swallow, or a deep breath, or some other way of putting yourself back together after a sudden blow. “I… I’ll think about that one.”
“Rey…” It was Chirrut’s voice, so gentle Finn had to strain to hear it.
“I’ll think about it,” Rey repeated. “I don’t want to talk about it right now.”
“Understood,” Baze rumbled.
There were sounds of movement from that part of the ship, and Finn hurried onwards in case he was caught eavesdropping, head spinning in sympathy with Rey. He couldn’t imagine what he’d do, if he suddenly found the parents who had given birth to him - if he’d had parents, and hadn’t been grown in a vat somewhere or abandoned at birth - were alive, and loved him, and wanted him back. And he knew from what Rey had told him that she had been parentless almost as long as he had.
He eventually found the fresher and used it, but it transpired that the door had some kind of trick to it, and after several minutes of battering, yanking and cajoling he finally stumbled out feeling like no fresher was worth that. He made his way back to the central cabin, found it empty, and carried on to the cockpit, unsure if he’d be welcome. Everyone was crowded into it, staring out into hyperspace, but Baze edged aside to give him a sliver of space, and Poe - very concentrated on his work, and on calculations he was running with the help of BB-8, plugged into one of the ship’s ports - even managed an absent ‘hey, buddy’. The only reason Finn felt unwelcome was because there was no room to breathe.
Rey gave him a slightly strained smile. “Did you find the fresher?”
Finn nodded. “Yeah. But, uh, when you try to get out again, you have to kind of…. pull it towards you a bit, then push it out very fast and lift it a bit at the same time.” He looked around the cockpit, the solemn people, the banks of machines. “Yeah. Just so you know.”
“I’ll fix it,” Rey murmured, and then the entire ship jerked suddenly and Poe yelped. Finn found himself catapulted into the back of the cockpit with an armful of Chirrut, Rey and Baze having involuntarily sat down on a jumpseat next to him barely large enough to hold Rey, and set Chirrut hastily back on his feet. The entire ship creaked ominously and started to shift noticeably, and Finn pressed forward to stare out of the viewport.
“Not good,” Poe was muttering, as his hands flew across the battered and haphazardly mended bank of consoles, “not good, not good -“
Finn climbed onto the co-pilot’s seat just as Rey dropped into it, and perched on an arm, trying to see up through the top edge of the viewport. There was something cavernous approaching, a darker black in the blurred night sky of hyperspace, and he couldn’t see any details besides reddish landing lights.
“Is it a - a tractor beam?” Rey demanded, shoving a lever straight forward as if she expected something to happen. Nothing did. “Finn, your foot is in my face, get down!”
Finn ignored her for a moment, pressing his hands against the viewport. His heart was thundering double-time with a sick certainty, even though he couldn’t see the symbol that had marked out his life so far.
“It’s a tractor beam,” Poe confirmed, typing out rapid calculations; the ship jerked and shuddered but went nowhere, still being drawn inexorably into that negative space. “I can’t shift it. Finn, what are you doing?”
“Looking,” Finn said, voice tight. “It’s got to be the First Order. I can’t see anything, but -“ Rey shoved him, and he jumped down. “Hey. That poisonous gas from before.”
“Yes?” Rey said, distracted. She kicked an uncooperative console, and the cockpit echoed with the blow. “What about it?”
“You fixed it,” Finn said. “Can you unfix it?”
There was a second’s stunned pause. Rey stared at Finn like he had personally set a nebula in the sky because she liked the colour, Baze folded his arms and made an approving sort of grunt, and Poe said, in a surprised voice: “That’s… that’s not a bad idea.”
“I knew those masks would come in handy,” Chirrut said, with obvious satisfaction.
It took a few minutes to get them all hidden around the ship; Rey had barely made sure her grandfathers were relatively comfortably installed in the largest smuggling compartment and scuttled back to the grille among the coolant systems when the ship docked, and heavy footsteps could be heard at the entrance. Finn pulled the grate closed after her, and pressed a mask into her hands; Rey put it over her face quickly and hooked the harness over her back with a tiny clinking noise Finn hoped would go unnoticed. Her hand hovered over the fix she and Poe had put in place not long before, ready to undo it and let choking vapour seep through the ship.
“Chewie,” said a deep, gravelly voice, not far away, “we’re home.”
A half-wistful howl answered, sending a shiver down Finn’s spine. Rey made to rip the fix off, but he grabbed her wrist. “I can hear others,” he whispered in her ear, trying not to faint either from their closeness or the adrenaline.
She nodded, still and calm under his hands, but whispered back: “Don’t grab.”
He let go, eyes on her. She was listening carefully, and every now and then her lips moved: Finn squinted to read them. I am one with the…
One with the what?
Above them, a woman was saying: “It looks like just as much of a piece of junk as ever.” Another man replied, quieter, in a language Finn recognised as Alderaanian but couldn’t translate, and the woman laughed.
“For Force’s sake, you two,” the first man said, with palpable disgust. “Remind me why I agreed to give you a lift.”
There was another of those howls again, and Rey stiffened. Her lips moved again in that mantra, whatever it was - Finn stared harder, and this time he caught the word ‘Force’.
“I don’t know,” the first man said, and then there were footsteps overhead - “Get ready,” Rey murmured - and suddenly the grate was being lifted and kicked away, and Rey exploded out of the compartment like Diamenti lightning, sending the man who had pushed the grate away flying, her fists and feet and the staff she had insisted on dragging with her whirling.
Finn remembered himself, ripped Rey and Poe’s patch off the pipe, grabbed a spare wrench, and scrambled out after her.
Rey was almost surrounded, teeth bared and weapons whirling, keeping a massive droid craning over her and two older men trying to corral her at bay: the Wookiee who had been howling must already have slipped past, probably headed for the cockpit. An older woman pointed a blaster at Finn scrambling out of the compartment, and Finn ducked under her first shot, smashed his wrench into the blaster before she could fire her second, and was nearly brained by a black truncheon that came whistling out of nowhere. He blocked it by the skin of his teeth, and then he heard Rey yell and splutter, and glanced aside to see that the droid had finally managed to get an opening, and Rey had been lifted by one long, grey, skeletal arm and shoved against the wall by her throat.
Finn aimed a savage blow at the woman he was fighting, hoping to take a hostage in return, but she barely faltered when she blocked it and he hardly managed to avoid her swipe at his head. Rey was twisting, trying to free herself and take the pressure off her neck, and Finn was very aware that both of the two men were now circling him, looking for a weakness and finding too many - and then there were running footsteps and Poe Dameron burst onto the scene with his rifle.
“Wait!” he yelled, screeching to a halt just before the combatants. “No! Finn! Stop! Sir - Colonel Andor! Captain Erso!”
Finn failed a block and caught a truncheon to the stomach which made him collapse to the floor, wheezing. His heart tripped double time, and he hoped fervently that Poe hadn’t just named the two Resistance spies he’d been talking about before.
“Dameron?” said the woman who had just flattened him, casually treading on his hand to make him drop his weapon. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
She got no answer. The two older men were staring at Rey, still pinned to the bulkhead by the droid, and when the woman really looked at Rey she caught her breath and swore, soft and disbelieving.
“Kay,” said the Alderaanian-speaker, his voice suddenly hoarse, “ suéltala. Vas a lastimarla. ”
The droid let Rey drop to the floor. She staggered but did not collapse, gasping for breath, still clutching her staff and glaring at the attackers, half-afraid, half-defiant.
“What do you want?” she demanded, and the older man who had spoken first - Chewie, we’re home - let out a noise like he’d just been struck, his shoulders spasming under the weight of some great emotion. Looking up at the three humans, Finn thought they all looked lost, stunned - but then the woman looked down at him, raised her eyebrows, and gently flattened her foot over his hand.
Lost and stunned, maybe. Stupid, no.
The Alderaanian-speaker glanced at the other man, who had whiter hair and a paler leather jacket slung over his shoulders and seemed temporarily incapable of speech, and then nodded very slightly and looked back at Rey. “ ¿Te acuerdas de mi? ” he said, very gently. “ Breha, ¿te acuerdas de mi? ”
“ No se acuerda de nada, ” Poe Dameron said, quick and breathless, those clever eyes darting back and forth between the people grouped in the entrance as if he suspected a fight. “ No sabe nada de su família, casí nada - no puedo estar seguro - pero hay otro problema - ”
At this point the missing Wookiee, the small orange droid called BB-8, Baze and Chirrut arrived, in a clash of weapons, stamping, and imperatively-bleeped Binary. Finn decided to stay on the floor and avoid drawing attention to himself.
“Jyn! Cassian!” Chirrut exclaimed, with what even Finn could identify from his position on the floor as a shit-eating grin. “Kaytoo! Fancy seeing you here!”
“Chirrut?” the woman who had flattened Finn gasped. “Baze?”
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it,” Baze admitted, sounding softer, to Finn’s ears, than he did when he talked to anyone but Rey.
“More than fifteen bloody years! You kriffing bastards!”
The man who had spoken to Rey in Alderaanian - Cassian? - was smiling, slight and soft, and the droid said, in an unusually dry and sarcastic tone for a droid: “I did not deem the chances of finding you on this trip statistically significant.”
“What are you doing here?” Cassian asked.
“We’re with our granddaughter and your spy,” Baze said, very dryly. “Escaping the First Order.”
“Your spy has a terrible sabacc face,” Chirrut interrupted. “And he sticks out a mile. So did Lor San Tekka, by the way.”
“Lor San Tekka -“ Cassian began, and shook his head.
“You were on Jakku?” Jyn said, picking up seamlessly. She stuffed a truncheon into her belt and folded her arms, blaster or no blaster. “All this time?”
“Fifteen years of it,” Chirrut confirmed.
Jyn screwed her face up. “Fifteen years? On Jakku? Why?”
“Because of Rey,” Baze said, which made everyone look at Rey, even the droid Kaytoo. There were bruises coming up on her throat, and her eyes were defiant and confused. Finn’s heart ached for her.
The one man who still hadn’t spoken yet - tall and awkward, dressed in a brown leather jacket; craggy face, silvery white hair, dark eyes full of emotion in a way that really reminded Finn of Rey right now - cleared his throat.
“Rey?” he repeated, in a voice that was surprisingly soft, but that sounded like it was trying to pretend to hedge its bets; as if its owner was full of an awful hope they didn’t dare to speak aloud. “Your name is Rey?”
“Yes,” Rey said. There was a bit of a croak to it.
“Is it, uh. Is it - short for anything?”
Rey drew herself up, and glared.
“ Fuerza, ” muttered Cassian, and Finn thought that he too had more feelings in his voice than he meant to let in. “ Igualita. ”
“Who’s asking?” Rey demanded, with a bit of a glower for Cassian.
“Han Solo,” the silent man said. “My name is Han Solo.”
Rey tilted her head and frowned a little. “The smuggler?”
Han Solo nodded. “Kid - Rey. Do you know anything about your family?”
“They’re spacers,” Rey said. “They left me on Jakku because they needed to go and pay off - debts, or something.” She shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t remember. That’s what I was told. I just know they’re coming back for me.” She swallowed. “And Rey isn’t short for anything. Why?”
“Because - I, uh. I had a daughter.” Han shifted, a jerky, sudden, awkward movement, and rubbed a hand over the back of his head. “She was kidnapped. When she was four. Her and her brother. She… you look like her.” He coughed. “Her brother’s nickname for her was Rey.”
The ensuing silence could have filled a galaxy.
“I’m sorry,” Rey said, with difficulty. “I don’t. I don’t remember you.” She stared hopelessly at Han. “I don’t remember anything.”
Finn smelled something ominous and stiffened, suddenly recalling something that had been driven right out of his mind by the serious scene in front of him.
Poe caught his eye and jumped as if he’d been electrocuted, and the resulting clatter of his boots on the grate drew everyone’s attention.
“Dameron,” Jyn said. “You have a gift for ruining moments. What is it?”
“The gas!” Rey gasped, and dove forward, over Finn, into the still-open panel. “Thank the Force you didn’t pull it all the way off, Finn!”
“Gas?” Cassian said sharply.
“Poisonous,” Baze confirmed, nodding.
“Murderous,” observed Kaytoo.
“Oh, like you can talk,” Rey shouted, from inside the ship’s innards. “Finn! I need that wrench. The one you had.”
“Finn?” repeated Jyn, staring down at him with greenish-grey eyes that saw far too much. “Who are you?”
Finn was temporarily speechless. Poe was watching him and saying nothing; Baze and Chirrut were also keeping their mouths shut. Finn wavered; the truth would probably come out, but did it have to be right this moment?
“Now!” Rey yelled. “Or we’re all going to choke and die!”
“Does that really matter right now?” Finn hissed at Jyn, seized his fallen wrench, and followed Rey through the hole in the floor.
It had taken moments for Rey to fix the patch; she was essentially waiting for him down there, clanging around to make it realistic, but the patch had only been slightly dislodged and she’d already pushed it back into place. Instead, when he slid to his knees beside her, she grabbed his shirt at the same time as she took the wrench from him, and pulled him close enough to whisper in his ear.
I won’t let them hurt you, she whispered, and from the fierce look on her face and everything Finn had already seen, he believed her.
General Solo had bacta on his ship, apparently - not the one they’d stolen from Unkar Plutt; the one he was currently using - and after the beatings Finn and Rey had taken, they needed it. Poe could see Rey was reluctant to leave the Falcon, which she could control to some extent, for a ship she didn’t know and had no easy way of gaining control of. But her grandfathers trusted Han Solo, so she would.
Poe couldn’t tell if she believed Solo’s story about the missing Breha, who might just be Rey. Colonel Andor asked him as they left the ship, in quiet, rapid Alderaanian, and Poe honestly couldn’t say. He believed it himself; in clear light the resemblances were more striking than ever. General Organa’s expressions, colouring and way of holding herself; Master Skywalker’s profile and way with a ship. Han Solo’s over-expressive hazel eyes - and, apparently, his protectiveness.
Poe’s parents had told him a thousand stories of Han Solo, who sniped at Princess Leia and teased her when everyone else was more than a little afraid to, who claimed to be purely mercenary and to care nothing for anyone, but who had run into a collapsing Echo Base under Imperial bombardment to bring Princess Leia out in the last ship to leave the ice hangars themselves. He thought Rey would probably do that for Finn, former stormtrooper or not, brand-new acquaintance or not. He thought Finn would probably return the favour, whatever he said about wanting to get out. Finn was sticking close to her now, quiet and solid, and she kept relying on him for back-up. Maybe she didn’t realise it, but her grandfathers certainly did.
On the ship, Han Solo led them to the central crew room, where Colonel Andor went to get a medical kit. Captain Erso was deep in conversation with Baze and Chirrut, standing close to them with a relaxed stance that Poe had only ever seen her show around Colonel Andor or his Uncle Bodhi. Chirrut tapped the crystal she always wore and smiled at her, warm and gentle, and Captain Erso suddenly looked as if she might cry; she flung her arms around Chirrut, and clung to him. Baze rumbled something Poe couldn't quite catch, half-smiling, and rested a hand on her back.
Colonel Andor had fished out a medical kit and given Finn a very small, tamper-proof vial of bacta to drink, probably as a precaution given the blow that Captain Erso had delivered to his abdomen, before attending to Rey’s throat and the other bruises and scrapes she’d acquired. She sat still, apparently trusting him, but Poe had his doubts about that casual, seemingly loose grip on her staff.
You did well, Chewbacca howled, watching Colonel Andor patch Rey up, and Poe wondered what Chewbacca really thought of all this; he was keeping his own counsel, eyes darting from Rey to Solo and back again, but Poe had met Chewbacca many times, and it seemed to him as if Chewbacca was trying to conceal the same guarded, desperate hope Solo was - and doing a better job of it. To hold them all off.
“She didn't hold me off,” Kaytoo announced, a little sanctimoniously. BB-8 ran over one of his feet. It seemed that Rey inspired rapid loyalty - and that was familiar, too.
“She nearly knocked your head off,” Captain Erso said, distracted from her reunion. “I saw her.”
“That would hardly have been disabling, in light of -“
“Your processors aren’t there,” Rey said, speaking up with a faint tinge of impatience. “I know. But your optical sensors are, because whoever made your chassis was very fixed on humanoid bodies. And without those, you can’t see what you’re doing, and you can’t see what I’m doing.” She turned to glare at Kaytoo. “I’ve taken apart bigger and scarier than you.”
“She has,” Chirrut agreed.
“You brought her up rude,” Kaytoo said. “She’s worse than Jyn.”
“That’s a compliment,” Captain Erso informed Rey, who managed half a reluctant smile as Colonel Andor bandaged up her damaged knuckles with more than usual care. It must sting, but Rey didn’t seem to notice.
“And then,” Baze said, shrugging, “you strangle my granddaughter, you get what you deserve. I could take you apart myself, you old bucket of bolts.”
“I didn’t know,” Kaytoo said peevishly.
“That’s why you’ve still got a motherboard,” Rey snorted, which made Finn - still sipping at the vial of bacta - smile.
“None of us knew,” Solo said, coming back into the shabby room with something small tucked into one hand. He sounded almost annoyed, but Poe could hear genuine feeling - distress, and hope, and years of pain - under the rough veneer. It made him think a little better of a man he cursed on a daily basis for making General Organa’s life even harder than it already was. “Let’s face it. None of us were expecting - this. After fifteen years!”
He held out the object in his hand to Rey, who stared at it as if it might bite. It was about as long as one of Rey’s thumbs, oval, graphite-grey and flat: a single-image holoprojector, top of the range ten years ago.
“Just - so you can see,” Han Solo said gruffly. “Why we were all shocked. Even if it’s not true.” He coughed and scruffed a hand through his hair. “We can get a test done - if you like. But it doesn’t matter, kid, either way you’re Baze Malbus and Chirrut Îmwe’s granddaughter, and if Dameron let you take charge of the Falcon you fly like a dream. You’ve got a place in the Resistance, if you want one. Leia - my, uh, my wife - she’ll welcome you with open arms.”
Rey turned the projector over and in her hands, then lowered it into her lap as Colonel Andor put a bacta dressing on the developing bruising that ringed her throat.
“My grandfathers knew me when I was small,” she said tentatively. “They might… recognise me.”
Colonel Andor finished the dressing and stepped back. Poe noticed the way he retreated towards his wife, Captain Erso slotting into the space beside him as if they were matching puzzle pieces, one of her hands disappearing behind his back. They both looked suspiciously neutral.
Rey flicked the holoprojector on with a press of a thumb, and a little girl of about four years old sprang into life in full colour, from the chest up. Smartly dressed in a blue trimmed tunic or dress of some kind, her dark hair was pulled back in little braided loops that sprung from the crown of her head. She turned her head to one side, looked up at the camera, and laughed, her bright hazel eyes crinkling. Rey caught her breath, and her grip on the projector tightened. The look on her face hurt; Poe flinched without meaning to, and saw Baze’s face set, Chirrut bow his head, even though he couldn’t possibly see what was happening.
Instinctively, Poe turned his head away, eyes flicking round the central room. Notice the peeling posters; notice the battered plaque of the ship owners’ rules, hammered into the wall decades ago. Notice the way the pale panelling was at least twenty years younger than the Falcon’s own bulkhead walls, but looked twenty times grubbier; at least the Falcon didn’t show the stains. Notice the halogen-white lighting, that made everyone look pale, stark, washed out -
“It could be,” Rey said, and hearing that dreadful, half-frightened and half-wary hope in her voice, Poe was certain she was Han Solo’s daughter. She held out the holo to Baze and Chirrut. “What do you think?”
Baze took the holo from her, his large, rough hands very delicate. “It could be,” he repeated, after a long moment. “She does look like you. This little girl.”
“Breha,” Han Solo supplied, quiet.
“My name is Rey,” Rey said, quick as a reflex, and yet with something strangely automatic to it. Finn had been watching her all this time, tucked quietly into a corner like he wanted to disappear - which he probably did, poor bastard - and something flickered on his face. Recognition, or maybe puzzlement. Poe wondered what the hell he had picked up over the last twelve hours or so.
“I’m not questioning that, kid.” Han Solo raised his hands, injured innocence spreading across that heavily lined face. “I’m just saying. I mostly called my little girl Breha. If I met her again, I’d call her whatever she wanted.”
There was another silence, which was broken by Kaytoo standing up straight, every joint and circuit creaking. He needed an oil bath; Poe was surprised Colonel Andor hadn’t managed to insist, or to find a newer chassis, something that would blend right in with the First Order and didn’t look so close to Kaytoo’s original chassis, the famous one.
“I have the capacity to run a simple DNA test,” he announced.
Rey stared at him. “Why?”
“Do you mean why can I, or –”
“Shut up, Kay,” Captain Erso interrupted, catching Rey’s attention. “It comes in useful sometimes, that’s all. But - Rey, everyone here knows that family is where you find them.”
Rey nodded, staring at the projector in Baze’s hands.
“It wouldn’t have to mean anything,” Solo said. “If, say, I did crash into my daughter somewhere around - Jakku, right?”
Rey nodded again.
“Force, what a hole. Knew I should’ve checked the Western Reaches. Jakku, then. If I did find my daughter again, and she didn't want anything to do with me… I’d understand.”
Finn looked as sceptical as Poe felt, but no-one said anything - no-one had time, because at that moment, the entire ship shook and half of them were knocked off their feet into walls or furniture.
“What the hell was that?” Han Solo said furiously, apparently working out his excess emotions on whatever had jolted the ship.
Poe pushed himself off the shelf he’d caught himself against, hand straying to his blaster. “I don’t know.”
Rey had caught Colonel Andor before he could crash forward onto the table, locking herself into place using her legs curled under the surface, and Finn had grabbed Baze and Chirrut - Baze had fallen onto him, but the younger man had only stumbled under the weight, not fallen. The ship was creaking now, a metallic groaning sound that had made everyone’s eyes widen.
“Are we being boarded?” Captain Erso said disbelievingly, glaring at Solo. “Han. You said -“
“I should be clear. I should be clear!” Solo pulled a small datapad from the pocket of his leather jacket, the kind that could be used to control a ship’s thermostat or watch any cameras it might have, and stabbed at it.
Chewbacca let out a basso profoundo warble of You have definitely said that before, and it was wrong then too.
“Force damn it,” Solo said, sounding injured, as he stared at the screen. “The Kanjiklub! And the Seguavian Death Gang.”
Colonel Andor said something elegantly crude in Alderaanian, laying Rey’s supporting hands back down on the table with an absent-minded pat to her knuckles that made Rey stare at him. “Just how many creditors have you got, Solo?”
“It was under control!” Solo protested. Poe struggled not to roll his eyes at someone who was, if not actually his senior officer, married to someone who was. Solo’s eyes went to Rey. “We got to get out of here. Back to the Falcon!”
Captain Erso had taken the datapad away from him. “They’re between us and the Falcon. And there are too many to fight past. We need a distraction.”
“You are not blowing things up on my ship in hyperspace, Jyn Erso.”
“No.” Captain Erso’s mouth twisted grimly. “I was thinking more your cargo.”
“Cargo -“ Colonel Andor shook his head rapidly. “ Jyn, ¿estás loca? ”
“ Siempre. Me sabes. ”
“ Conoces, ” Colonel Andor corrected absently, still staring at her. “This is a terrible idea.”
“It has a 17.2% chance of success,” Kaytoo said, with obvious doubt. “Which is better than any other plan for which I have carried out statistical projections.”
“What are you carrying?” Chirrut enquired, as if it were an object of mild interest. Poe noticed that Finn and Rey were sharing wary glances; after a moment, they both turned and flashed a look of obvious confusion at him. He shrugged.
“Rathtars,” Han said shortly. Poe nearly dropped his blaster, heart turning icy and plunging down into his socks, and Finn gasped aloud.
“Oh, man - there’s got to be another way, that’s crazy!” It was the first time Finn had spoken since the coolant gas leak had been fixed, and he reddened and hunched his shoulders slightly as everyone turned to look at him, but did not back down.
“What’s a rathtar?” Rey demanded.
“Bad news,” Baze said shortly, glaring at Captain Erso, who set her jaw and raised her hands.
“Ever heard of the Trillia Massacre?” Finn was asking Rey. “No? Good.”
“If you think we have another way to get out -” Captain Erso shook her head.
“We have to go now,” Colonel Andor said. The ship’s groaning had levelled off, and Poe could see Colonel Andor’s eyes flicking back and forth over the camera feeds on the datapad he still held. “They’re too close.”
Rey jumped off the table and scooped her staff up. She went straight to her grandfathers, taking up a defensive position, and Finn backed her up unhesitatingly, easy as breathing. Something that might have been a smile caught at Han Solo’s mouth, before Colonel Andor shoved the datapad into his hands.
“You got everything?” Captain Erso was asking Colonel Andor, who shook his head no and disappeared into a corridor for a few moments, followed by Han Solo, apparently taking Captain Erso’s cue. Andor was back in seconds, wearing a heavier coat, under which Poe could just see something that had been slung over one shoulder, like a holster - though it looked more like a money belt. Captain Erso patted her chest, where a kyber crystal normally rested, and tapped various concealed - or less than concealed - weapons on her person.
“Where’s -” she started, and then Han Solo reappeared, a rucksack slung over his back.
“Right, let’s go,” he said, striding over to a plan of the ship bolted to one of the walls and poking at it forcefully with one finger. “If I release the rathtars here, we’ll have a free hand to go past here and here. We should split up. You can see on the cameras they’re working together rather than splitting into groups, they don’t know the plan of the ship - that’s why they’re not here yet. They won’t know who to chase.”
“Seems like a good plan,” Baze said, eyes narrowed. “How are we splitting by groups?”
“I’ll go in one,” Rey volunteered. “A distraction one.” Her eyes narrowed as they swept over the room. “If Poe and Finn come with me - and maybe Chewbacca? If you wouldn’t mind? - we can make a lot of noise and draw them away from the rest of you, towards the rathtars.”
Draw them away from my grandparents, who don’t run as fast as they used to, Poe heard, and noted that Rey had deliberately left Kaytoo - clinically violent, stronger than most sentients, and unusually difficult to kill - in the other group. Going by the matching scowls on their faces, and Baze opening his mouth to protest, so did Baze and Chirrut.
No time to argue, Chewbacca yowled, hefting a bowcaster the size of Poe’s entire torso. It’s not the worst plan I’ve ever heard from an Organa. Let’s go.
Rey spluttered and reddened slightly, but swallowed it rapidly, nodding as she moved towards Chewbacca, who was already making his way to the exit. Finn stepped unhesitatingly to her side, and Poe realised suddenly - he was still holding a wrench.
Only a wrench. He was prepared to take on two criminal gangs with nothing more than the element of surprise and a wrench. Poe felt very old and mean-spirited: he should have armed the kid before.
Poe pulled a blaster from its holster, telling himself it was only fair and he still had the rifle. “Here, Finn. You can’t go hitting the Kanjiklub with a household tool.”
“Oh,” Finn said, clearly surprised. “Thanks.” He took charge of it as naturally as if it were an extension of his hand; Poe felt a slight shiver down his spine, but that was swallowed up by the warmth that overtook him when Rey smiled at him with her whole face, sudden and bright. Poe had last seen that smile on the face of a four-year-old.
“Give us a minute, and then we’ll release the rathtars,” Captain Erso ordered. “Once we’ve done that, I want you to go straight for the Falcon, do you understand, Rey and Finn? No heroics. Start counting, Dameron.”
One hyperspace jump, Poe thought automatically as he saluted, two hyperspace jump, three hyperspace jump…
The corridors of the smuggling ship, graphite grey and low-lit with halogen lights, were almost quiet. The groaning had settled down: the boarding party was complete and whatever damage they’d done to the ship was sealed. As Poe counted down to twenty, they began to hear stifled footsteps, the shuffling of sentients in heavy armour. It echoed off the ship’s squared corridors, its metal grates.
“I am one with the Force,” Rey whispered. “And the Force is with me.”
Poe fully believed her.
Chewbacca let out a battle howl. It echoed in the corridors with the raucous clattering of Finn’s wrench against the grating and Rey’s staff against the walls; Poe raised his rifle and fired several times at the end of the corridor, the metal sizzling and corroding under the impact. The stifled footsteps ceased to be stifled and began to run.
Twenty-four hyperspace jump, Poe said to himself as his heart raced and he held his rifle ready to fire, twenty-five hyperspace jump -
This way to the rathtars, Chewbacca rumbled, before letting out another spine-chilling bawl and putting a bowcaster bolt straight through the first two sentients to come round the corner.
None of them needed telling twice.
Either Poe had miscounted or Captain Erso had. By Poe’s count, they were only fifty-four hyperspace jumps in when the immense durasteel blast doors slammed open, and the slimy, grasping, tentacled bodies of the rathtars shot out, slithering with incredible speed into the corridor and capturing the first gang member in their reach with predatory ease. Finn’s yell was their first warning.
“Fuck,” Poe gasped, tearing round a corner and throwing a glance of panic back, grabbing for Finn to make sure he was safe as Rey clutched at them both, at all of them, and Chewbacca yowled that those creatures had been nothing but fucking trouble.
“Trouble?” Rey said incredulously, and then added something emphatic in a language Poe didn’t know, high-pitched and strained, her hazel eyes huge with panic. “Look at them - look -”
“Let’s not,” Finn yelled, pushing at Rey and Poe and Chewbacca, “uh - sorry, sir, but look, let’s not.”
The corridor was full of flailing limbs, rathtar and non-rathtar; the rathtars’ slick, mottled pale maroon skin filled their vision, their foul breath and their spittle splashing everywhere and corroding the metal where it touched, their rows of yellowy teeth painfully visible. Poe felt frozen for a second, hearing the screams of Solos’ creditors and the wet raw sounds of their being ripped apart, and then he realised that Finn and Rey were both yanking at his arms and he turned and ran with them, feet pounding desperately after Chewbacca towards the Millennium Falcon, breath tearing from his chest and heart thundering, and then they were within sight of the ship, seeing BB-8 rolling briskly up the gangplank hot on Baze and Chirrut’s heels…
Just as a second group of smugglers burst into the cargo bay, and Finn let out a terrible scream and was wrenched from the group, mottled tentacles wrapped about his legs.
“Finn!” Rey screamed, whirling on her heel. “Finn! No!”
Poe flinched back from a blaster bolt that passed just before his face, and dropped for cover behind a heavy cargo container just in time to glance round and see Rey sprinting after Finn’s disappearing screams. His heart stopped for one juddering moment, and he forced himself to wrench round, settle the butt of his rifle firmly into his shoulder, and fire on the second gang of smugglers - who began, as Poe aimed, to take fire from the Millennium Falcon’s smaller cannons as well. Anything larger would be unsafe to use in here. Chewbacca leaned against the stacked containers next to Poe and began picking off the more dangerous-looking smugglers with a bowcaster.
Do we go after them? he said. It was more of a rhetorical question than anything else; Poe knew he would run back, to rescue Rey and try to save Finn’s corpse at least, and Chewbacca had already been halfway to following them before he’d stopped to fend off the smugglers’ attack with Poe.
“Yeah,” Poe said, “of course, just -“ another bolt sizzled past, singing his hair, and Poe jerked back into greater cover as Chewbacca killed off the assailant. “Thanks, General - let’s mop this lot up first.”
Chewbacca nearly dropped his bowcaster, which made Poe stare at him. Do you hear that?
“Hear what?” Someone had found their range with the Falcon’s small laser cannons; as Poe watched they burned out a knot of smugglers piling in from behind those already dug in.
“More of them? Ah, fuck.” Poe swivelled hastily round, cranking his blaster rifle to recharge it on automatic, but the shapes that appeared out of the gloom were not smugglers. Limping and covered in slime, eyes as wide as one who’d seen a god’s face, and still clutching Poe’s blaster in one hand, Finn was being dragged along by Rey - jaw set, eyes burning, teeth half-bared.
“Holy shit, what did you -“
“She cut it in half!” Finn yelled, completely failing to disguise his awe. “With a door!”
Rey screeched to a halt beside them and dropped her grip on Finn’s arm, sticking close to the cover of the metal container. “Why are we still here?”
“Covering fire!” Poe said.
“We need to go,” Finn said, grabbing Rey’s hand and glancing round the edge of the container, as if to make a break for it. Poe could now see Captain Erso gesturing impatiently on the Falcon’s gangplank, as if she agreed.
Poe peered round the edge of the container, and decided that it wasn’t safe but they had no choice. “Chewbacca, sir?”
Now, Chewbacca roared, and Finn and Rey took off in a sprint. Poe chased after them, firing aimlessly towards the area where the smugglers had dug in, varying his pace and steps to try to throw them off, but whoever was acting as gunner on the Falcon had evidently run out of both patience and mercy, because green fire was being poured into the makeshift entrenchment with a relentlessness Poe almost admired. He sped up, Chewbacca hard on his heels and yelling derogatory comments about the mission fitness of X-wing pilots, and after seconds that felt like hours he found himself charging up the Falcon’s gangplank, seconds after Finn and Rey.
“I know how to run without you holding my hand!” Rey was shouting, though Poe noticed she was still holding Finn’s hand.
“I might need you to hold mine!” Finn shouted back.
Poe came to a sharp halt before he hit them - a resolution which was rendered void by the gangplank coming up too fast behind them, catapulting Chewbacca into Poe and Poe into Finn and Rey, so that they all crashed forward onto the floor.
Captain Erso, who had jumped out of the way just in time, applauded, and was forced to seize a handhold to stay upright as the Falcon lurched off the floor of the bay and shot forward at a speed Poe was convinced was unsafe. “Ten for style,” she announced. “Rey, nice work, but what the fuck did you think you were doing?”
“Rescuing Finn,” Rey said.
Wriggling out of the pile on the grimy cargo bay floor, Poe had an excellent, upside-down view of Captain Erso’s face, which was divided between personal entertainment and professional frustration. “Rey, you realise you could have died too.”
“Yes,” Rey said, finally getting to her feet and reaching down a casual hand to pull Finn up with her. Now that the Falcon was out of the docking bay, it was a far smoother ride, and Rey hardly even wobbled. Perfect balance, Poe supposed. Either that or the Force. “And I did it anyway.”
Captain Erso snorted. Poe recognised a certain amount of respect in that snort.
Finn said nothing, and Poe wondered, for the umpteenth time, when he should explain that Finn was a defector. It would have to be soon. But he was a major complicating factor in what Poe was now completely convinced was a family reunion; risk Finn’s safety, and Rey would act to defend him without hesitating. And she wasn’t a trusting young woman. Poe didn't think there was a guarantee of safe conduct in the galaxy that would be enough.
Young people these days, Chewbacca growled, sounding not the slightest bit amused.
“Take it up with my grandfathers,” Rey snapped back, pushing her hair out of her face. The cap she’d worn earlier was long gone, and part of her dark hair had come loose from its half-bun. “They raised me.”
Captain Erso, Chewbacca and Poe stood in the cargo bay and watched as Rey stalked off in search of her grandparents, closely followed by Finn.
“We’ll have to do a DNA test, of course,” Captain Erso said. “But I’m pretty convinced.” She pushed pieces of her own hair off her face, and looked at Poe. “Where did you find her?”
“In Tuanul,” Poe answered. “She was living on the outskirts. She came to see what was going on. She found me, actually.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Ambush. I wouldn’t want to make her angry.”
“That temper is all Leia’s,” Captain Erso said dryly. “No, you wouldn't. And?”
“She was ready to go in and take the entire village back, if she could,” Poe said. “Or if not, die trying.”
Captain Erso’s face pinched up, but she didn’t say a word for several long moments. “And Finn?”
“Found him there too,” Poe said, meeting Captain Erso’s eyes with all the honesty he had in him. “Trying to rescue the kids the stormtroopers were using as leverage. You know, with the younger ones that aren’t babies -”
Captain Erso nodded. She leaned back against one of the walls and folded her arms, watching Poe inscrutably.
“He probably saved our lives,” Poe said. “When Kylo Ren turned up, Rey more or less passed out for a bit. She was on the other side of the village from me, I had no idea what was happening. Finn basically had to carry her back to the speeder. She still hotwired it, but - look on her face like she had a migraine, the entire time.”
Captain Erso nodded again, and leaned forward, rocking off the foot pushed back against the wall and fixing Poe with a stare. “What have you promised him?”
Poe came up short. The cargo bay was filled with an uneasy silence, echoing around its dented, scraped walls. The only noise came from the faint hum of the ship itself, and Chewbacca, shifting dangerously from foot to foot.
“Nothing,” Poe said. “But Rey might have promised him something, and she - well, you saw her go after him when he was caught by a rathtar. And neither of them trust the Resistance by default.”
For some reason, that made Captain Erso smile.
“I knew they reminded me of someone.” Captain Erso straightened up, and dusted her hands off on her thighs. “I know, you’re Shara Bey’s son, you’re Leia Organa’s most trusted, the idea of not putting your faith in the Rebel A- excuse me, the Resistance, is a strange one. But some of us understand where your new friends are coming from.”
Poe said nothing. It seemed like the wisest course of action.
Captain Erso looked across at Chewbacca. “What do you think, Chewie? We send him out for classified information on Luke Skywalker, and he comes back with a missing girl and a mystery.”
Not bad, but messy, Chewbacca roared judiciously. Reminds me of Han: always the unnecessary drama.
“And the intel,” Poe felt compelled to add, passing over the comparison to Han Solo, who he thought he was probably never going to like; he’d witnessed too many of the General’s sleepless nights. “Ma’am. I completed my mission.”
“I know, we got it off BB-8.” Captain Erso’s mouth curled. “You’re good at this. Better than I suspected. Kes will be furious with me.”
Poe wondered when to point out that he’d been ambushed and suborned by a nineteen-year-old.
Captain Erso nodded at him in obvious dismissal, then turned and followed Finn and Rey’s path into the centre of the ship. Chewbacca disarmed his bowcaster thoughtfully and then joined her. Poe waited for a few seconds, scrubbing one booted toe across the floor and wondering how much of the rust and filth was Jakku and how much was normal smuggling-related wear and tear, and then went after them. He still felt on edge.
I fucked up the chapter divisions. There will be quite a few more chapters than just 13.
Stay tuned. :P
Jyn realised very quickly that Rey intended to follow her own schedule. If nothing else, it was obvious that Baze and Chirrut were letting her, and neither Han nor Cassian felt competent to stop her. When Jyn reached the Millennium Falcon’s central lounge, Rey had Finn trapped on one of the banquettes and was sitting on the deactivated games table, cleaning some scrapes on his face with unwarranted care. Finn was protesting a little, very mildly, but he was also smiling at Rey like she was a Nubian sunset, all glory and wonder. Han was not present, so must be in the cockpit, hiding from his feelings as per usual, and Cassian was pretending to read something. He was doing an unusually bad job of it; it was very clear that Baze and Chirrut could tell he was really watching Rey.
Cassian had not favoured one of the Organa children over the other. But Ben had worried him, and Breha had always made him smile.
Jyn went over and sat down next to him, deliberately too close, so that she trapped his arm against his body and he had to move it. To her surprise, when he moved his arm, he put it round her shoulders. She leaned into his embrace, and used the opportunity to peer over his shoulder. Material on possible First Order defectors, places to look, potential holes to pick in the conditioning - all of it blue-sky work, completed without hope of ever being used. Except that a stormtrooper defector seemed to have fallen straight into their lap: the kind of defection that was marked in that file as incredibly unlikely. Jyn knew; she’d read it.
But then there was Finn.
It would have made sense, if it weren’t almost completely impossible: stormtroopers were trained from birth to have no sense of a survivable world outside the First Order, and no loyalties to anything but the First Order. They also didn’t have names; Finn had one, and he answered to it very naturally, though he didn’t seem to be a convincing liar otherwise. But Poe had said that Finn had rescued children from stormtroopers, and Jyn knew how heavily the First Order guarded their leverage. What were the odds that a civilian - mysteriously well-trained for dangerous situations - would pop out of nowhere and get close enough to even try to rescue the children?
Slim. But not impossible.
“We should be so lucky,” Jyn murmured, tucking Cassian’s arm more tightly around her shoulder and snuggling into him as cover. “Stormtroopers don’t defect.” More loudly, she said: “Where’s Kaytoo?”
At the same moment, Cassian said “In the cockpit, meddling,” and Poe Dameron came through the doorway and said “I don’t know, ma’am, I haven’t seen him.” Poe’s little orange droid had found him again and was close on his heels, peeping complaints in Binary. Poe laid a soothing hand on its head.
“My auditory sensors are burning,” Kaytoo said from the cockpit, very loudly. As he had repeatedly informed Jyn, his current sensors were more effective than 78% of organic ears.
“I never should’ve taught him that phrase,” Jyn muttered, and Kaytoo clanked through into the room where they were all sitting.
“There was a compressor hampering the engine’s function,” Kaytoo announced, with audible disapproval. “I have attended to it.”
“You could have left it,” Rey said absently, scooting back on the table and eyeing her handiwork critically. Finn was blushing under her assessing stare. “That one’s not as critical as the one I dealt with earlier. Much better handiwork.”
“Plutt’s useless,” Baze rumbled. “You can’t tell me he’s suddenly become a half-decent mechanic.”
“No, it was Yizik’s work,” Rey said, pulling her hair down and retrying it. “Anyway. I was getting there.”
“Better to have it dealt with, surely?” Chirrut said, jumping in before Kaytoo could complain - as Jyn could clearly see he was about to.
“Oh, yeah,” Rey said, as if surprised. “I just meant you didn’t have to spend your time on it, Kaytoo.”
“It seemed the most efficient course of action,” Kaytoo said. Rey shrugged. “Would you like a DNA test to be carried out now or later?”
Rey tumbled backwards off the table. Finn lunged forward and caught her by one wrist before she could hit the floor, but not before they’d all started to their feet. Poe pressed a hand to his heart like it had just jolted - Shara’s sweet boy, Jyn thought, not without irony - and Baze dropped his head into his hands.
“Rey almost fell off the table,” he said to Chirrut, who wore a deep frown between his brows. “Finn caught her.”
“Kay,” Cassian said, with deep frustration.
“I don’t see what the problem with that was. This chassis is perfectly capable of carrying out a basic DNA test suitable to determine paternity, and I have the appropriate software -”
“You don’t just come out with it like that, you rusty bucket of bolts,” Han snapped, appearing from the cockpit with a forbidding glower for Kaytoo. Jyn couldn't blame him.
“That is a factually inaccurate -“
“I don’t care,” Han said. “I consent. To a test. But it has to be Rey’s choice.”
Jyn carefully did not look directly at Rey. Rey was now sitting on the edge of the table facing out into the room, facing Han, her legs dangling, hands in her lap. She looked very young and vulnerable and very stubborn, surrounded by the scratched and battered shell of the Falcon, all eyes on her.
Was I ever that young? Jyn wondered. Was Leia?
“I consent,” Rey said at last. Her chin came up and her feet stopped swinging, and the look in those hazel eyes was so much Leia’s that Jyn bit her tongue. If this girl wasn’t Breha, Jyn needed to have a serious word with herself about sentimentality. “But I can’t promise you anything.”
Han surprised everyone, including - Jyn bet - himself, with a harsh bark of laughter. “Kid, I won’t ask you to.”
Rey held out her hand to Kaytoo for a drop of blood, and didn’t even seem to notice it when the needle scratched her finger. Her eyes were burning like wildfire, but she looked as if she’d had just found a cliff she needed to jump off and was persuading herself it was the only good thing to do. She turned away quickly when the sample had been taken, and retreated towards Baze and Chirrut too fast for it to be anything other than a retreat; she said something quiet to them both, and then helped Chirrut rise from his seat. The two of them walked away.
“Where are they going?” Han asked, wincing as Kaytoo harvested a drop of his blood with more than necessary enthusiasm.
“To meditate,” Baze said, planting himself solidly on the banquette. “Not my thing.”
Jyn smiled involuntarily. Now that she had time to sit still, affection kept creeping over her: here was that old, well-remembered mannerism, that familiar smile, that gesture or turn of phrase that reminded her it didn’t matter how long they’d been gone. Little sister. “You always kidnap tough young women off the street to build your family?”
Baze shifted in his seat; raised an eyebrow and one corner of his mouth. “Only the bravest ones, little sister.”
“We have missed you,” Cassian said, and it came out softer than Cassian’s words usually did; Jyn could see Poe Dameron struggling to keep his face under control in a corner. Interestingly, he’d picked a bit of wall to lean against that was near Rey’s mystery champion. Jyn had a lot of questions about that young man.
The quirk of Baze’s mouth spread into a smile. “Likewise,” he said. There was a long, quiet moment - Han Solo helped himself to a hipflask of something and threw himself down on a banquette next to Chewbacca - and then Baze added: “We would have come back sooner. But getting Rey off Jakku…” He raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders.
“Why?” Han asked, voice harsh. “There’s nothing there. Jakku’s a dump.”
“Rey knows two things about herself that nobody ever told her,” Baze said. “Firstly, that her name is Rey. Secondly, that her family will come back for her.”
Han breathed in hard. Jyn wasn't surprised to see that his eyes were over-bright.
Baze was using a gun as a stick - safety on, Jyn noted with gratitude. He folded his hands over it and planted it securely on the ground. “The story in Niima Outpost was that her parents were spacers. That she had been set down for safekeeping while they brought off a tricky cargo. But they never came back, and the people who -“ his face twisted - “sheltered her - worse than useless.”
Han’s face did something ugly and painful. Jyn thought of all the time she’d poured into search leads with him, each of them looking for another child with no parents or protectors and seeing themselves in every failed avenue, and felt Cassian’s arm curl around her tighter, his head tilt closer to hers.
“She survived,” Baze said, as if he was reminding himself. “Thrived.” He shook his head. “She was a good scavenger - she’s tough and brave and she has all the right instincts. She would have been fine without us.”
Han shook his head, jerky, uncomfortable. “Yeah - no. But - even if… Look, I’ve been a street kid. You did a good thing.” His eyes fell to his hipflask, and then he raised it in a toast, met Baze’s eyes. “You did a good thing.”
Baze half-inclined his head.
Han turned away sharply, as if he wanted to set the entire conversation aside. “Hey!” he said to Kaytoo. “How long is this going to take?”
“Another half an hour,” Kaytoo said. He had plugged himself into the Falcon’s mainframe and was whirring. Jyn spared a moment to be grateful that Cassian had insisted that the information you could get from DNA analysis was too valuable to ignore. “Patience is a virtue.”
“I’m not very virtuous,” Han snarled.
“Oh,” Kaytoo said disdainfully. “We all know that.”
Baze snorted. Jyn turned her smile into the shoulder of Cassian’s jacket, and turning her head made Finn catch her eye. She prodded Cassian slightly, under cover of their embrace, and he shifted and turned his head towards Finn, casual, easy.
“What’s your story, then?” he said.
Finn had already been tense. He went rigid, and looked at Baze - who met his eyes and nodded very slightly - and Poe, who did nothing.
Jyn slid her arm around Cassian’s waist, under his jacket, and her fingers curled over the grip of a holdout blaster.
Finn took a deep breath. “I was a stormtrooper,” he said, firm and clear, only wobbling a little. Jyn forced her face to remain calm as she felt Cassian’s breath hitch in his ribcage. “And… and now I’m a traitor, I guess.”
“Shit, kid,” Han Solo said, in the voice of someone who had had enough surprises for today. “Really?”
“Well… yeah,” Finn said. “Sir.”
“Defector,” Poe said, directing the words at the torn and scraped plastic coating of the floor. “The word you’re looking for is defector.”
“Right,” Finn said. His eyes were fixed on Jyn and Cassian, darting occasionally to Chewbacca and Han like he thought he’d identified the real threats but wanted to hedge his bets.
Baze ran his hand down the stock of the gun he was leaning on and checked the safety without looking at it, then gave it a fond pat and returned his hand to the butt.
“Why?” Cassian asked Finn, as if it were only curiosity.
Finn stared at him.
“There’s never been another stormtrooper defector, Finn,” Jyn said, keeping her voice gentle. “We’re curious. What made you want to get out?”
Finn transferred his stare to his hands. “They put me guarding a hut full of kids,” he said, and his voice roughened as he added: “Young kids. Maybe five cycles and up. They had it rigged to burn. I… the other guard, he kept yelling at them. He said I was too soft on them, like I - we were on this other deployment once, it was meant to be just crowd control, and I was ordered to shoot kids the same age as that.” He was silent for a second. “I missed.” His hands twisted one over the other, but Jyn noticed that the blaster Poe had lent him was still close enough to grab. “On purpose. So I was already in the shit for that, and when the other guard said he was going to report me for reconditioning, just because I wouldn’t call a bunch of hostage kids who didn’t deserve to die scum…” His voice trailed off, and he shrugged. “I needed out. They needed out. I didn’t want to kill FP-3846, but he was going to murder a bunch of children smaller than pre-combat troopers. In front of their families. And burning to death…”
Finn sat frozen for a few long moments. Jyn could feel Cassian feigning calm and relaxation, and all but hear his brain turning over the information Finn had given him at furious speed. She knew the same phrases that were turning over in her head would be turning over in his.
I missed, on purpose. Hostage kids who didn’t deserve to die. Murder children… in front of their families.
These were concepts stormtroopers weren’t supposed to understand.
Finn shook himself, and raised his head. “So I shot FP-3846 and let the kids out, and that’s when Rey turned up and put a blaster to my head. To make sure I didn’t hurt her, I guess.”
“I guess,” Poe echoed, and gave Finn a tiny sliver of that blinding Dameron grin. “You should’ve seen your face.”
“I was surprised,” Finn said, grinning back, but his hand stayed close to the blaster nearby. “She’s a surprising person.”
“We raised her properly, then,” Baze observed, lifting his head.
“So that’s why you left, Finn,” Jyn said, sitting up straight and relinquishing her grip on the holdout blaster. “Do you have any plans for what you want to do next?”
From the way Finn stared at her it was obvious he hadn’t thought of anything of the kind. Jyn felt a sudden, sharp jolt of kinship; what would she have said, thirty-five years ago, if someone had asked her the same question?
What do I want to do next? Survive.
On a more practical note, it was possible he simply hadn’t had time to think. He’d escaped the sack of Tuanul with Rey and Poe, and then he must have fled Jakku with them. There wasn’t exactly a whole lot of time for planning your future when you were on the run. And he couldn’t know much about the Resistance - everything he did know was almost certainly inaccurate. There was so much they could learn from him… and somebody quick, clever and resolute, with the skills in close combat he’d displayed to Jyn and the gunner’s talents Chewbacca had told her about, and the inside intelligence on the First Order’s stormtrooper programme, would be an invaluable asset. Hell, even the unshakable loyalty to (and, Jyn was pretty certain, devastating crush on) Rey might work out in their favour. If Rey really was the kidnapped girl who had been born Breha Organa, she’d need someone to watch her back. She would be Snoke’s favourite target from the day her name was known.
They’d have to make sure he wasn’t a plant, but Jyn thought it was unlikely. They had heard too much from him that clearly came directly from him, and that was out of step with everything stormtroopers parroted, if you were lucky enough to catch one.
Finn leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. His eyes were very wide and very sincere. “I want to get as far away from the First Order as possible.”
“There would be a place for someone with your talents in the Resistance,” Cassian said, just floating the offer, casually. “And your intelligence could be invaluable.”
“No, thanks,” Finn said, straightening up again - which, Jyn couldn’t help noticing, brought him closer to the blaster. “I already promised Poe I’d give him any information I have before you set me down.”
Poe looked up at the ceiling, and the peeling posters stuck to it.
“And that’s your decision to make,” Jyn cut in. “I nearly made the same choice, but that was long before you were born.”
Han Solo put his feet up on the banquette he was sitting on and snorted eloquently. Jyn sensed Cassian refraining, with a heroic effort, from rolling his eyes. She’d assumed he would find that easier, after so many years of coping with Han, but Han kept doing things Cassian didn’t understand and wasn’t inclined to let go.
“You were worse,” Jyn retorted, ignoring Cassian. “Oh, I’m only here for the money. I’m a hardbitten smuggler, I’m tough as nails and only out for what I can get. As soon as you pay me, I’m gone, you won’t see me for dust. Liar. They paid you three months in and you stayed forever.”
Han raised his hands. “Hey. I didn't say I was any better.”
Finn looked puzzled, but not hostile. Poe was carefully paying attention to his droid, who had got a little battered on Jakku; from what Jyn could see given that Poe was standing in the shadow of a dodgy light and had his face largely turned away from her, he was wearing a peculiarly fixed expression.
“What made you change your mind?” Finn asked, sudden and clear, his eyes a little narrowed.
“Who? Me? Or her?” Han Solo jerked a thumb casually at Jyn.
“Either of you, sir.”
“Stop calling me sir. I quit the army,” Han groused, scowling half-heartedly at Finn. Then he looked at Jyn and raised his eyebrows. “I guess you always had a clearer idea than I did. I just stuck around because I needed to get paid, and then I stuck around because I had some stupid idealistic bastard friends, and someone needed to stop them dumping themselves in the banthashit on a daily basis.”
“ Y tú siempre tan cuidadoso, ” Cassian said, under his breath. Jyn kicked him.
“I stayed because the Empire killed the last of my parents,” Jyn said, “and I got angry enough to stand and fight even though I thought it was probably worthless, and stupid enough to believe it might not be.” She glanced sidelong at Cassian, and found that he was watching her and smiling very slightly. She smiled back in answer.
When she turned her head back, Finn was nodding. “Those are…” he said, then stopped, and very clearly thought again. “I get those reasons. But I can’t do it.” He shook his head. “I’ve had enough. I don’t care if it’s cowardly. I need out.”
“I get that,” Jyn said, and when he met her eyes there was recognition there.
BB-8 caused a diversion by whirling out of Poe’s grip as soon as his antenna had been fixed, and chasing after Kaytoo, bleeping a demand in Binary to know how Kaytoo’s analysis was proceeding - at least, that was what Jyn thought; BB-8 was always too fast to be easy to follow.
It is almost complete, Kaytoo whistled back, with that special peevishness only BB-8 could wake in him. Shut up.
BB-8 whooped something profane back and hurtled across the compartment to Poe’s feet.
“Ow,” Poe said absently. “Buddy, my toes. And be nice to Kaytoo. He’s bigger and scarier than you are.”
“I don’t see that working on that droid,” Finn observed. He had somehow moved closer to Baze, without anyone seeing him go, possibly because he thought Baze would protect him from any attempt to force him to follow the Resistance. He might well be right about that, Jyn thought; she was fairly sure Rey had asked Baze for just that, and Baze would remember how difficult the early days of Rogue One had been, after Scarif. They hadn’t found a ready welcome among the Alliance High Command, and she and Bodhi had been at particular risk.
Finn wasn’t wrong to be careful. Jyn approved.
“It doesn’t,” Poe said. “But I feel like I should make an effort, you know?” He cracked his father's bright, warming smile in Finn’s general direction, and Jyn saw a tiny bit of tension go out of Finn.
Thank the Force for Damerons.
In the cargo bay, Rey stared at the lines and symbols she had drawn on the floor, sparing Chirrut’s knees, and the chunk of kyber crystal in the middle. Chirrut could hear her silence and her focus, the same way he had heard the chalk scrape across the floor and the kyber crystal click into place, the same way he could hear the faint rustle of her half-loosened hair as she turned her head to look from the crystal to him.
“How are we going to do this?” Rey asked finally. “How… in space, how do you know what time of day it is? Do you use your destination or the point where you started? How can you…”
It was at moments like this that the fact that Rey had never left Jakku’s surface struck home. Chirrut lowered himself down slowly to sit next to her. “We will manage with a temple that moves,” he said, and patted one of her hands. “I promise, Rey.”
Rey’s hand turned over under his, and she clung to him.
“Meditate with me,” Chirrut said, echoing the words of a fifteen-year-old girl who had seen too much already, yet another person he and Baze had not been able to protect.
Rey let out a soft, huffing snort. “Inner peace feels a very long way away.”
“Trust the Force,” Chirrut said mildly. “If I can meditate while sneaking through Imperial lines of defence, you can manage on this incredibly mangy old bucket of bolts.”
“But she’s a very historic bucket of bolts,” Rey protested, almost managing to sound sincere, and then Chirrut smiled as he heard her giggle.
There was a brief pause.
“Do you think Finn’s okay?” Rey asked.
“What does the Force tell you?”
“What I want to hear,” Rey said, with one of her flashes of startling cynicism. “I want to know what you think.”
“I think he’ll be fine,” Chirrut said, and kept to himself how long he thought that might take. “Come on, Rey. You haven’t forgotten all your discipline.”
Rey grumbled, but Chirrut felt her shift and settle next to him, heard her breathing even out.
It took some time - perhaps an hour - but when Rey stirred Chirrut heard it.
“What is it?”
“I think someone has news for me,” Rey said.
Chirrut stopped himself sucking in a startled breath. He had never heard Rey sound so scared when she was lucid.
Kaytoo didn’t say anything until Rey returned to the room, looking pale and defiant, clutching her staff in one hand. Jyn wondered how the girl had known - or maybe she didn’t, watching Chirrut follow her. Chirrut had always just known things, too, and chalked it up to the Force. Jyn would be genuinely very surprised if Rey wasn’t Force-sensitive, regardless of whether she was Breha Solo Organa or not.
Kaytoo stirred. “I have finished my computing,” he announced. “And several post-hoc tests which I consider ludicrously unnecessary, in light of the overwhelming -”
“You can keep it simple,” Han said, with that outraged edge his voice wore when he was under some kind of pressure and didn’t want to respond to it honestly - and then he caught himself and winced, possibly at the impression he might be leaving.
Rey waited, silent, her eyes fixed on Kaytoo.
“There is a 99.995% probability that Rey is the daughter of Han Solo,” Kaytoo said. “Of course, without a DNA sample, I cannot comment on whether she is also the daughter of Leia Organa -“
Cassian heaved a sigh, and Jyn and Baze slapped their own faces at the same moment. Rey’s eyebrows shot up, and Finn shuffled a little further into the background, observing this with care.
“I only have two kids,” Han snapped, red-faced, as he cut Kaytoo off. “I know who their mother is.”
“It was a logical possibility,” Kaytoo protested.
“Fuck your logical possibilities!”
“That is not anatomically probable, much less desirable -“
In the noise and argument, Cassian trying to shut Kaytoo up, Jyn trying to calm Han down, Jyn missed Rey leaving the room. She looked up several minutes later, when Han had finally stopped threatening Kaytoo with a trip to a Tatooine junk shop, and found that the girl had slipped out very effectively. She looked at Poe, who raised both hands.
“I couldn’t stop her if she wanted out, ma’am.”
“He’d be an idiot to try,” Baze growled.
“Rey needs time to think,” Chirrut said, light and level. “She has spent the last fifteen years thinking she was left behind and forgotten.”
Han closed his eyes and rubbed a hand over his face, suddenly looking like an old man. “Never,” he mumbled. “Neither of us would ever.”
Jyn decided this was not the moment to mention all the times that Han had, to Jyn’s certain knowledge, accused Leia of giving up on Breha. She thought Poe already knew about them; he was trying to hide an extremely censorious expression and not doing it very well. Cassian was looking particularly bland, which Poe seemed to take as a confirmation that Han had behaved badly rather than anything else.
Finn had just retreated into the shadows to look confused and try to be tactful, which was entirely understandable under the circumstances, and which he was doing very well for a former stormtrooper.
(Stormtrooper. Jyn still couldn’t get over that. A stormtrooper, and a hut full of vulnerable children had looked at him, and he had somehow decided that he had nothing left to lose…)
“Aw, man,” Han said, largely to himself. “Kriff it, I don’t…”
Chewbacca clapped him bracingly on the back and roared something comforting.
“Thanks, Chewie.” Han reached out blindly to pat the Wookiee’s shoulder. “Thanks. I’ll be in the cockpit if Breha - I mean Rey - if anyone’s looking for me.”
Chewbacca went with him, and when Jyn looked around after seeing them disappear through the familiar rounded corridor, she realised that Finn had disappeared too, and that Poe was looking around in surprise.
“I didn’t see him move,” Poe said, plainly not pleased - as he should be, frankly.
“I did,” Chirrut said, tapping his staff on the floor and grinning in a fashion that Jyn currently found familiar and endearing, but which would shortly become maddening. Baze made a subterranean noise of indignation that strongly indicated that he was already annoyed.
“You’re blind,” Cassian, Jyn and Baze said, in concert and with varying degrees of irritation. Jyn did not miss Poe’s startled blink.
“I don’t need eyes to see him,” Chirrut informed them all, and looked directly at Jyn. “I didn’t need eyes to pick you out of a crowd, little sister.”
“Are you telling me he’s Force-sensitive?” Cassian demanded, folding his arms. “A Force-sensitive stormtrooper?”
“He’s not a stormtrooper any more, sir,” Poe said, and then looked surprised at himself.
“I am saying the Force moves with him,” Chirrut pronounced, ignoring Poe with his usual magnificence. “There is more than one way to matter in the Force, Cassian, this is very narrow-minded of you.”
Cassian said something comprehensive in Alderaanian, too quick and low for Jyn to follow, and then pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “I have missed you. Both of you.”
Chirrut smiled, softer and warmer than his mischief grin. Jyn felt her heart warm and melt.
“We have missed you too,” Baze said gruffly. “Come and sit. Tell us everything. You too, Kaytoo, don’t think you’re getting out of this.”
As they joined Baze and Chirrut, Poe slipped away and took his droid with him. Jyn hoped the pair of them had gone to find Finn and check on Rey.
She saw Cassian glancing after the disappearing pilot and droid, and tugged gently on the back of his jacket.
“Let them take care of themselves,” she murmured. From what they’d heard, Rey could take Finn in a fight, and Poe wouldn’t hesitate to back her up if he needed to.
Cassian hesitated, then nodded, and helped her pull a couple of moveable seats from their clipped-in positions to spaces by Baze and Chirrut. She sat down next to him, and was surprised to glance sideways and find him smiling fondly at her.
“What?” she murmured, an answering smile catching absurdly at the corners of her mouth.
“ Quince años y lo logramos, ” Cassian said, very softly, and kissed her cheek. “Nunca lo hubiera creído.” ”
“Your first news had better be that the two of you finally got married,” Baze said sourly, but there was a softness to those implacable black eyes. “If you’ve been going around giving each other moon eyes like that for the last two decades.”
“General Organa keeps offering,” Kaytoo said. “But they refuse to get married except in special circumstances. Such as when a mission requires it. Or when they are insecure. Or when they have just been thrown into jail -“
“Kaytoo, ya basta ,” Cassian said, flushing high on his cheekbones as Baze eyed the pair of them meaningfully, and Jyn snorted. The chances of the droid listening were slim. “That only happened once!”
Finn didn’t understand the layout of this ship. It was nothing like the ones he’d been taught about in his lessons, and it didn’t follow much of a logical plan. Probably it had just been messed around with too much; Finn could see the scar marks of modifications, the parts that didn’t fit neatly together. He wandered through the corridors, keeping the central compartment with its collection of personal safety risks and complicated emotional histories behind him, and listened out for Rey. But she was quiet, and he didn’t hear a thing, not even when he reached the cargo bay and found her sitting on the floor beside a strange pattern chalked onto it, cross-legged with her back straight, her head up, and her face screwed up in frustration. Her eyes shot open when he came into the room.
“Sorry,” he said, putting his hands up. “Didn’t mean to disturb you.”
She shook her head, and combed her fingers through her hair; she’d taken it out of its style, and it all hung loose around her face and shoulders. It was pretty, Finn thought. “You didn’t.”
He felt safe enough to sit down next to her, even though the floor was marked with hints of rust and unknown stains. “What were you doing?”
“I was trying to meditate.” Rey rested her head in her hands. “It’s not working.”
Finn reached out to touch her shoulder instinctively, but something stopped him. He withdrew his hand, and tucked it back into his lap.
Rey lifted her head and stared into the utilitarian blankness of the cargo bay.
“Do you want to spar?” she said at last. “I need to get my head clear.”
When Jyn eventually found the missing younger generation, they were occupying the cargo bay. A large, roughly oval space had been marked out with the same chalk that had drawn a familiar pattern nearby, and Finn and Rey were circling each other within it. They had both taken off their boots and an outer layer, and as Jyn watched Finn threw a punch which Rey countered and responded to with a blow that came close to striking Finn between the legs - he shifted just in time, and tried to cut her feet from under her, but she had moved out of range.
“Foul,” Poe yelled, from his seat on top of an empty crate, arm draped affectionately over BB-8, who was commentating in bleeps and whistles.
Both Finn and Rey laughed at him. Finn finally managed to knock Rey’s feet from under her, but she rolled away and back to her feet before he could press his advantage. He was clearly stronger than Rey, in some senses, and she would have little chance if she were grappling with him on the floor. Unless she used the Force, or had a few tricks up her sleeve better than the ones Jyn knew.
Jyn could see fresh bruising rising on both of them. She could also see that they both looked brighter and happier, and that they were pulling their punches, no longer fixated on winning. She thought it might not have been like that earlier.
She sat down next to Poe, who made room for her. “Who’s winning?” she said.
“Score draw,” Poe said, and grinned. “I don’t think they’re counting.”
Jyn leaned back on her hands and watched. Both of them were good; Finn had a discipline and a steadiness Jyn found impressive, and a lack of hesitation that would serve him well in a real fight. Rey had a learned viciousness Jyn recognised, the cruelty of someone comparatively small who had learned to go for the throat early on, and a slickness of movement and anticipation of blows that reminded her of Luke Skywalker and Chirrut. Jyn wondered what she’d look like with her staff in hand, or with a lightsaber.
After a while, Rey tripped Finn and tackled him to the ground, pressing him down with the flat of her forearm on the back of his neck.
“Ow,” Finn said amicably. “You win.”
Rey got to her feet, laughing a little, and lifted him with both hands. Jyn watched with interest as he squeezed Rey’s hands briefly, and said, very softly: “You okay?”
Rey swallowed hard, and Jyn waited. “No,” she said. “No, I’m not okay.”
Poe was very tense, and when Jyn looked at him she could see upset written plainly across his handsome face. She remembered that Rey had always been a favourite of Poe’s, always welcome to play in Shara’s grounded X-wing, always getting more dessert or staying up later than Poe should have allowed when he was supposed to be watching her.
Rey looked past Finn at Jyn. “Where is he?” she said, and swallowed convulsively. “My… father. Where is he?”
“In the cockpit,” Jyn replied. Her voice came out kinder than she expected: maybe it was all the memories. When were you last in contact with your father? I haven’t seen him for fifteen years. “He said he’d be there if anyone wanted to talk to him.” It was a gentler and more delicate way of doing it than she would have thought Han would manage, but he’d always had a sweet streak, somewhere in among the bravado.
Rey licked her lips and nodded, looking down at her feet; then Finn nudged her shoulder gently - they hadn’t touched so much before; what had the sparring unlocked? - and murmured something. Rey glanced up sharply and nodded, a pale smile crossing her face. Thin, not reaching her troubled eyes, but real.
That was one of Baze’s expressions, Jyn thought. Not Han or Leia’s or Luke’s.
Rey took a deep breath. “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me,” she said, and forged forward.
Finn watched as Rey left, then turned away from the door. They had wrapped their knuckles in rags before starting to spar, and the former stormtrooper was picking at the wrappings carefully, unknotting each smooth layer to reveal strong, broad hands. There were scars on his arms and shoulders, but he couldn’t have been much older than Rey, if that. Twenty? Twenty-one? Jyn had been a killer and a thief at that age, but she’d nearly died a thousand times over to make sure children never saw enough combat to make them veterans when they should be civilians.
Pre-combat troopers, Jyn remembered suddenly. Finn had described a room full of children as young as five, by Poe’s testimony, as smaller than pre-combat troopers. How young did you have to be to be too young for combat training?
“Do you have a family you’re looking for?” Jyn asked, sudden, not questioning the impulse that led her to speak. “Since our success rate in finding missing kids has suddenly gone up.”
Finn’s broad mouth twitched - he should smile, Jyn thought, he should laugh, but he didn’t look as if he’d done much of either - and he shook his head. “Stormtroopers don’t have families, ma’am. Traitors don’t live.”
“You will,” Poe said.
Jyn really had to teach him not to make promises.
Finn shook his head again, not like he was denying them, just like he was making it clear he thought they were a little naive.
“You wanted me to tell you about the First Order,” he said, and spread his hands wide. The pile of rags had now been neatly folded on top of one of the spoilers of the overladen, family-size speeder parked in a corner of the cargo bay. “Ask away.”
The kid walked quietly. Han wasn’t sure he wanted to know where or how she’d learned to do that; he hoped it was only Chirrut Îmwe, passing his skills at noiselessness and mischief on to the next generation. It was probably useful to her, regardless of whether she’d learned it as a beloved adopted granddaughter or a street kid. He didn’t hear a hint of her movements until Chewie raised his head, and there, suddenly, was his daughter, standing in the doorway with one hand resting on a bit of loose padding Han had taped down more than ten years ago and never attended to properly. She wasn’t dressed the way Breha would have been - her clothes were decent quality, but nothing like what Leia had given her to wear as a girl, nothing like what she’d have been able to get if she’d grown up with them, and they looked weirdly monastic, too - but apart from that, and the wary look in her eyes, Rey might have grown up onboard this ship. The way she should have done.
Chewie looked at him like he was a sap, which Han was well aware he was. Then Chewie heaved himself out of the co-pilot’s seat, announced in very slow, careful Shriiywook that he wanted to check that negative power coupling hadn’t been fucked up any further, and elbowed his way surprisingly gently past Rey.
This left the co-pilot’s seat free. Han tried not to hunch his shoulders defensively, or to wait too obviously; he stabbed aimlessly at the consoles, pretending to be paying attention to the ship. Rey was sticking close to the doorway, like she wanted to be able to run away if he looked at her wrong, but she was exploring. Whoever had vandalised the Falcon had done an incomplete job; there were bits missing, of course, and Han had had to replace the lucky charm left tied to the central console and was going to have to remove the posters of naked individuals of various sentient species that someone had pasted up, but there was much that hadn’t changed. Rey seemed particularly fascinated by the two pictures attached to the emergency fuse cabinet: Leia, giving her maiden speech in the Senate, and Luke, investigating Dagobah as a possible location for a Jedi academy, climbing out of a particularly wet bit of swamp that he’d fallen into and laughing.
Han remembered those days: peace just fragile enough to be exciting, but peace, and the galaxy had seemed so full of promise.
Han ran out of patience, and twisted around, one arm resting on the back of his chair over the leather jacket he’d slung there. “Well, c’mon, kid,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady. “You don’t need to hide in the doorway. Take a seat.”
Rey stepped forwards, and sat down in the co-pilot’s chair. She was careful about it, tentative, and her eyes were flickering over everything, all the machines, the stars outside, Han himself. She must not have had a moment to really appreciate the Falcon, in between being chased off Jakku by the First Order and getting entangled with his ill-fated rathtar expedition.
Hazel eyes, Han realised, as he tried to look at her without making it obvious. Rey didn’t look much like him at all, but she had his hazel eyes.
He felt short of oxygen.
Those eyes landed on the autopilot function, and the course he’d plotted for Takodana; the finely modelled little head, so like Luke’s in shape, tilted in question.
“Refuelling,” Han said, grateful for something to say. “And the gruesome twosome and their murder droid -“
“That’s rude,” Rey said automatically. She sounded like Baze Malbus; Han thought he knew who the disciplinarian in her life had been.
“I am rude,” Han continued, widening his eyes and raising his eyebrows at her as if he expected nothing less. He was hoping for a laugh, but he didn’t get one. “They want a chat with Maz Kanata.”
“Who?” Rey had a face made for curiosity.
“Nobody knows,” Han said. “She’s tiny and orange and a few hundred years old, and everyone owes her money.” He fell silent for a moment, then tapped his fingers on the nearest bit of console. “She likes Andor, though, Force knows why.”
Rey leaned back in her chair and stared out at hyperspace whizzing past her. She didn’t look much like the toddler he’d wrapped up in a blanket and let sleep there, and yet, at the same time, Han could see the baby roundness of Breha’s cheeks and her soft hands under Rey’s keen whipcord energy, coiled tightly around her bones. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.
She was so tall.
He cleared his throat and spoke, hearing a hesitancy in his voice and despairing of himself a little more than usual. “If you got questions, ask. I’ll answer everything I can.”
Rey nodded, and then said, very quietly: “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me, kid - Rey.” Han smuggler stared down at his hands on the controls, and then looked out into hyperspace, reminding himself not to call her Breha. “You don’t need to.” He swallowed hard. “You have a right to your own story.”
Rey said nothing for a long moment, during which Han’s heart descended slowly and wretchedly to the general region of his boots. Then she shifted in her seat, pressed her lips together as if she was trying to brace herself for something and said: “What happened?”
Han took a deep breath: the story was engraved on his heart with a laser cutter, but he’d long ago stopped believing he’d ever tell it to his daughter. “You were four,” he said. “Four and a half. The Senate was just starting its session on Chandrila, and your mother and I left you with your brother, Ben. He was at school with your uncle, at the Second Jedi Temple. He was fifteen.” He took another jerky breath. “I waved you off from the Falcon and your mother put you to bed in the dorms, and the next thing we knew, the Temple had been wrecked and everyone was dead except you and Ben. You were missing.”
Rey looked down at her hands. “I don’t remember.”
“You were - young.” Han’s voice cracked along with his heart. “You were - very young.” He looked up at the ceiling. “I’ve been looking for you, since that day. Everywhere I went. Your mother, she started looking, and then the First Order started… well. They started making trouble, and she saw it before anyone else. She said she wanted to stop the war happening, so it couldn’t hurt you, wherever you were.”
Rey looked like she might be about to cry. Uneasily, Han remembered that the First Order had come for Dameron and his kriffing droid on Jakku; the proof of that was the fact that Rey had somehow captivated a renegade stormtrooper and dragged him along with her. (Clearly, she’d inherited Leia’s force of personality. Han was proud, somewhere under the sadness and confusion over what had happened to her, and also faintly worried about what kind of alarming stray she might adopt next.) The First Order had chased them off the damned planet, somewhere Rey had lived for fifteen years. What had she lost when that happened?
“Leia did her best,” Han added. When did he get to sounding so old and defeated? “She’s still fighting. Always fighting, Leia, she never gives up.” He closed his eyes, thinking of all the times he’d accused her of just that. “I haven’t always been fair to her. Ask Jyn, maybe, or Dameron, if you want to know the whole messy Force-damned truth. Dameron’s seen her more recently than I have, anyway.”
Rey looked at him. He opened his eyes and gave her a very small smile.
“He’s one of her pilots. Leia loves her pilots,” he said. “She always did. Hardly ever takes the controls of so much as a speeder herself, she fought as infantry or intelligence when she did go into the field, but she loves flying, and she likes pilots. They fit into her battle plans best. And she takes duty so seriously, but she loves the idea of being free, and flying…”
“…is like being free,” Rey completed, and then added, apparently involuntarily: “She sounds terrifying.”
Han let out a harsh bark of laughter. “She is,” he said. “Terrifying, and brilliant, and easy to love.” He smiled, and there was a sort of bittersweet affection in it: she was easy to love - he still loved her and he thought she loved him back. But whether she still liked him was another matter entirely. “She marks your birthday every year. Yours and Ben’s.”
“When is my birthday?” Rey asked, with a sudden lift and tilt of her head. It struck Han that this was a question she hadn’t known the answer to for the best part of twenty years.
“Two standard months and nineteen days,” Han said, talking around the lump in his throat. His voice stayed steady, and he was proud of that. “You’ll be twenty. I guess Master Îmwe and Master Malbus helped you pick a different day?”
Rey twisted a piece of her jacket around her finger. “We celebrated the day I came to live with them.”
“Where were you before?” Han said, the words falling out of his damn-fool mouth even as his mind presented him with several unpalatable answers, and then added hastily: “Don’t tell me if you don’t want to.”
“I worked,” Rey said. “As a scavenger.” Her voice had gone careful and practical, a bit distant. He could hear irregular food and long days and cruelty in its tone, hidden under a veneer meant to make other people comfortable.
Han’s heart squeezed in his chest. “I grew up like that,” he said, feeling his voice rough around the edges. “In Corellia. I never - I wanted better for you, Rey.”
His daughter nodded an acknowledgement, then looked at her hands. After a few moments, she said: “What happened to - my brother? Ben?”
“Ah,” Han said, and cleared his throat. He wasn’t sure what had blocked it up so suddenly. Either reluctance or grief. “Well… we’re not exactly sure.”
“Is he missing too?”
“No.” Han stared down at the dashboard, and tapped his fingers on it. “No. We know he’s alive, we know more or less where he is.”
Rey was frowning at him, and Force, she looked just like Luke when she pulled that face.
“He… you have to understand.” Han looked up at the ceiling and tried to understand what he had repeatedly been told, so he could explain it to his daughter, so he could be fair to the creature his son had been twisted into. “Ben was a target from the day he was born. Half a Skywalker. Too strong in the Force. There were… Dark things that wanted him. We didn’t know until they had their claws in him. We were in time to protect you, but everything we did for Ben wasn’t… enough. They changed him. And one day they came for him and they took you both - at least, that’s the theory.” Han sat up straight. “We didn’t know if you’d been killed or were a prisoner. You turning up, alive… free…” He couldn’t help smiling. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s the best nonsense I’ve ever heard.”
“Maybe he abandoned me,” Rey suggested. Her face had gone hard as glass, easy to shatter.
“Maybe,” Han said. “Better than what happened to him, believe me. Rey, they twisted him, they turned him to the Dark -“
“Like Kylo Ren?”
Han winced. “That’s the name they gave him.” He rubbed a hand over his face, feeling very old and very weary. His seat creaked when he shifted his weight. “How do you know it? It’s not… well known.”
“He was there. In Tuanul. Where I used to live.” Rey’s voice crackled with suppressed anger; she crossed her legs on the seat and sat up very straight. “We would have got them out - me, Finn and Poe - if he hadn’t come. I - my head was killing me, I could hardly even see…”
Han closed his eyes. His son had slaughtered his daughter’s home, probably everyone but Baze, Chirrut and a few meagre survivors, and yet that blow struck numbly. Maybe it was just that too much had happened today.
“Am I like him?” Rey demanded, an edge of panic in her voice.
“No,” Han said, opening his eyes again in a hurry. “‘Course, I haven’t seen him for fifteen years. But you… you’re contained, and… I get the feeling that you do things on purpose when you do them. Ben was always - even when he was sweet, he wasn’t in control.” He looked at her, fierce and brave and bright-eyed, and a curl of joy twisted in his heart, despite everything that made this bittersweet. “You don’t look like him, either. He’s tall. Got my bones. Black hair, your mother’s brown eyes. Ears and nose were all mine.” Han shrugged uncomfortably and ran a hand through his hair. “You… you’re built like your mother, but taller. You got a lot of her expressions. You move like her, sometimes, you sound like her. Terms of looks… you got your uncle’s nose and chin and cheekbones, but he’s a blond.” He twisted in his seat, and pointed at the picture she’d stared at. “That’s him. Luke Skywalker. The legend, the idiot.”
“I thought he was dead,” Rey said to her feet.
“He’s been missing a long time,” Han said, and his throat hurt the same way it did every time he knew Luke was gone beyond his grasp or Leia’s, as surely as Rey had gone. “He might be.”
This chapter contains direct reference to the violence that Snoke uses to control Kylo Ren.
“We need to retrieve her,” Kylo Ren said, his voice growling with that stubborn edge he got sometimes. Hux closed his mouth and prayed for patience - either that, or for the Supreme Leader to beat the nonsense out of Ren. Hux took no special joy in seeing his adversary paler than usual, patterned with bruising and moving stiffly, but sometimes it was the only thing that got Ren out of his moods, and it was the only thing known to persuade Ren to stick to a tactical plan. It also meant that Hux’s ship ran like a well-oiled machine for at least a week until Ren regained his former obnoxiousness.
“She’s a scrap of a scavenger,” Hux argued. “A backwater desert girl raised by a couple of old men. She has no tactical importance whatsoever.”
Ren was wearing his mask: he always did in the corridors. Hux had only seen him remove it before the Supreme Leader, or once in the medical bay. Still, he was an expressive man for someone wrapped entirely in black wool robes and a heavy black carbon helmet, and right now anger fairly crackled off him.
Hux folded his hands behind his back. “The droid, on the other hand - we’re almost positive the Resistance agent must have sent his plans with the droid. It wasn’t present during the Battle of Tuanul and he was: two of my troopers distinctly identified him from the bounty records.”
“Including the one who defected?” Ren sneered. “Your troopers are better traitors than I thought.”
Hux caught a sharp breath. “We still do not know what happened to FN-2187. It’s probable that the Resistance took him as a hostage.” Hux doubted it - by all accounts, the official Resistance forces at that battle had come down to the single pilot sent by Leia Organa, and FN-2187 had been more than capable of overwhelming a single pilot; besides, FN-2187’s patrol companion had been killed by the kind of neat, close-up shot only a fellow stormtrooper could produce - but his near-perfect record and the handsome figure he’d cut in stormtrooper white made him an excellent martyr. Better to let everyone think he was dead, or as good as, particularly while they were walking along a public corridor. Hux’s people were disciplined, but eavesdropping was a possibility.
Ren laughed. It was one of the less pleasant sounds Hux had ever heard.
“Forget the droid,” he said. “The girl is important. Rey. She has a power that could change the tide of this war.”
Not the Force again, Hux thought, spitefully loudly. Ren stiffened. “We’re winning,” Hux said aloud. “What more do you want, Ren?”
“A number of things your pitiful mind couldn’t comprehend,” Ren spat, “but let me offer it to you in terms you can understand: winning faster.”
Hux let his lip curl. “That would certainly be of interest. If true.”
“You don’t understand her potential, Hux.” Ren straightened to his full, irritating height. Hux was a tall man, but Ren was slightly taller - and had a natural tendency to loom. “This desert girl - the Force sings around her.”
Hux believed in the Force, in the very real sense that he didn’t think the officers who had choked to death in the face of Ren’s displeasure had strangled themselves. But he didn’t understand it, and nor did he care to. He was aware that Captain Phasma studied the history of Force-users, largely as a defensive mechanism against Ren and his Knights, and given that her troopers had a lower Ren-related attrition rate than any other company, Hux was considering requiring other captains to implement the measures she had come up with. But that was data - something you could see, measure, and run a non-parametric test and an effect size analysis on if necessary. You couldn’t do any of that to the kind of meagre intuition Ren seemed to run off. The villagers had been asked about her, but they’d given little information of consequence before they’d died, partly because nobody had realised Ren would care so much until it was too late. He had this girl’s name, or what he believed to be this girl’s name, and a firm conviction of her necessity, after - from Phasma’s reports - a brief, shadowy glimpse of her pale face darting through the shadows, and clinging to a speeder carrying two other indistinct shapes. Hux was privately convinced that one of those shapes had been FN-2187; perhaps his treachery could be explained by the Force twisting his mind. Not that it mattered.
Hux had been silent too long.
“I will find her,” Kylo Ren said. His voice was full of the kind of overblown grandeur he used when he was trying to convince himself of something. “I will bring her back, to the Supreme Leader. And she will lead us to Luke Skywalker.”
“How?” Hux demanded, startled into a sneer.
“Skywalker has never been able to resist the trapped and innocent,” Kylo Ren said. “She will ask him to save her. And he’ll come - and meet my apprentice.”
Hux was firmly of the opinion that Luke Skywalker was dead. A single old man, alone in the galaxy? It was a big galaxy, even for a Jedi Grand Master. And all the intelligence said that Skywalker had been a broken man after his niece and nephew vanished. Still, there was no doubt that finding Luke Skywalker and eliminating him was one of the Supreme Leader’s strategic objectives, and that made it one of Hux’s.
“You can find the droid, if you like,” Ren said loftily. “We won’t need it.”
He turned on his heel with a sweep of black cloak. Hux was forced to resist the temptation to spit.
He hoped the girl made as much of a mess of Ren as she’d made of the capture of Tuanul.
Takodana was very green. Jyn had seen it, and many other more beautiful planets, a hundred times before - but looking at the dawning wonder in Rey’s face, and the wistfulness on Baze’s as he watched her, Jyn felt like Takodana was a miracle too.
“I didn’t know there was this much green in the galaxy,” Rey breathed. Poe, who had managed to wedge himself into a crevice next to Chewbacca’s co-pilot seat to observe the landing, turned his face away quickly; Jyn caught a glimpse of heartache there.
Jyn supposed that Takodana did look a bit like Yavin IV, which Rey should have known like the back of her hand, but that boy really needed to stop wearing his life on his face.
“Do you like it?” Chirrut called from the central compartment, where he had been lecturing Finn about the Force - Finn looked a bit overwhelmed, but not so overwhelmed that Jyn felt herself obliged to rescue him, and Kaytoo had turned it into a philosophical discussion that Cassian was wearily trying to referee, with no assistance from anyone involved. “Are we nearly there yet?”
“Yes and yes,” Rey yelled back, over Baze’s rumble. “Stop pulling Grandfather’s pigtails.”
Chirrut laughed, and segued straight back into a complex comparison of the Grey Jedi and the Guardians of the Whills. Jyn could hear Cassian’s soft groan from here - or maybe she just knew it had been uttered.
“This is nothing,” Han said gruffly. “You wait till you see Naboo. Your mother’s biological mother’s planet. It’s beautiful. They’re all stuck up as hell, but they got a gorgeous planet. They do things with water I’ve never seen anywhere else.”
“What do you mean?” Rey said doubtfully. “I mean, I saw a holo of a fountain once - and a holofilm about the sea…”
“There’s a lot more than that, kid,” Han said, and when the Falcon finally settled on its landing gear and he twisted back to look at Rey his eyes were as over-bright as his smile. Jyn pretended she didn’t know that. “You got a lot to look forward to.”
The heat on Takodana was a little more stifling than that on Yavin IV, but Maz’s cantina, headquarters and domain was based by a lake. A breeze whistled past them as they left the Falcon, rustling the leaves of the trees.
“We are a large party,” Baze said critically. “We’ll attract attention.”
Cassian sighed. “When do we not?”
Jyn glanced around, at Finn and Rey standing by the lakeside, Han hovering by his daughter. Finn had his hands in the pockets of his stormtrooper black, now dusty and stained enough to pass for anything else, especially with one of Cassian’s spare jackets over the top. He was watching Han show Rey something - a blaster, Jyn thought, from the way it gleamed.
Han always liked giving people things, Jyn thought. That ring Leia always wore, freedom, blasters, overwhelming and unlikely military victories. “He’s right,” Jyn said aloud.
There was technically no need for anyone but Jyn, Cassian and Han to be planetside, and no need for Han to go into the cantina itself to arrange refuelling, but Finn was still determined to leave and equally determined not to make it easy for Jyn and Cassian to find out where he was going. (Sensible boy, Jyn thought.) Rey had never been off Jakku, and it would be cruel not to let her have at least a glimpse of Takodana; besides, Han didn’t want to let her out of his sight. Baze and Chirrut, obviously inspired by a similar impulse, had insisted on ‘stretching their legs’.
So, a large group of people walking into a neutral-territory cantina that could be full of First Order sympathisers it was. Jyn could feel Cassian twitching at the thought. She laid a hand on his arm as inconspicuously as possible, and he grumbled but settled.
Chewbacca clearly announced his intention of staying with the ship and managing the refuelling from this end. It was often difficult to parse Chewbacca’s emotions, especially if your Shriiywook was competent rather than fluent, but Jyn was sure that the haste with which he spoke was suspicious.
“Just because you owe Maz a drink, you old carpet,” Han called over his shoulder, but handed the blaster to Rey, folded his arms and turned to take the question seriously. “Someone should stay with the Falcon, though. A co-pilot. Just in case.” He frowned. “You and that droid of yours, Dameron. Both of you are too recognisable, and I know for a fact the First Order will be looking for you.”
Poe stepped briskly in front of BB-8 before the droid could charge Han, which made Jyn snort. “Captain Solo, sir -”
“No arguments,” Cassian said firmly, cutting Poe off. “Last time I was on Yavin IV your father had taken to framing your wanted posters and putting them up in the downstairs fresher.”
“Yes, sir.” Poe’s face twisted with embarrassment; he was obviously refraining from the temptation to slap his face and groan. Jyn grinned at him. Kes Dameron’s relationship to the Resistance was a vexed one, and the fierce, confused pride he took in his son and his closest friend despite the involvement with the Resistance was equally confusing. Framing his son’s bounty posters was the least weird thing he’d done this year.
“Maybe if we split up, too,” Cassian said. “Less conspicuous.” He turned to Kaytoo. “Can you act as lookout for us?”
Kaytoo nodded. “The chance that the First Order are pursuing us is high. The chance that they will make it here -”
“Thank you, Kay,” Cassian said wearily, and then gave the rest of the group an assessing stare.
Rey walked over to Baze and Chirrut immediately. The blaster had disappeared into her boxy jacket with no trace, and she held her staff like she meant business. Finn hesitated, obviously tempted to follow her, but then he glanced at Han and stayed put. Jyn had heard Han promise to help him find work off the Falcon, which suggested an unusual degree of gratitude from Han - probably because Finn had saved Rey from Kylo Ren - and obviously, even Finn’s peculiarly close bond to Rey wasn’t enough to keep him from sticking to his objectives.
“Maz will be expecting us,” Jyn said to Cassian. “The two of us, together.” She looked at the four groups ranged around them. “Han, if you think Maz won’t recognise you and cause a scene you’re deluded. Rey, Baze, Chirrut, you go first.” Cassian nodded in agreement. “Get a drink, sit down somewhere, don’t draw attention. We’ll be two minutes after you. Han, give us ten minutes for the drop with Maz, and then you come in.”
“If we aren’t back in an hour,” Cassian added, “assume something’s gone wrong - you know the contact details, Chewbacca.”
Chewbacca nodded soberly, and then wailed something.
“Don’t say that,” Rey murmured, making a small uneasy gesture. Her desert boots shifted on the muddy ground.
“You’ll jinx us, Chewie,” Han complained.
“What’d he say?” Jyn murmured to Cassian. “I didn’t catch it.”
Cassian bent his head closer to hers. “He said I have a bad feeling about this.”
The plan worked roughly as far as Jyn expected it to, which was to say that they got inside, Baze, Chirrut and Rey found themselves seats and drinks with no trouble, and Cassian and Jyn managed to complete the information swap without anyone causing any fuss - and then Han and Finn walked in, and Maz brought the entire bar to a stop by shouting “Han Solo!”
Finn drew back into a shadow while everyone stared. The more Jyn saw of him the more she liked his instincts, and from what he’d told her and Poe about the First Order, his observational skills and eye for detail were also better than your common-or-garden footsoldier. If the First Order hadn’t had big plans for him, they were more stupid than Jyn thought they were.
Mind you, the rumours about their weaponry - given flesh by Finn’s description of Starkiller Base - were enough to make Jyn think they were dangerously stupid. Taking a seat by Chirrut while Cassian sat down next to Rey, and Han across the room tried to bluster his way through Maz’s scene, Jyn tried to hide the shiver that had gone up her spine.
Leia had, over the years, repeatedly tried to tell her that if Galen Erso hadn’t designed the original Death Star someone else would have done it. His theoretical papers, written before the fall of the Republic when Galen had been just naive enough to believe they could describe a promising new energy source, had been well known. Someone else would have cracked the code if Galen Erso had died alongside Lyra on Lah’mu: it wouldn’t even have taken them much longer. And they wouldn’t have intentionally sabotaged the Death Star while they’d built it. Besides, no-one could blame Jyn for what her father had done.
Still, every time someone built a planet killer, Jyn felt somehow responsible. As if she’d failed her father by failing to burn his deadly legacy to the ground and tear out all of its roots. Leia had pointed out to her that this was logically impossible, that the tooka cat had been out of the bag for half a decade before Jyn had even been born, and they’d had an extremely cathartic screaming row.
“What are they doing?” Rey hissed, accidentally planting an elbow in Jyn’s side as she craned forward to see better, and yanking Jyn firmly back into the present.
“Don’t know,” Jyn said, rubbing a kidney and pushing Rey firmly down into her chair. It wasn’t easy. Rey had five inches and four decades on Jyn, and she was made of muscle and bone. She was also drawn to Finn the way Jyn remembered being drawn to Cassian, and Finn was currently on the other side of the room, sitting tight while Maz crawled halfway across a table to glare into his eyes with her many lenses. “Maz doesn’t do that a lot.”
After a few moments, Finn got up and went over to some shadowy sentients in a corner to talk to them. Arranging passage to the Outer Rim for work, probably; that was what Jyn would have done in his shoes. He was quick and strong enough that he might even survive well.
Rey was shifting in her seat like she had fire insects in her trousers.
“All is as the Force wills it,” Chirrut said, quiet but clear.
“The Force doesn’t will this!” Rey snapped.
“Are you sure?” Chirrut asked, raising his eyebrows and folding his hands on top of the table. “He has a right to go where he pleases, and reasons for not wishing to come to the Resistance. Are you just wishing for what you want?”
“Yes,” Rey said, with disarming promptitude. “But I’m right.”
Finn and the two sentients he’d been speaking to walked out. Han was still talking to Maz, and by the look of his body language he was receiving Maz’s regularly scheduled lecture on returning to his wife. Jyn was always in two minds about whether that would help either Han or Leia, but then, Cassian was always so convinced that Leia was better off without Han that he had more than enough certainty for the two of them put together.
“Please let me out, Jyn,” Rey said.
“She will never shut up or stop moving if you don’t,” Baze observed, and gave Rey a gimlet stare. “Go straight back to the ship at the first sign of trouble. Use your comlink. And remember the hour’s deadline.”
“And that you cannot make people want what you want,” Chirrut added, which made Rey blush as she nodded impatiently.
Reluctantly, Jyn got out of the way to let the girl barge past. She settled back into her seat as Rey hurried away.
“I’m not sure that was a good idea,” Cassian said to Baze. He sounded a little on edge, though Jyn wasn’t totally sure why. At least thus far, it was quiet. No-one had threatened anyone with anything.
Baze folded his lips. “She wants another chance to convince him.”
“To join the Resistance?”
“Not to leave,” Jyn corrected. She remembered Cassian having a similar conversation with her, once. By the way Cassian glanced at her, he remembered too.
They waited several minutes, until Han had finished talking to Maz and arranging the refuelling, and then several minutes more as Chirrut finished his drink and Han left. Maz also departed, with her characteristic deceptive speed; she always looked as if she was hurrying, well below everyone else’s eyeline, but she never seemed to move very fast at all - until you blinked and realised how much further away she was than you expected. In any case, she was gone, and they were just standing to leave when Jyn’s comlink buzzed. Cassian clapped a hand to his pocket and frowned at her; she took her link out and held it to her ear.
“The sky.” Han’s voice crackled over the comlink, distorted by the ancient temple Maz had built her cantina in and by his own horror. “Come and look at the sky.”
Jyn strode out of the cantina, moving so fast everyone else had to scurry to keep up. She was jogging down the steps towards Han when she saw what he meant: lines of red light, gleaming in the sky. Several lines of red light, so bright they were visible in the daylight.
Jyn almost fell over the final step. Cassian darted forward and caught her, and she wrapped one arm around his neck and clung to him, thoughtless, speechless, breathless, her eyes fixed on those red lines.
“No,” Cassian said, voice hoarse with disbelief and horror, “no.”
“What’s happening?” Chirrut said, voice sharp and harsh. “Is it Rey?”
“No,” Baze said heavily, and began to describe what they could see. Jyn barely heard him: she could hardly breathe.
There was a sudden bright flash, and then the lines of light were gone, and there was nothing but the glassy blue sky. Jyn choked and gasped for air, and buried her face in Cassian’s neck, her head swimming. His hand cupped the base of her skull, pressing her tightly against him, and his soft, repeated ‘no’ rang in her ears, in her pulse, until every wash of blood through her veins seemed to be pleading for things to be different.
She heard Han speak, muffled as his voice was by Cassian’s jacket and her determined effort to burrow into Cassian’s chest and stay there. “Leia told me once,” he said, sounding like he was dreaming, “that the First Order would just start the war. And the rest of us would be left to catch up. I guess she was right.”
Jyn released her grip on Cassian very slowly, and his arms slid down to hang loosely around her waist rather than clinging to her. She didn’t answer Han; his words had not sounded as if they wanted an answer.
There was a lot of screaming and wailing around them, people falling to their knees or panicking or praying. Baze and Chirrut crowded close behind her and Cassian; Jyn met Baze’s eyes, hard and loving as ever and disappearing into the creases of his semi-permanent suspicious squint, and wished for Bodhi and Kaytoo and a war they could win.
Finn weaved through the crowd towards them, and grabbed Han’s sleeve. “Solo - Captain Solo.”
“What is it, kid?” Han demanded.
Finn’s eyes were wide with fear, and his jaw was set with determination. His shoulders were square, and under his jacket Jyn caught a peek of Poe’s blaster. Poe must have given him the holster to go with it.
So this is what it looks like when someone decides to stand and fight, Jyn thought.
“I can hear troop shuttles,” Finn said, and pointed out over the wide still lake at several tiny dots on the horizon. “And those are TIE fighters. Where’s Rey?”
The problem with Solos and Organas, Maz Kanata thought, was a certain innate nosiness, and a tendency to allow the Force to lead them around by the aforementioned nose. She’d blame it on Skywalker blood, but then there was Han Solo, whose best attempts to keep himself to himself had all - as far as Maz was aware, and Maz was aware of a very great deal - failed him dramatically.
Maz followed Rey’s trail down the stone spiral staircase, and found the girl standing in the centre of a store room with a particular wooden box before her, wide-eyed and gasping, apparently unaware of her surroundings. Maz wasn’t surprised. She’d recognised those eyes as soon as Rey had ordered a drink, and while she felt a certain professional curiosity as to where the long-missing, presumed-dead Organa daughter had been unearthed, she was more pressingly aware of the way the lightsaber in her secret cellars sang.
It was singing for Rey. Rey, who was still sobbing for breath, chest heaving as if she’d run for miles, and who barely seemed to have noticed Maz until she stumbled backwards, hands flailing a little, almost dropping her staff. “I’m sorry. I - I didn’t mean to. I heard - I heard a little girl, screaming -“
“It was you,” Maz said, as gently as possible. “You heard yourself, fifteen years ago.”
Rey shook her head jerkily. No, she mouthed.
“My dear,” Maz said, still soft and kind. “You already know, don’t you? Whoever left you there, they are never coming back.”
Rey sobbed aloud, and Maz’s heart sank a little, heavy in her chest, but she knew that Rey had suffered worse, and would survive this.
“The belonging you seek is ahead of you,” Maz promised, and knew as the words left her mouth that they were true. She took two hurried steps forward, and flung open the lid of the box. “Here - take this. It was your uncle’s, and before that it was your grandfather’s. It called to Luke and now it calls to you - listen, and you will hear it singing.”
“That’s a lightsaber.” Rey backed up, one nervous, skittish step after another. “A Jedi’s weapon. I’m not - I’m a Guardian of the Whills, or I will be, like my grandfathers. I’m not - no, I’m sorry. You’ve got the wrong person.”
“Rey,” Maz tried.
“That’s me,” the girl said. “Just Rey.”
She turned and ran, and Maz let out a deep, long-suffering sigh. She took the lightsaber from its box and stuffed it into a pocket - she could at least find Jyn Erso and pass it on; Erso wasn’t as safe a pair of hands as Andor, but she worshipped the Force, and would take good care of the lightsaber until Rey was ready to accept it - and then began the long trail up to ground level.
Minutes later, she found herself surrounded by TIE fighters and stormtroopers charging her refuge, taking chunks out of the stone and killing her customers. Maz was seized by a strong sense of injustice; she’d paid the relevant bribes less than a week ago.
“Beasts!” she yelled, shaking a fist at the sky, and the young runaway Han Solo had brought to see her grabbed her and hauled her behind a stone pillar, away from a fusillade of shots.
“Look out,” he shouted back, “maybe get out of here, ma’am,” and Maz looked into his eyes and saw something besides overwhelming fear.
She pulled the lightsaber from her pocket and thrust it into his hand. “Here,” she said. “Give it to Rey. But first, use it.”
“How?” the man wailed. Han had called him Finn: the name was new, though, it sat uneasily on his shoulders.
“There’s the on button,” Maz said. “And turn it round the other way. Yes, good. Off you go.”
A bar of shimmering blue light sprang into Finn’s hands. He stared at it, then looked up, and his eyes swept over the battlefield, to where Han was picking off stormtroopers with a blaster. Maz saw his jaw set.
“Traitor!” screamed a stormtrooper as Finn charged forward with a Jedi’s weapon in his fist, and that was very interesting, but Maz had more immediate problems - and a few nasty surprises for her unwanted guests.
She ran back into her sanctuary, ignoring the tears and screams and fleeing of her less survival-oriented clientele.
“Brutes,” she muttered. “You will never win.”
Takodana reminded Kylo Ren of a place he had once known, and as the Supreme Leader had taught him, he strived to forget it, and to focus on that which truly mattered. He did not care about the destruction of the tall grey buildings, the burning of their flags and statues; he had no interest in the battle, or even the reports of X-wings entering orbit, or a possible sighting of a light Corellian freighter that might or might not be the Millennium Falcon. He would occupy himself with these things once his true objective had been achieved.
The girl was easy to find. Her awakening in the Force had called to him from the moment he became aware of her presence on Jakku: all that raw strength, disciplined but untrained as a Jedi would be, uncoiling with a ferocious ease. The stormtroopers at Tuanul had stood little chance - Ren had almost been inclined to speak in their favour.
Now she fled ahead of him into the forest, the light of her burning, burning, and so familiar that Ren could not help but reach for her, like a fire so lovely it hardly seemed that it could scorch. There had once been someone who might have been as strong, someone who might have shone so brightly, but that little girl had died a long time ago and Kylo Ren had learned well enough not to mourn her.
He had the right to name his own apprentice. He wondered if the name Breha might fit this girl - should the Supreme Leader agree. Attachments, of course, were to be despised: but the Supreme Leader had never disapproved his use of Breha’s memory to feed his rage. As techniques went, it worked far better than any other pain Kylo had ever encountered, and he had encountered many.
Breha. It was a strong name, a queen’s name, and from a single shadowed glimpse Kylo knew this girl capable of living up to it. But that was all in the future. He needed to disarm her first, and she was fierce and brave and she meant to fight.
He knew when she turned to fight him, blaster in one hand and staff in the other: when he came round the corner of the sunken path, booted feet soft on the rich loam of the soil and the rotting leaves on the ground, he was not surprised to have to block a number of accurate shots. He swept them aside, and felt her panic spike as the blaster slowly failed. She worked at it for a second, quick hands pressing and twisting components to try to pull it back in line, force the charging couplings to reconnect, but in vain. She threw it at him as a last resort - Kylo mentally applauded her refusal to give up as he knocked it aside - and took up her staff.
“You’re Kylo Ren,” she said, sliding into a fighter’s crouch. “You killed the villagers at Tuanul.”
“Some of them,” Kylo said. He didn’t usually waste his time on such stuff; killing like that was easily within the capabilities of Hux’s men, supposing they didn’t turn traitor.
“You murdered my friends,” she said.
Kylo did not reply.
“And now I hear you’re my brother.” There was a fathomless disgust in her clear voice, a fury that Kylo Ren approved even as he recognised the new difficulties it would cause him. She would learn, but she would not be compliant.
Good, part of him said very quietly, where the rest would not hear.
“I have no siblings,” Kylo Ren said aloud. “I was once a different person, and he had a sister. But that boy was weak, and he died. And his sister was a child, and she died too.”
“I hate you,” she snarled. “Liar and killer and thief.” She did not raise her voice, but she spat the words out as if they were poison, as if she wanted to corrode his very flesh with her fury. Kylo Ren could feel an inferno building in the Force, controlled devastation waiting to erupt, and thought that perhaps she could, if only she knew how.
He spread his hands, and did not take his lightsaber from his belt. He had a pair of knives, which came in handy in many ways, and this should be - at least at first - a fair fight. “Come and fight me, then. Take your revenge.”
She was a good fighter, very skilled and relatively versatile, agile with a strong grasp of technical fundamentals and powerful discipline. Everything he saw made her more promising: he was almost sorry to snap her staff in her hands and overpower her mind. She fought him, but she lacked the training to respond effectively, and when she fell unconscious he caught her.
She did not weigh much, considering: Jakku had looked like a hungry planet, and Tuanul a small, poor town. He made a note to ensure that she was well fed as he carried her through the forest towards his shuttle, neither stopping nor slowing for anything. He heard the traitor stormtrooper scream her name, but he did not turn and look. He had achieved his objective; nothing else mattered.
There was a small, comfortable cabin on the shuttle. It could be a medical bay, or if need be, a cell. Kylo Ren laid the girl down on the bed and pulled the blanket over her gently. He gave orders that she was not to be distressed or interfered with.
It all felt very familiar, but he ignored that. It was nothing more than the kind of meaningless sentiment the Supreme Leader had always warned him about.
The Millennium Falcon finally lifted off several hours after the attack on Takodana. Han went through the motions blindly, his hands sure on the consoles and controls. Chewbacca fell into the same rhythm they had always used together, the same instincts acting as the Falcon (now fully refuelled) lumbered off the ground and into the stratosphere. They had an escort of X-wings who had been just thrilled to have their fearless leader back, and surprised to find him downright miserable. Dameron had been smart enough to follow orders and stay where he’d been told to, despite the overwhelming temptation to grab a rifle and run out to join the fight, and though it had been repeatedly explained to him that Rey had run off by herself in a panic he kept playing what-if games about her fresh disappearance. Fortunately, he didn’t play them in front of Han, but Finn was going to lose his temper soon.
Or maybe not. Han had never met a more even-tempered kid. The guy occasionally seemed like he might be about to freak out, but there was never a hint of violence to him, except for the fighting in front of Maz’s cantina. He’d been pretty efficient then, regardless of whether or not he’d ever handled a lightsaber before - a lightsaber Maz Kanata had given him to hold in trust for Rey, and which she swore blind was Luke’s, the one he’d lost on Bespin when he lost his hand. Unlikely as that seemed, it did look about right. And it made sense that Rey, so skittish and insecure about her birth family, had panicked and fled when Maz offered her the lightsaber.
Han had yelled when he found out about that. He owed Maz a lot, but not enough to stop him bawling with rage when he discovered that her actions were responsible for Rey running away into the forest, where there was no-one to stop Kylo Ren overpowering her and kidnapping her. No-one to even try.
Chewbacca had pulled him away from Maz - small and steadfast and convinced of the rightness of her actions - then, and now he howled at Han like he knew what Han was thinking.
“Yeah, Chewie. Hyperspace.” Han flicked on the radio line, and notified Red and Blue Squadrons of his hyperspace jump: he punched in the coordinates and went, and they stuck to him, close as fleas to a Coruscant hound. Good pilots, he’d give them that, for all they’d stared when he’d begun to scream at Maz. Dameron had pulled them away quickly enough, set them to helping with the relief while Cassian and Jyn conducted a bloodless coup of Maz’s communication facilities, in order to determine what the First Order had done. It was difficult, apparently, the Resistance-affiliated holonet had been thrown into confusion, but so far as Han could tell either all or most of the Hosnian system was just gone, flotsam and jetsam in the blackness of space. Leia had not been in the system at the time, blessedly, and that news had made Han’s heart start beating again. But billions of sentients had.
Jyn had been sick; she still looked pale and tight about the mouth, and she stuck very closely to Cassian. Which was to say even more closely than usual. Even Rey, who’d had only a few hours to see them together, had noticed the way they tended to operate as one; Han had heard her comment on it to Baze and Chirrut.
Han gazed out into the blur of hyperspace. Rey should be here, hanging over his shoulder and watching him work, helping Dameron with repairs to some of the less crucial systems, taking his place in the pilot’s seat while Chewie talked her through the jump. He felt almost as if, while he didn’t turn his head, she was here, sitting in the co-pilot’s chair. She had been in that seat only a few hours ago, tall and vivid and full of life, suspicious and wary and so very smart…
He hadn’t even got a holo of her. He hadn’t even thought of that.
Han dropped his head into his hands. “What am I going to tell Leia, Chewie?”
That we’re going to get her back, Chewbacca roared. She’s strong. She’s smart. She’s lucky. And this time we know where to fucking well start! We’ll find her.
“Yeah,” Han said. He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes in exhaustion. “Yeah. Bit of a tall order, Chewie.”
We’re going to fucking well do it, Solo.
“I know. I know.” Han opened his eyes again. “Hell of a thing. Your daughter turns up alive after fifteen years and gets kidnapped by your son. What did I do to deserve this? Force, what did Leia do to deserve this?”
You picked up the wrong travellers in a cantina in Mos Eisley, Chewbacca said brusquely. She got born.
“Not helping, fuzzball. I need a caf. You want one?” Han prised himself out of his chair; it felt harder than it had just a few hours ago, but everything had felt lighter and easier when Rey was there. Shit, she’d made everything else go out of his head, up to and including the reformation of Rogue One.
Chewbacca roared an agreement.
The galley was tiny and battered, holding up rather worse than the rest of the Falcon despite the fact that it was a lot newer than most of it; looking at the stained and scratched counters, the long scar where melted plastic had splashed across a hob, Han suspected that whoever had used it hadn’t cared much about cooking food, but had possibly been cooking something else in here. He resolved to disinfect it thoroughly when they got to D’Qar, but for now, if he could just find and sterilise a caf pot…
Finn turned away from the sink, where he had been vigorously scrubbing a caf pot with what looked like some kind of bleach and then rinsing it out.
“Hey,” Han said, staring at him. “I wasn’t expecting you to come along.” Finn had been a busy, constant presence in the Takodana relief, useful and intelligent, and Han had realised (of course) that he no longer had any intention of running away to the Outer Rim. But Maz had offered him a job, Han distinctly remembered that, and Finn had been very clear about not wanting to go to the Resistance - even though he clearly adored Rey already, and would have followed her anywhere else.
“I know where Kylo Ren will take Rey,” Finn said, now looking a little uncertain as he rinsed the caf pot again, dumped out the water into the waste-water cleaning pipe, and filled it with enough water for half the occupants of the Falcon. The amount of caf he added was far too generous, but under the circumstances, Han did not complain. “I told Captain Erso and Colonel Andor I’d come along. To get her back.”
Han digested this. “You think you can?”
“I think I will,” Finn said, and there was a solidness of purpose to him that brought Han up short. Like Luke on the Death Star, if Luke had had a plan, or seen any battle, or… had had any idea, really. That rock-steady conviction was the same. Finn would go after Rey whatever Han or anyone said. He was just going to go.
“Good,” Han said, and let out a deep breath as Finn poured out cups of caf. “Make one for Chewie, would you? Use the bucket-sized one. The bastards who pinched this ship didn’t manage to break that. Where are the gruesome twosome now?”
“If you mean Captain Erso and Colonel Andor,” Finn said, “they were talking about Rey and debriefing with Poe, but now Captain Erso’s gone to pray with Master Îmwe, and Colonel Andor is running scenarios for what might have happened to the Hosnian system with Kaytoo. Master Malbus is cleaning his weapons. And everyone else’s.”
“He must be pissed,” Han said. “He used to do that in the last war.” He took his first gulp of the caf and winced a little. It burned the back of his throat. “What do you think happened to the Hosnian system?”
“I think Starkiller burned it all to the ground,” Finn said levelly, meeting Han’s eyes. A shiver went down Han’s spine. “That’s what it’s for, Captain Solo.”
“This is the third planet killer in my lifetime,” Han said. He looked away, at the open galley door, at the central compartment visible beyond it. “You’d think people would give up.”
“Not really, sir,” Finn said. “Fear works.”
“You’d know,” Han said, unable to keep a little spite out of his voice: there was something about Finn’s levelness that frightened him, even as he recognised its accuracy.
“Stormtroopers are scared of everything. They just don’t know it.”
Han squinted at him. He hadn’t slept in too long - it wasn’t something he could just shrug off any more - and Rey was running around his mind, a little girl in plaits and a stone-eyed teenager, but something about that answer still felt off. “You don’t seem scared.”
“I’m used to it,” Finn said, and shrugged, gulping at his caf. “Besides. I’m a traitor. There’s something wrong with me.”
“No, kid,” Han said, obscurely dismayed by the ongoing matter-of-factness; it was like listening to Luke thirty-five years ago, joking about an X-wing pilot’s life expectancy. “There’s something right.”
“You would say that,” Finn said, with impeccable logic. “Captain Solo.”
“You’re giving me a headache, Finn,” Han complained, and beat a hasty retreat.
Jyn had always understood him better than anyone else in Rogue One, save for Chirrut, who understood everyone too well. Wandering restlessly about the ship, Han found himself almost tripping over her in the cargo bay, which was now covered in lines and circles which individually looked familiar but puzzled him together. She and Chirrut were sitting in carefully defined spaces between those lines, eyes closed, palms turned upwards on their knees. Meditating, Han thought. Inner peace.
He remembered Leia trying it occasionally, approaching it like a discipline rather than something to enjoy, and Luke perching in odd corners to take his time about it. He remembered Chirrut doing much the same thing, and some of the Jedi acolytes and teachers, back before the Second Jedi Temple fell. But all of that had been a long time ago, one way or another.
Han tried not to scuff the chalk lines. He sat down on an old crate and sipped at his caf, waiting for them to be finished.
They both stirred a few minutes later. Chirrut didn’t trouble to open his eyes or look round when he lifted his head and said “Han Solo. You are troubled.”
“Lucky guess,” Han said half-heartedly, eyes roaming over the damaged floor with its arcs of markings. They were coming into focus now: a plain, slightly slapdash circle that someone had used for sparring in - its edges were scuffed by feet - and the arcs of temple markings with a kyber crystal in the centre, according to the traditions of the Guardians of the Whills. He’d seen them drawn all over bases from Yavin IV to Dantooine, once, and from what Leia had told him (when they were still able to hold a civil conversation) the Whills’ traditions of Force worship were very popular among the Resistance still.
Chirrut grinned. Jyn opened her eyes, apparently for the sole purpose of rolling them, and got to her feet. Han noticed how careful she was not to scuff the marks, and how, when she helped Chirrut up, they were both careful to avoid the lines.
“Don’t suppose you had any kind of vision,” Han said, knowing they wouldn’t have done - Jyn was as Force-sensitive as the Falcon’s hyperdrive, and while Chirrut remained enigmatic about what skills he might or might not possess, Han knew he wasn’t a Jedi - but some part of him was hankering after a tiny glimpse of hope. “Something to show us where Kylo Ren took Rey. I know the kid thinks he knows, but he was just one trooper -”
“He did a long sanitation rotation,” Jyn said. “Which means he went everywhere on the base, practically unseen.”
“Sanitation -” Han began, and then abruptly remembered a trash compactor escape route more than thirty years ago.
Jyn smiled thinly. “Everything he says chimes with the little we already know. He’s clever and observant and he has an excellent memory. I don’t think he even realises how much he knows.”
Han nodded, a little reluctantly, and then gestured at the marks on the floor of his legal cargo bay. The Force, or assorted Jedi, or both, had fished him out of so many disasters; it was hard not to hope that that kind of luck would be extended to his daughter in some small way. “I just kind of thought, when I found you down here…”
Chirrut shook his head too kindly for Han to meet his eyes, regardless of whether Chirrut could see him or not. “I’m afraid not.”
Jyn sighed, and glanced at the crystal in the centre of those meticulously drawn arcs. She was toying with her own crystal, strung on a dull metal chain around her neck. “This was just… just because.”
“If you want a little peace,” Chirrut said, too gently, “I could show you how.”
“Leia tried once,” Han said. Leia had been trying to teach a young Ben to meditate at the time - she’d asked Han to join in in the hope that Ben would feel the need to copy him, which he could have told her was a lost cause - and all he’d got out of it was a cramp in his folded legs and a persistent sense of not belonging.
“Leia is the least restful person I have ever met.”
“I don’t know,” Han said, still automatically on the defensive for Leia, after all these years of separation. Maybe the need to try, clumsily, to help stuck as effectively as the insecurity did. “She’s changed.”
“So have you,” Chirrut observed.
Han looked at Jyn for help. It was not forthcoming. She merely grinned at him, pushed the hair that had fallen onto her face behind her ears, and stuffed her hands in the pockets of her light jacket. Dark blue with thick black stripes on the shoulders, it looked suspiciously like one she’d stolen from Cassian.
“Checking over your baby?” Jyn teased. “She all in one piece?”
“Yeah,” Han said, and patted the old, worn bulkhead beside him. It was patched, though the freighter’s outer shell was intact; Han had done the job with Lando, must be nearly fifty years ago now. Force, he was old; sixty-five years old with a thirty-year-old son and a twenty-year-old daughter…
The silence stretched too long.
Han cleared his throat. “She’s, uh. She’s survived a lot, the Falcon.”
“Not just the Falcon,” Jyn said. “We’ll find her, Han.”
“But what if - Kylo Ren…”
“I have trouble imagining any part of Ben Organa hurting his little sister,” Jyn said. “He would have to have changed into an entirely different person.”
“That’s my point,” Han said. “He has.”
Jyn met his eyes, and Han saw the same knowledge there.
“Don’t try to comfort me,” he said, roughly.
Chirrut touched his shoulder, light, calm. “Rey is strong,” he said. “Remember that.”
“Don’t try to comfort me,” Han repeated, and covered Chirrut’s hand with his own. The Guardian’s skin was as fine as paper, tanned and worn with sunspots stellating the knuckles, the slender backs of his hands. Chirrut Îmwe had grown old protecting Han’s daughter; raising her as his own. “You raised her. You know her. I…”
“I am afraid,” Chirrut acknowledged. His voice was very level; consciously so. “But I am not without hope.” His hand turned under Han’s and squeezed Han’s fingers tightly. “Rey is strong,” he said again, “and wily, and ruthless, and brave. And if Kylo Ren had wanted to kill her, he would most probably have done it when she was a child.”
Han shuddered. Chirrut’s grip tightened still further.
“You brought her up like that,” he said, and hoped the weight of gratitude in his voice was clear. “You brought her up to be - all those things. Even if some of it is just… her, kids are malleable. They change. She is those things because of you and Master Malbus.”
Chirrut smiled. “Then believe me,” he said, and let go.
There was a short silence. It echoed around the dusty cargo bay, and both Jyn and Chirrut seemed at ease with it, but Han felt obscurely uncomfortable. He should have a plan and a cargo and a schedule to mess up, and all he was doing was going home to his estranged wife to tell her he had found and lost their missing daughter.
The words fell from his lips, and before he knew it he was repeating his earlier question to Chewie. “What am I going to tell Leia?”
“The truth,” Jyn said.
Han let out a bitter laugh, and felt himself shepherded back into the Falcon’s crew quarters as Jyn and Chirrut exchanged a glance. “What? I found our kid, princess, and then I lost her to the First Order because I wasn’t paying attention, and I didn’t even manage to get a picture.”
“I said the truth,” Jyn said, slapping the back of his head. “That’s just self-pitying bullshit. You didn’t find her on purpose and you didn’t lose her through carelessness.”
“I should’ve kept her with me.”
“She would have refused to leave Baze and Chirrut,” Jyn said. “It would’ve drawn attention. Don’t be stupid. We all had good reasons for what we did.” Her face twisted. “Including Maz.”
Han halted and turned. “I tell you, Jyn, if the First Order kills Rey, I’m never forgiving -”
“No,” Jyn said, pushing him onwards, towards the cockpit. “I know.”
“Where is Baze?” Chirrut said. His voice gave Han the strong impression that he, too, had no immediate plans to forgive Maz Kanata; anger ran deep and quiet in Chirrut, controlled and accepted, though not as deeply as it ran in Baze. Han had always thought that was where Luke and Leia learned their own control from. The farmboy and the princess on the Death Star had had spitfire tempers; the Jedi Grand Master and the General hardly even needed to raise their voices.
“Cleaning all the weapons he can find, according to Finn,” Han said. “Andor might know.”
In the central compartment they found Finn sitting on the floor next to a torn banquette and sticking the tear back together, while giving an exhaustive description of the stormtrooper training programme to Cassian and Kaytoo, Poe listening in the corner. Poe looked like he might be sick, and Cassian’s officious face was particularly blank as he typed away; Han listened to a few sentences, winced, and decided he should have interrupted some time ago. The things Finn was describing in a formal, bloodless tone as he wielded a glue-gun didn’t bear thinking about - not right now, and possibly not for some time.
Force. Why wasn’t the kid more of a mess? He needed a therapist, not a battle.
“Have you seen Baze?” Jyn demanded, cutting Finn off mid-elaboration on the precise definition of a pre-combat trooper. A typical cohort began combat training at eight cycles, apparently. Fitness training, in various difference senses and modalities, began as soon as they could walk.
Han thought of his own son at eight, of his toddling baby girl, and tried not to show his disgust.
“In the crew quarters,” Cassian said, typing out the last of a sentence and closing the pad. “Were you looking for him, Chirrut?”
“Yes,” Chirrut answered. “He said he’d come and find me when he was finished, but I think he must have found some more weapons.”
“I gave him everything I could find,” Finn said. “He asked. But he, uh. Might be quite busy, now.”
“In which case there are some very well-tuned weapons in your near future,” Chirrut said. He smiled, but when Han looked at him closely, there was an edge of tightness and tenseness to him. “I’ll find him.”
Chirrut turned and left. He was limping slightly on the Falcon’s faintly uneven floor, and leaning heavily on his staff.
“I’m just…” Han gestured with his caf mug, half-forgotten. “Left Chewie in charge of the whole thing, better get back.”
“He’s a safer pair of hands than you,” Jyn remarked, and he pulled a face at her, half annoyed and half amused. He spotted a half-hidden smirk on Cassian Andor, and the needle inched closer to ‘annoyed’.
“Statistically speaking,” Kaytoo observed, “if one draws on all the records of your handling of space capable craft of which I am aware, the presence of General Chewbacca -”
“Oh, shut it, you mechanical shit,” Han snapped, and stamped through to the cockpit.
“How long till we get to D’Qar?” he demanded.
Six hours, Chewbacca roared at him. Hold your fucking tauntauns. We’ll get there.
“Yeah,” Han said bitterly. “Thanks, Chewie. Real helpful.”
Chirrut found Baze after ten minutes and some trial and error. The Falcon’s crew quarters had never been entirely straightforward, and the alterations inflicted on them had made them worse than ever. Eventually, he managed to pinpoint the irritable muttering and small noises of oiling and cleaning and clicking bits into and out of place, and located his husband.
Baze stood when he came in; Chirrut heard the grunt and the bedsprings of the bunk creaking. “Chirrut.”
“I am one with the Force and the Force is with me,” Chirrut said, and sighed. He reached out for Baze, and Baze caught his hand, curling his own larger, warmer one around the palm and fingers and drawing Chirrut closer, until Chirrut could lean against his broad, solid chest. “But I am not comforted.”
“I thought I heard you dispensing words of wisdom to Solo.” Baze folded his other hand against the small of Chirrut’s back; Chirrut turned his face into the slightly dirty cotton of Baze’s shirt.
“I tried,” Chirrut said. “And I think they were not wrong. But I am still afraid.”
“What was it Luke used to keep trying to say? About the Jedi code. There is no fear, there is the Force? Something like that.”
Chirrut snorted, which made Baze twitch. “The Jedi Code is a pile of banthashit. Ask Luke.”
Baze ran his hand up and down Chirrut’s back, slowly, thoughtfully. His head bowed forward a little, his half-loose hair tickling Chirrut’s face. “All we can do is trust her. As we did before, when she was a child.”
“Kylo Ren is not Unkar Plutt and a pack of scavengers,” Chirrut said heavily. “This is worse. This is what we were afraid of -”
“And Rey is not eight any more, either.”
Chirrut made to set his staff aside, and Baze took it from his hand and leaned it against something with a faint clicking noise.
“We have seen her grow up,” Baze said, measured, as he wrapped his arms around Chirrut. “So we still see the child. So does Solo; he held her as a baby. Even Cassian and Jyn remember a sweet little girl who couldn’t defend herself, as does Poe. Rey is not a child any more. She is too young for this, and I wish it had never happened. But I think we can give her a little more credit and have a little more hope. If Kylo Ren is still human enough to have nightmares, I guarantee you, Rey will give him some.”
“He’s her brother,” Chirrut said, and heard his own voice crack. All that potential and hope and love, fallen away into cruelty. Why? How had Snoke done it? And if he’d done it to Ben Organa at fifteen, could he repeat the trick with Rey at nineteen?
“I wonder if either of them would agree with you.” Baze heaved a sigh, and swore on the exhale. “Chirrut.”
Chirrut poked him in the side. “Yes?”
“I am still afraid.”
Chirrut leaned into Baze more heavily. “I know,” he said. “I know.”
There was a long silence.
“There are some hours left before we get to D’Qar,” Chirrut said, at last. “We can at least get some sleep.”
The standard bunks were smallish and cramped, but comfortable enough, and Chirrut was so relieved to close his eyes and drift off that he didn’t think about it too hard. He did wonder, though, if Rey was being allowed to sleep, or if she had even come round: Finn had chased Kylo Ren’s shuttle for a hundred futile metres, and said she had been carried off unconscious. Neither of them had even been there to see it, stuck on the Falcon with a fidgeting Dameron, put out of the way of the battle for their own blasted good and for the hope that Rey would remember her instructions and return to the ship.
Baze’s hand came up to cup the back of Chirrut’s head. “You’re thinking too loudly,” Baze grumbled. “I can hear all four of your brain cells ticking over.”
Chirrut smiled despite himself, and slapped Baze’s chest lightly.
May the Force be with you, granddaughter, he said silently before he fell asleep, but of course that wasn’t the problem. The Force had always been with Rey, an intangible cloak of power even Lor San Tekka could see.
The question, Chirrut thought uneasily, was what it would do with her.
The girl woke briefly on the trip to Starkiller. She prowled her room on shaky feet and struggled, but was quickly subdued. Kylo Ren stood over her as she was sedated, to ensure that she received the proper care. She had bit one medic and broken the faceplate of a stormtrooper trying to hold her down, and these weren’t Kylo Ren’s picked men, they were Hux’s; he wasn’t sure he could trust them. Fear was a powerful impulse, but so was spite.
The girl squinted up at him, and he saw in his mind’s eye the tall dark shadow she must perceive.
“You,” she said, in tones of disgust. Her voice had gone thin and trailing like the loose end of a piece of fabric as the sedative took effect. “You give me a headache.”
“I hate to be disobliging,” he said, almost amused.
The girl suggested he do something unrepeatable in Huttese, and behind his mask, Kylo Ren’s mouth quirked. He was almost certain, from her slurred words and the way her eyes had just rolled back in her head, that she was now halfway unconscious.
“… left me,” the girl sighed a few seconds later, half a breath and little more, the words mangled by her numb lips. “Come back… come back.”
Kylo Ren frowned. The words pulled at something well-hidden and half-gone in his mind. He forced them to disengage, pushed them away.
“No doubt the Resistance are not as loyal as she might have hoped,” he remarked.
“What can you expect from that sort, Lord Ren?” the captain of the vessel said, and saluted him very correctly. “My lord, a transmission from General Hux. Will you prefer to take it in your private cabin?”
Kylo Ren was conscious of a profound stab of irritation. Hux was a tremendous annoyance, and he very sincerely looked forward to the day when he found an excuse to take the man’s head from his shoulders, preferably after a long and slow punishment for the various forms of disrespect Hux had subjected him to. “Certainly,” he said, and added: “But not immediately; I have business to attend to.”
The captain was wise enough not to wince where Kylo could see him.
It was sunny when they landed on D’Qar; sunny and so humid everything was damp. What Han wouldn’t give for the drier heat of Yavin IV - he’d liked living there, for the brief snatches of time they had managed to take between Leia’s political peregrinations and his own trade trips. Even Ben had been all right there; he’d stood out less.
Han shook himself, let out a deep breath, and continued with the landing cycle. They were almost touching down: no matter if he knew the landing pad well, and could set the Falcon down in his sleep, getting too confident or distracted meant getting killed.
“She won’t shoot you,” Cassian remarked.
Han felt his shoulders stiffen, and did not look round at either Cassian or the Dameron boy, both, undoubtedly, united in their disdain for the way he’d treated Leia. He deserved it, of course, but… he should have complained when they’d come along to sit in the jump seats, interest in flying or no interest in flying. “You think she should.”
“I haven’t thought about it enough to have an opinion.”
“Liar,” Han said, as the first pads of the Falcon’s landing gear settled onto the ground. He could see a small figure in olive green and grey waiting at the edge of the landing field, and tried not to focus on them. “You always have an opinion on everything.”
She shouldn’t shoot Han, Chewbacca yowled judiciously. At least, not until after she’s shot Luke. Priorities.
“Nobody’s shooting Luke! Whether we find him or not.” The Falcon landed at last, and Han punched the command to lower the gangplank. “He shouldn’t have done what he did. But I just don’t think he ever meant to stay away this long.” He sighed, and leaned back in his chair. “Punch him, maybe. I reckon Bodhi Rook deserves to get in at least one good hit after what Luke pulled.”
“We agree there,” Cassian said, tone clearly implying ‘and nowhere else’.
Now that he was no longer trying to land the Falcon, Han felt able to twist in his seat and glower at Cassian, who was wearing a perfect, professionally blank expression.
“Well,” he said, levering himself out of the chair and speaking with as much meaning as he could manage. “Better face the music.”
There were things to do before disembarking the Falcon, technically; they could be ignored in an emergency, or if you were feeling lazy - Han had done it for both those reasons. Even as he headed for the gangplank Han told himself he could be filling out the berth paperwork right now, or rechecking the fuel gauge, or running the safety checks Chewie had already been halfway through when he left. Maybe he even had a duty to stay with Chewie and help, regardless of Chewie’s clear expectation that he go to Leia, and at another time he might have argued that. But instinct drove him onwards: the most important thing to do right now, the only one that couldn’t be put off or fudged, was speaking to Leia. Telling her the truth.
Han’s neck hurt, but he thought it was probably mostly because he was gritting his teeth so hard. The holoprojector of little Breha hung too heavy in his pocket for its weight, reminding him he had nothing of Rey, except a few discarded possessions - Baze had dug out a scarf for him, worn and holey and soft, and shown him Rey’s school datapads, her written work, and the goggles she had been wearing to go scavenging when they adopted her: they were small enough to break Han’s heart again, his daughter fighting for her life at eleven years old. Han had cried over those, and the memory of them made his eyes itch again.
He’d wanted better for her. He’d wanted to give her the galaxy. Now that he’d found her again, he’d hoped to be able to show it to her, and instead he’d lost her.
His footsteps towards Leia didn’t falter. She was standing by herself on a wide clear circle of tarmac: maybe she’d meant to greet him alone, or maybe she’d wanted to debrief with Jyn, Kaytoo and Cassian without listening ears, at least at first.
She was smiling, and it was resigned. Her warm brown eyes were just the same.
“Here you are,” she said.
“Well.” Han rested his hands on his hips, shrugged uncomfortably. “Here I am.”
It was strange, he thought, how his old anger at Leia had faded, and older instincts had come back in force. For all the terrible things that had happened, for all the further grief he was about to lay on her, his impulse was still to smile when he saw her.
“Leia,” he said, “I - I brought you back Jyn and Cassian. And Kaytoo. And the Dameron kid, who we bumped into along the way, plus this defector he joined up with who you’re going to love, and also, get this, Baze and Chirrut - they’ve been on Jakku for the last fifteen years -”
Leia was laughing, soft and low. “Is it my birthday?” she said. “This is an advance on a senatorial corvette.”
“No,” Han said automatically. “Your birthday’s in, uh… about three standard months? Unless I got my calculations wrong again. And - wait, you still use that thing?”
He’d been proud of himself for finding it and acquiring it, and getting it repainted in an Alderaanian style most people would no longer recognise, with the distinctively Yavin Rebel influence that everyone would. Leia’s face had lit up when she saw it, and for a little while, things had been good between them.
A shadow fell across Leia’s face. “I sent Korr Sella to Hosnian Prime in it.”
Han breathed in sharp like all his breath had been stolen from his stomach. Korr Sella had been a favourite, he knew. A trusted aide. A protégée. The kind of person Leia didn’t indulge herself in often, if only because so many people found it difficult to see anyone but the legend.
“Force, Leia,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
Leia nodded, and said nothing.
“You told me once,” Han said, “you told me - they would just do it. You were right.”
Leia closed her eyes, and nodded again. “I did think to try to send you a message, but it went in the queue with everything else, I don’t even know if it’s been sent yet.”
The words were queuing up on Han’s tongue, but he couldn't seem to let them out.
“It’s… the losses are devastating, Han. So far as we can tell, every single living creature that was in the Hosnian system was killed, either by Starkiller itself or by the shockwaves from its destruction. I don’t think we’ll ever know how much exactly we’ve lost.”
She opened her eyes at last and looked at him, and then she frowned. “There’s something else,” she said, with old certainty. “What is it?”
“I saw our son,” Han said, and swallowed. He had seen Ben; striding up the gangplank of a sleek little black craft under fire, carrying a limp girl in a charcoal-grey, red-trimmed jacket, and heavy desert boots. The sight had struck him dumb, and he felt that silence return now, but he forced the inadequate words out. “I’ve met our daughter.”
Leia’s eyes opened bright and wide, and her hands reached for his with a quickness Han thought involuntary; he grasped them, and felt her fingers close tightly over his. “Breha? She’s alive?”
“She didn’t remember us,” Han said with difficulty. “She calls herself Rey. She doesn’t know any other name. She didn’t remember anything. She’s been living on Jakku, where she was abandoned… I think Ben did it.”
Leia’s grip, for a second, was so hard it hurt.
“If he did it,” Han said, meeting her eyes with difficulty - they were burning too fiercely - “he did a good job of… of hiding her.”
“He loved her,” Leia replied. “I’m sure of that.”
Han cleared his throat. “I am, too.”
A disbelieving smile edged onto Leia’s face. “Where did you find her?”
“It’s a long story,” Han said. “Dameron’ll tell it better. But she was lucky - Baze Malbus and Chirrut Îmwe -”
“You are joking,” Leia laughed, sweet and real, and Han held on tightly to the sound of it.
“I’m not - they found her when she was a kid, but they didn’t know who she was, she didn’t know who she was, and they heard Breha and Ben were dead.”
“It’s a big galaxy,” Leia said steadily. “News never spreads accurately in it.”
“She’s so brave, Leia,” Han said, and then added with involuntary sincerity: “She talks just like you. And she looks a lot like Luke. But…”
Leia’s hands tightened on his again, and Han suddenly realised how close they were, her lovely face tilted up to his, and he had her total attention. That had always been a bit blinding: he swallowed, and looked back into her eyes. He’d been brave enough to do it when he was thirty and stupid, so why not now, when he was sixty-five and still fucking dumb? He’d only learned to hide from Leia’s uncompromising stare when he was afraid of not being enough.
“The First Order came on Takodana,” he said, the words sticking in his throat. “Rey… got separated. Maz Kanata gave her Luke’s lightsaber just before the attack, and she spooked, ran off.” He swallowed. “Our son found her. Took her.”
Leia’s eyelids flickered and she swayed slightly, like she was absorbing the shock; it was Han’s turn to hold onto her tighter.
“Rey has this defector friend,” he continued hurriedly. “He says he knows where Kylo Ren will have taken her. I’ll - Leia, I’ll go myself, I’ll go alone if I need to - she thinks she was abandoned - she thought her family didn’t love her enough to come back -“
Pain flashed across Leia’s face in the tightening of the skin around her eyes and the hardening of her mouth. “Of course,” she said. “Of course. We won’t leave her there, Han. There’ll be a way.” She frowned. “Wait. Defector?”
“She found a stormtrooper who was trying to get out and abducted him,” Han said. “Also, ambushed Poe Dameron, who adores her and would probably do anything she said. She takes after you, Leia - all she needs to do now is raise an army.”
Leia’s eyes widened again; she looked enchanted and entertained. Han felt a burst of sudden optimism, and he clasped her hands tightly.
“You’re going to love her, Leia. You’re going to love her. She flies like a bird and fights like a demon, and she has the sweetest smile.”
“I already do,” Leia said softly, and then her voice went straight back to business. “This defector. Do you trust him?”
“I trust he wouldn’t hurt Rey, Baze or Chirrut, and probably wouldn’t hurt Poe,” Han said, thinking about the determined, slightly nervy young man on the Falcon. “He knows Rey backs the Resistance and has - has family here, so yes, in this case I trust him.”
Leia nodded. “Where does he think Rey’s been taken?”
“Starkiller Base,” Han said. “Somewhere called Starkiller Base.”
“Where Snoke keeps all his favourite weapons,” Leia said grimly. “Well.” She looked around him, and Han glanced over his shoulder to see what she saw, and what about it had made her smile. Chewie, walking towards them with not great hurry, and the Rogue One team behind him, proceeding rather more slowly. Han suspected that Finn, who clearly still harboured dark suspicions about the Resistance, had been nervous about leaving the Falcon. He was sticking close to Baze and Chirrut, Poe at his side, and Cassian and Jyn had boxed him in.
“I’ve missed you,” Han blurted. “And it’s my fault.”
Leia glanced back at him, and a wry smile flickered on her lips. “I daresay it’s not all your fault,” she said dryly. “And, you know, whatever you said or did to me… I always hated watching you leave.”
“I think that’s maybe why I did it,” Han said, unable to stop himself telling the truth, and Leia almost laughed. It crackled warm in his ribcage, and he smiled helplessly. When things were good between them, it was hard to see how they could ever be bad.
Chewbacca reached them, and a less complicated warmth washed over Leia’s face as she let go of Han’s hands at last: they felt cold and weak without her touch. “Chewie,” she said, and when Chewie held out his arms to her she hugged him without reservations or hidden background bitternesses. Chewie’s arms closed round her like she was something precious, which she was.
Jealousy prodded gently at him, the way it always used to when Luke and Leia got wrapped up in their own little world, or when Leia insisted that they had to take Ben’s problems to Luke, no-one else could possibly handle them. Han shoved it away.
This place is as sweaty as the Emperor’s ballsack, Chewbacca yowled, surprisingly gently. Couldn’t you have picked somewhere drier?
“Hey,” Leia said. “It was this or an iceberg.”
I take it back, Chewbacca growled. So. When do we start?
“What?” Han said, taken aback.
We’re here to fight a war and rescue your smaller cub, Han Solo, not have tea with a princess. Keep the fuck up.
“Betrayal,” Han said, running a hand into his hair and failing to pretend to be cross, “betrayal from all sides, Chewie, I see how it is -”
“You can leave if you want,” Leia offered, a fine duraglass shutter sliding down between them.
That lump in Han’s throat began to hurt again. Once, Leia would have known he was joking. “Hey, your worship,” he said, letting his voice be as soft as it liked. “I’m not here to run off on you. Not this time.”
There was a small, telling pause, but the smile that broke over Leia’s face was as lovely as the dawn.
“Come on, then,” she said. “We have work to do.”
Finn was sure there was some kind of a logic to the Resistance - this tiny, rag-tag group of people in shabby but well-maintained buildings, and Finn hoped to any deity out there that they had a bit more firepower to them than this, otherwise the First Order would just crush them - but he had yet to work out what it was. This was a problem: inadequate intel meant he was flying blind, running so great a risk his spine was itching, and it wasn’t as if he had the luxury of blending into an identical crowd around here. He looked like a patchwork.
Finn was wearing a combination of his own clothes and Baze’s now, since Baze and Chirrut were the only ones who had a change of clothing with them when it had been obvious, during the time they’d spent in transit, that clean clothes were necessary. Captain Erso was wearing some of Rey’s things taken from the heavily-packed speeder in the Falcon’s cargo bay, and Colonel Andor and Poe had managed to fit into a couple of undershirts belonging to Chirrut, but both Captain Solo and Finn were too broad for Chirrut’s things. Baze’s shirt and trousers hung loose on Finn, but Colonel Andor had lent him a spare jacket, so he didn’t look quite so much like a child dressing up in his father’s clothes. The jacket had been loose on Colonel Andor, but he was wiry, and Finn was… not.
At least the baggy clothes he was wearing hid the blaster still tucked into the back of his trousers like it would do any good at all against this many opponents, and they were good for the sticky heat here. Finn wasn’t sure how the pilots in their orange jumpsuits were coping.
Still. He’d take one of those sweaty orange jumpsuits if it meant not sticking out like a Wookiee in a crowd of Ewoks.
Finn followed Poe around the base, trying not to stare at everything, and wondering how people who were not stormtroopers acted and how best to imitate this elusive state of being. Nobody stared at him. There was a lot of rushing around; outside on the pads, shuttles had been taking off. Everything was loud, and Finn was just as capable of blending into the background here as he had been when he was dressed in identikit white, the same as every other trooper who didn’t hold rank in the galaxy.
He began to wonder where Poe was taking him, or if Poe had meant to bring him this far, into a grey labyrinth of corridors lit by dim solar-powered lights, coloured stripes along the wall with the occasional cryptic Aurebesh letter apparently marking something out. Finn had simply kept his mouth shut and kept moving since he stepped off the ship. For a while, they’d dawdled artistically while Captain Solo had an intense conversation with a tiny, plainly-dressed woman with grey hair braided up, who Poe explained was a) General Organa, leader of the Resistance, b) Captain Solo’s estranged wife, and c) Rey’s mother. Finn had heard a lot of stories about General Organa - she was one of Hux’s favourite rhetorical punching bags, but there were other tales: how she’d killed a Hutt and ruined an Empire, watched her planet burn without shedding a tear and murdered a million Imperial stormtroopers. Finn had wondered if he was supposed to think that the stories were exaggerated, watching that small woman stare up at Captain Solo and hold his hands like a lifeline. Some instinct for danger he knew all too well was telling him that they were probably underestimated.
“She stands straight like Rey does,” Finn had said to Poe, who smiled with weary affection - though whether it was meant for Rey or General Organa or both was quite beyond Finn.
“Yeah,” Poe had replied. “I should have known right away.”
Captain Erso had snorted with emphasis, which had made Poe wince a little, and which Finn took to mean that Poe had been being sentimental, and Captain Erso didn’t approve. Finn sort of understood Poe - the whole time they’d been in the Falcon on the way back from Takodana, Poe had dropped small, wistful references to watching Rey when she’d been a kid, to speaking Alderaanian with her, to running after her when she got into trouble - but he also understood Captain Erso. There was no way Rey had grown up to be the sweet little girl Poe had known, and absolutely no way Poe could have recognised her as his awe-inspiring general’s daughter when she ambushed him and beat him up in the dark.
Captain Erso and Colonel Andor had left after that, telling Poe to keep an eye on Finn and bring him somewhere in half an hour; Finn had no chronometer, and felt peculiarly uncomfortable. Yes, Captain Erso and Colonel Andor watched him in a judicious way that made him feel like he was being given marks out of ten, but at least they were a comparatively known quantity. Finn knew nothing about the Resistance except a bunch of pieces of First Order gossip and official news, and - faced with Poe, and Colonel Andor, and Captain Erso, not to mention this base, which didn’t seem big enough or well-armed enough to pose an existential threat to the Order - Finn was beginning to have a number of sneaking doubts about how accurate they were.
Poe had clapped Finn on the shoulder and said “Come on, then,” and started walking. Well, half-jogging, really, purposeful and quick, occasionally answering people who called out to him or giving a quick grin and wave by way of reply.
Trying to keep up with him and not look conspicuous - he was running entirely on adrenaline by now, and full of a kind of nervous energy, but there was no way that getting noticed was a winning strategy for a traitor stormtrooper in the midst of the Resistance - Finn was beginning to wonder if Poe was a lot more high-ranking than he’d been led to believe. Either that or he was just extremely popular.
It would be easy for a guy like Poe to be extremely popular, Finn thought. He was handsome and charming and seemed to have some kind of addiction to justice.
But Finn would still like to know where Poe was taking him.
“In here,” Poe said, making a headlong dive through a door that slid open when Poe slapped a palm to a sensor. Finn had just enough time to read the name on it - DAMERON, P, CMDR - before the metal slid out of sight, and then he hurried through it himself before he could be left out in the corridor, marooned, vulnerable and obviously not part of the Resistance.
Poe’s room was not large, and - like most of the base - it was windowless. It was still a room all to himself, though, with more space than Finn had ever been assigned, a tiny sink and mirror and a medium-sized holoprojector in the corner. There were boots fallen over beside the sloppily-made bed, posters stuck up on the walls (visit Yavin IV, with a very green forest and grey stepped temples rising from the trees, and Fight and Flight, a holofilm poster placing too much emphasis on pouts and bodies in mysteriously tight jumpsuits to be anything other than terrible and hilarious, and pictures of people who might have been family and friends pinned up everywhere) and a charging station for BB-8. BB-8 whizzed past and headed for it, but not without rolling over Finn’s toe.
BB-8 kept running into Finn’s ankles. Finn thought this was probably its way of expressing the same sentiment Kaytoo had when he had looked at Finn and announced that he had calculated that it would take less than thirty seconds to tear him limb from limb, and if Finn even thought about trying, Kaytoo would set a galactic record for dismemberment.
“Your droid hates me,” Finn informed Poe.
“She’ll love you when she gets to know you,” Poe said firmly, pulling clothes from a cupboard built into the wall and tossing some at the bed and some at Finn. “Here. They might be a bit tight on you, but they’ll fit you better than Master Malbus’s things.”
Finn felt his eyebrows shoot up as he caught the bundled things clumsily. They were colourful - not bright, but the short-sleeved shirt was a dark red with bits of white trim, the brown trousers had blue detailing on the hems, and they were made of different fabrics, worn and soft and tough. Finn rubbed them between his fingers. It was strange enough wearing Baze’s clothes, which were not at all the same kind of fabric that made up stormtroopers’ exercise clothes and the things worn under their armour, but these were so different again.
“Guess they’re a little less uniform than what you’re used to,” Poe said, stripping rapidly and stuffing one foot into the trousers he’d flung onto the bed. They were smart and neat, creases maintained despite their being thrown at the furniture, and looked like official uniform: plain dark brown, and presumably the taupe shirt with the rank bars went over the top. Finn determinedly kept his eyes on Poe’s face. If they didn't put at least some of him on the recruitment posters, the Resistance was stupider than Finn thought. “You ever worn anything that isn’t black?”
“Oh, yeah,” Finn said, pulling his shirt off and swapping it out for the red one, which was a bit tighter across the shoulders than ideal but wouldn’t impede his movement if he needed to fire a rifle or fight. The trousers, fortunately, were loosely cut, and Poe’s blaster slid easily into the waistband at the back. Finn didn’t mention it, in case he wasn’t supposed to have it any more, and he pulled Colonel Andor’s spare jacket on to hide it. The jacket had a pocket the perfect size for Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber; that was his excuse. “Exercise clothes, when we’re not in the field, they’re dark grey. And cadets always wear dark grey - darker than the officers’ stuff. There are patterns on the sleeves and stuff to show, like, which cohort and squad you are.”
“Like your number? FN-2187?”
Finn nodded. FN-2187 felt like an old, worn pair of boots now, gone from a comfort you barely noticed on your feet to a paper-thin sole that protected you from nothing. FN-2187 had worn out when he decided to shoot the other sentry, and he still wasn’t sure who Finn was.
“What happens if you transfer? Does your number change? Do you get a whole new set of uniform?”
“People don’t transfer,” Finn answered. “Not after they get their final number. You do metric testing, and then you get streamed. If you specialise your number changes then. But I stayed a trooper, so I didn’t change.”
Poe was standing on his toes now, straining to remove something from a top shelf. “When was that? I mean, how old were you?”
Poe managed to pull a large number of things down on top of himself. Finn went over and began to collect up some of the ones that had fallen on the floor: Poe, rubbing his head, reserved a shoebox to himself, from which he removed a pair of shiny dark brown shoes. “Thanks, buddy. So. They decided what you were going to be when you were eleven?”
“Uh,” Finn said, obscurely aware that he had shocked Poe again. He stacked the things that had fallen off the shelf as best as he could, and rose to his feet. “I guess. I just didn’t have any special aptitudes they wanted to use anywhere else.”
“And that doesn’t change,” Poe said, like he was trying to confirm it. “You don’t get to… I don’t know… try anything new.”
“Why would a stormtrooper want to do that?” Finn shrugged.
“Buddy, if anyone knows, you do,” Poe said, buttoning his smart shoes and reaching for a comb to attend to his hair, which was falling over his face in an attractive but not particularly military fashion. “Rescuing a bunch of hostages and running away is pretty new.”
“You’re making me sound like a braver person than I am,” Finn said, drawing his hands behind his back instinctively. “I’m not Rey.”
“Nobody is.” Poe attacked his hair. “But you’re you, Finn, and what you did is pretty fucking impressive.”
“I was going to be reconditioned,” Finn said. “For not firing my rifle. For not yelling at the kids. For getting soft when Slip died.”
“FN-2003. He had a nickname.” Finn winced. “He was always a bit slow. He kept… slipping up. He was shot. I… stayed with him.”
“That’s where the blood on your helmet came from.” Poe tipped a gobbet of something out of a tub, and combed it through his hair, which was looking much less tousled.
Finn nodded. “He touched my face before he died.” He shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably, and repeated: “I stayed with him.” He’d known Phasma’s eye would fall on him even as he’d dropped to his knees, and he’d done it anyway.
“Were you not supposed to? Stay with him?”
Finn shook his head. “The weaker ones…”
Poe set his comb down by a small sink. “Die off.”
Finn nodded uneasily.
“But you don’t agree with that.”
“I should have done,” Finn said. “A good stormtrooper would have done. A good stormtrooper wouldn’t have minded about reconditioning, either, but good stormtroopers don’t get sent to be reconditioned…”
Poe prodded a strand of half-tamed hair back into place. “Finn, you’ve got to stop thinking everything you think is wrong because it’s not what a good stormtrooper would think.”
“You would say that,” Finn pointed out.
Poe snorted. “You got me there. What would Rey say?”
“I don’t know.” Finn’s attention was caught by one of the pictures on the wall, and he reached out and brushed its boxed and folded edge with a fingertip. It was older than the others, he thought. “Better rescue her and find out.”
Poe laughed, but Finn had been entirely serious; Finn suppressed irritation. After a second, Poe crossed the tiny room and peered at the picture Finn was looking at.
“My parents,” he said. “And me, when I was a baby.” He pointed at a small boy with curly black hair, earnestly engaged in chewing the hand of the woman holding him propped on her hip with her other arm. She had the same curly black hair and a laughing face, and she wore purple: a dress that fell to her knees, belted with a heavily beaded sash that fell further. Her feet were bare and dirty, and the stocky, square-faced man who had his arms around her and their son was laughing too. They were somewhere sandy, somewhere bright. They looked like they loved each other, all three of them.
“That was taken a couple of months after the Battle of Hoth,” Poe said. “Before the Rebellion won the war. My parents took a lot of pictures back then - and holos, but those used to be way more expensive, so there aren’t many and they’re all blue, like transmission holos are.” He gestured at the picture. “Do we look blue to you?”
Finn’s mouth twitched. He shook his head. “Your parents were Rebels?”
Poe nodded. “My mother flew. My father made the accounts add up.” He flicked the picture with a casual finger. “We could use him here, but he still thinks the New Republic’s going to do something other than argue for decades.”
“The New Republic’s toothless,” Finn said automatically, and then wished he hadn’t - but the face Poe pulled was one of agreement, not anger. “What about your mother?”
“She’s dead,” Poe answered. His smile was a little sadder now.
“I’m sorry,” Finn said, like he was trying the words out. They were strange words. They were not stormtrooper words. You were supposed to get whatever you’d done wrong right in the first place.
But was there any way of getting something like this right?
“Don’t feel bad,” Poe said. “It was a long time ago.” He turned back, away from the picture, after one last, affectionate pat.
Finn let his fingers drift down the raw plascrete. “What’s it like, having a family?”
He felt like he’d need to know. For Rey’s sake, if nothing else. He was pretty sure no stormtrooper living had any family left, and that included traitors.
Finn thought of Bodhi Rook, whose story Baze Malbus had told him on the way over, and corrected himself: defectors.
The look on Poe’s face when he glanced at Finn was contemplative.
“It’s the best thing in the galaxy,” he said finally. “And the worst. Sometimes at the same time. And the balance is different for different people.”
Finn nodded, and said nothing.
“Come on,” Poe said, clapping Finn on the shoulder. “We’ll miss the briefing.”
Although there had been shuttles lifting off since the Millennium Falcon arrived, D’Qar was still busy. She could hear it from inside her small suite of private rooms, an enraged sergeant-major yelling, jogging feet, a droid moving crates. Leia was proud of the controlled chaos and efficient slow emptying of her base, concentrating it down to its most vital warlike functions, but nonetheless she allowed herself a very slight sigh as she rose from the brief meditation she had snatched and tucked a stray strand of hair back into the confining pins.
She had hoped never to have to order another evacuation from beneath Imperial bombardment, and yet that was what she was doing now. The First Order wasn’t different enough to kill the unpleasant echoes of her nineteenth year: just so had she and Han and Luke stood, beneath the vivid green light of a planet-killer…
And her daughter was on this new planet-killer, as was her son, both of them well beyond immediate rescue. They would all have to survive for Leia to pull that one off, however redoubtable her assistants.
Leia permitted herself another sigh, checked her face for any signs of despondency in the mirror, and left the room.
Han was going to be on time to the briefing she had called, or at least was moving that way: she saw him leaving the Falcon with Kaytoo in tow, and heard a distant argument about modifications. Apparently, the Falcon hadn’t survived the scrapyards of Jakku untouched. His timeliness surprised her, though maybe it shouldn't; there was guilt in the way he talked to her.
Jyn can’t turn her heart on and off, Leia remembered, along with a hundred other accusations, and felt her eyebrows twitch. Maybe there was a good reason for Han’s guilt.
He’d put the Falcon somewhere out of the way, anyway - a cursory glance at the rosters, borrowed from a young quartermaster for a few minutes, suggested that the evacuation was proceeding as planned despite the unexpected presence of a freighter in D’Qar airspace and then on the ground in their limited loading area. Bodhi Rook would be pleased: with the experience of a man who had spent several decades working in shipping and maintained a degree of healthy paranoia with regard to Imperial remnants, he had drawn up the original plans, and would have been seriously irritated if Han’s peregrinations had disrupted them. She looked around, with a casual, easy movement of her head - as if she were surveying her realm, rather than searching for anyone in particular, but didn’t see Bodhi. That was all to the good: he was supposed to be on a capital ship in orbit that was due to leave in two hours. There should just be time, supposing the astronavigators’ hasty, panicked calculations were accurate, for the ship to leave the system in case it were destroyed. And if it were, there should just be time - and a diversion Leia would have bought with a billion innocent lives: there were other planets in the Ileenium system, and not all of them were unoccupied, but that was Leia’s burden and she’d shouldered it the day she gave the wrong answer and Alderaan was turned to dust - for the ship to disappear.
Leia felt that the very least she owed Bodhi Rook was to protect him from being murdered outright by a planet killer. And besides, while there were a few potential candidates for rallying the troops after her death, she thought Bodhi was the only one with the rank, record and willpower to lead them into exile and keep them all from starving while they regrouped.
Leia’s pilots were at their stations, waiting. Her infantry, such as they were - troublemakers, saboteurs and a few old soldiers, Jyn’s sort of people, Cassian’s old friends - were filing onto their shuttles neatly, and so were the civilian personnel that Leia had ordered to leave. Lila Kalonia had insisted on staying, and Leia (once she had given up on the argument) had insisted that she join the briefing; now Lila hurried off the medical shuttle she had been loading with patients, tugging her scrubs into order, and joined Leia on her solitary walk to central command.
Leia made sure she kept her voice light and face cheerful, and didn’t look up at the dove-grey sky. She wouldn’t be able to see Starkiller Base anyway, and she knew exactly where it was. There was no value to be got from ratcheting up her people’s fear and unease.
“Ever regret it, Lila?”
“Regret what?” Major Kalonia said, going through her pockets and rebalancing their contents. Several scalpels in protective packaging, some sort of amulet, a handful of sweets, two authorisation passes and a spent low-quality blaster cartridge were shuffled around.
“You could have stayed a nun in Despoina,” Leia pointed out. “Served the Force, instead of wiping my pilots’ snotty noses and my spies’ bloody knees.”
Instead of dying here, Leia meant.
Major Kalonia issued an explosive snort. She must have been in last-minute minor surgery, Leia thought, or moving a messy patient. When she’d attended to the various scrapes and cuts Chewbacca had sustained during what seemed to have been an eventful visit to Takodana in more ways than the most personally relevant, she’d been wearing her brown uniform. Now she wore the pale purple scrubs the Sisters of Safe Haven in Despoina had taught her to wear decades ago, as a novice and student of medicine during the last war, and those scrubs were not clean.
Neither were the Sisters’ hands, which explained why they had continued to exist under the Empire.
“I could have kept paying bribes to murderers, too,” Major Kalonia said. “But you notice I’m here instead, General.”
“I see you as clear as daylight, Major Kalonia, and I would like to point out that you have at least five minutes in which to change those scrubs before the briefing. Someone has thrown up on them. And bled on them.”
Leia’s tone was mildly stern. It made the quartet of young pilots - too young, part of her thought, as young as Breha, no, Rey, as young as she and Luke herself must have been: why her father and Mon Mothma had allowed her to fight was sometimes quite beyond her - huddled in an unmilitary fashion around a pack of sabacc cards giggle.
“I know,” Major Kalonia complained, with not even one single glance for the pilots. “Rodians. Weak stomachs.”
“Be that as it may, I don’t think it’s just the Rodians you’ll make sick.” Leia give Major Kalonia a collegiate nod, and turned right, into the main command centre and towards the nerve centre of her operation, such as it was. Someone had dimmed the lights, probably for reasons of power consumption - Leia had ordered Cassian to see that the location analyses on the map fragment Poe had brought back were begun at once, and given Luke’s obstinacy and habit of making things difficult for everyone around him, she expected that the necessary work would be very taxing. Leia found it most atmospheric, and also extremely irritating.
But she knew every sheet of flooring, every stray wire taped down as a trip hazard, and every cleaning cupboard in this building. This was her element, and she knew it as well as her mother had known Alderaan, or her father the Senate.
She arrived in the briefing room with four minutes to spare. It was not yet crowded, though when everyone who had been ordered to attend was present it would be. Leia did not have a large command staff, and the octagonal room her command centre had been built around was mostly stuffed with equipment, especially radar technology like that she’d used half a lifetime ago. Leia did not believe in being sneaked up on.
She laid a hand on Kaydel Ko Connix’s shoulder, and the girl jumped convulsively.
“Don’t you dare salute, Kaydel,” Leia said mildly.
“No, ma’am,” Kaydel said, with precise formality. Leia hadn’t poached Kaydel from the New Republic, not the way she’d poached Poe: Kaydel had assessed the situation as a teenager, proceeded through the New Republic Naval Academy on an intelligence track with due speed and academic honours, and offered her service to Leia on her first shore leave.
Luke had once told her that wasn’t uncommon. That his friend and lover Biggs Darklighter had done it before his death. But the planned nature of it made Leia smile, and so did Kaydel’s precision. Unlike Poe Dameron, to whom formality was a foreign concept, Kaydel had brought her Academy manners with her, and she was always immaculate, even in the face of almost certain death.
“How are we doing?” Leia asked, peering at the screens and registering very little beyond gibberish.
“We’re going to be set back a few minutes,” Kaydel announced, as if this were a personal insult. “The connection with the Bail Organa isn’t properly secured yet, even with Captain Erso’s help.”
“Is the captain a better slicer than you?” Leia let herself smile. People were watching her, and she’d never been Mon Mothma, serene in the face of death: she’d always laughed it to scorn and spat in its face. If she took to being impassive now there'd be weeping, lamentation and the composing of last messages - and they all had work to do.
Han was smiling, too, in a corner with Chewbacca, one side of his mouth tugged up and wry. I know your game, your worshipfulness. But he was also secretly playing pazaak with some of Poe’s pilots, who were on edge in their leader’s absence and considering his strange behaviour, so Leia forgave him for knowing her too well.
“She knows some dirty tricks,” Kaydel said, with profound professional respect.
“Dirty tricks are Captain Erso’s speciality,” Leia said, “and Kaydel, you know that’s not what I was asking about.”
Kaydel looked up at her, hands pausing on the shabby keyboard and ancient controls. “No news there, either, ma’am.”
“At least Luke’s been thorough, then,” Leia said robustly. “The Order won’t find him before we do.”
“No, ma’am,” Kaydel said, eyes on her screen, which was collecting dust. Without acknowledging Leia, she picked up a cloth and cleaned it.
Leia patted her on the shoulder again, and then made the rounds of the room, which was slowly filling up. She touched Han’s shoulder lightly on the way past, and was surprised when he smiled at her like he still liked her; she paid her respects to a worn-looking analyst whose family were all from the Hosnian system and had refused to defect with him. She greeted Admiral Ackbar with a few wry words about history repeating itself, and gave Poe her congratulations and thanks; he clasped her hands and told her her daughter was a heroine and introduced her to Rey’s stormtrooper, a handsome boy wearing an air of burning determination and slightly overly tight borrowed clothes.
“Finn,” she said, offering him her hands too; he looked temporarily overwhelmed, touched her fingers briefly and then offered her the crispest salute she’d seen for some time.
Leia returned it, suppressing her amusement. “I’ve heard so much about you,” she said. Cassian had been very clear on the subject: he thought Finn had potential, and he wanted to keep him. Jyn had been equally emphatic, though less certain that Finn could be persuaded to stay. “Colonel Andor and Captain Erso were very impressed, and believe me, they’re not easy to impress. You’ve done remarkable things, young man.”
Finn stood up very straight, and tried to keep a neutrally proud expression on his face. Leia could see him doing it, and was almost amused. “I haven’t done all that much yet, General Organa. I just want to get Rey back.”
Leia kept her eyes on him for a second.
“She saved my life,” Finn said very simply, and Leia could hear the cementing of an instant bond in those words; and part of her was delighted, and part of her heart almost broke.
“I hear she’s an impressive young woman,” she said, a little quieter.
Finn, who was already relying on his spine, apparently located his guts. He looked Leia dead in the eye and said: “I hear she takes after you.”
Leia smiled. “You’ve been teaching him your sense of humour,” she said to Poe, mock-sternly, and Poe grinned at her, Kes Dameron’s cheeky grin - and the thought made her heart hurt a little, because in the end Kes was right. She was going to get his boy killed, and in the extremely unlikely event that it didn’t happen today, it would be tomorrow, or the next week.
“It’s the first thing he needs to survive in the Resistance, ma’am.”
“Should he choose to stay with us,” Leia said, easily. The last thing a defector needed was to feel like they’d walked into a new trap - and from what Cassian had said, Finn hadn’t run to the Resistance, he’d run away from the Order. He was here for Rey.
Han’s voice rang in her ears: All she needs to do now is raise an army.
“Maybe I can make myself useful, ma’am,” Finn said cautiously. “But Rey needs help.”
“I know,” Leia said, smoothing the fear and exhaustion from her voice. “You believe she’s on Starkiller itself, isn’t that right?”
“Yes ma’am. That’s where Kylo Ren is based.”
“Well,” Leia said, and quirked an eyebrow. “We’ll have to see to it that being rescued from weapons of planetary destruction does not become an Organa family tradition.”
There was a ripple of laughter. Louder than she might have expected, but then, the room was full: someone had unwisely stood on Chewie’s toes, someone was whining about not being able to see, and someone else was complaining at Kaydel because Kaydel hadn’t managed to raise the secure connection to the capital ship yet. Finn looked a little puzzled by the laughter, and Leia wondered how much of her story they taught the First Order’s footsoldiers; maybe they only taught the parts where she was somebody else’s nightmare.
She smiled and moved on, towards the people she really needed to see. There were sentients everywhere, but they shuffled aside for her, and soon she found herself faced with five people she was expecting, and one she was not.
“Bodhi Rook,” she said, on an exhale of breath that might have been a swearword. “I gave you explicit orders.”
“In light of the circumstances,” Bodhi replied - and his voice didn’t waver the way it might have done once, and the decided defiance of the man who could be safe shone in his eyes - “I thought my place was here.”
He was standing with Baze and Chirrut, one hand on the back of Chirrut’s chair, and Jyn was crowding close to all of them; Cassian wasn’t even pretending to be aloof, and Kaytoo was doing a good job of imitating a droid that was supposed to be exactly where he was. Leia eyeballed Bodhi, but decided that now was not the moment to tell him what she thought of his crooked reasoning.
There’s still time, she thought. There’s still time for him to leave, and take Rogue One with him.
“May the Force be with us,” Bodhi said, and there was something in his face Leia thought even Luke would not be able to read. “It was on Scarif. And Yavin. And Endor.”
“Here’s to precedent,” Leia answered, and felt a tiny starburst of hope. She’d said that once before, and it had turned out right.
She gave Cassian a wry smile, and was surprised when he returned it in full, rather than simply nodding an acknowledgement; she looked at Jyn, who gave her an amazingly, deliberately sloppy salute. They had already said the things that needed to be said between the three of them: there was no need for anything further.
“Kaytoo,” she said. “I’m always glad to have your advice.”
“Not that you take it very often,” the droid said snippily, and added “General.”
Leia gave him something that could have been interpreted as a stern look. “All of my counsellors can say the same.”
And then she turned her attention to the two men she needed most to see, and swept them the deepest curtsey she had ever attempted. Chirrut Îmwe couldn’t see her do it, of course. But she hoped he would hear the rustle of fabric as she moved, and identify the gesture - the way his head came up as she did it suggested he had some idea.
There was sudden, perfect silence.
“That’s unnecessary, General Organa,” Baze Malbus said, gruff and blunt as ever. They had been found good chairs, more comfortable than anything the command staff generally used, and Baze was trying to rise from his. She made a small hand gesture, and he subsided back into it.
“It is necessary,” she said. “You saved my daughter's life. You raised her as your own. There are no thanks that will ever be enough.”
Her voice cracked on her last words, and she heard a soft susurration of noise around the packed room. She ignored it. It was all to the good that people should learn Rey had been found; maybe it would distract them, just a little, from the news of Starkiller Base. And Rey offered a source of hope, too, an inheritance that Leia quailed from laying over her daughter’s tough shoulders. Even as a child, it had been apparent that the Force was with Rey, and since her disappearance people had magnified that memory and her sweetness and her pretty face in a few old holos into a lost princess and last hope of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa rolled into one. Had she been here, there would have been people who would have expected Leia to pop her into a X-wing and send her off to attempt a trench run.
They didn’t tell stories like that about Ben. Ben had been many things, but a blank slate for hopeful stories wasn’t among them.
“The Force was with her,” Chirrut Îmwe said, and tapped his staff lightly on the floor for emphasis. Even in that room full of hissing and shifting sentients, Kaydel and her colleagues slinging annoyed murmurs back and forth as their latest tricks failed, the sound rang. “And she’s a brave, strong girl. She would have lived.”
“But you made her safer and happier,” Leia said. She felt certain of that, down to every last one of her old bones.
Chirrut smiled, and for once it wasn’t either enigmatic or mischievous, the two expressions that sat most easily on that perfect oval face.
Baze coughed and shifted in his chair. They were old, Leia thought with a sudden pang. They had at least twenty years on her, and there were days when she felt as ancient as the long-gone mountains that had ringed Ciudad Alderá.
“We did our best,” Baze said. “We’re just sorry we didn’t know before.”
News didn’t always spread accurately to every corner of a galaxy. Leia had known that, and she’d said as much to Han, and when she’d said it she’d believed it - and ten years ago she’d believed it too. She’d thought that she had done everything possible to tell her lost daughter’s story in the public eye, to ensure that Breha knew where to go to come home; there had even been the odd imposter, who she’d never discussed with Han, who she knew had seen imposters of his own and had been infuriated by them. But it seemed that she had failed to account for one contingency: the possibility that Breha herself didn’t know who she was.
“You had no way of knowing,” Leia said. “You can’t legislate for everything. And besides, we know now.”
Baze dipped his head, and there was a call from the other end of the room.
“General Organa, ma’am,” Kaydel said, half-rising from her seat. “The channel with the Bail Organa is complete and secure and the deck officer is asking to make the transmission.”
“Well, patch them through, Kaydel,” Leia said, and turned to make her way back to her place by the visualisation table.
The meeting was as depressing as she had expected, but there was a degree of purpose in it that relieved Leia. Everyone was grimly determined to get the job done, and the fact that their chances were so small was not so much glossed over as treated as irrelevant. Leia remembered her father complaining about the early cavilling of the Rebel Alliance at any substantive action: he would have been proud of her Resistance, she hoped. They were afraid, but they were resolute.
Leia leaned forward on the table, her palms flat on its edge and her eyes fixed on the blue image of Starkiller Base as Poe compared it to the Death Star. She could see Jyn’s face, her set jaw and burning eyes shadowed blue with the only real light in the room.
Planet killers, Leia thought. They had a way of coming back to haunt you.
“- the most likely vulnerability is here,” Poe was saying, spinning the visualisation with a casual flick of those square-ended fingers and pointing to a bump, which obligingly magnified. “It’s a thermal oscillator and without it, the weapon can’t draw power from a star properly. It can keep drawing, but every second it draws destabilises the system within the planet itself. The system will be unable to sustain the levels of energy it’s containing, and will collapse in on itself, taking the planet with it. There are several of these oscillators, but this is the least well-defended, because it’s closest to the main surface base. From what Finn tells us, they think it’s not as vulnerable, because they can easily scramble to defend it, but its lack of conventional defence means that it’s actually most open to an unconventional attack.”
“So we need a targeted strike team that can disable any shields around the transmitter and disrupt the base’s activities,” Leia said, as soon as Poe had finished speaking and looked to her. “We also need a more conventional assault, to take out the transmitter itself. That will be a two-squadron job - Red and Blue. Yellow and Green Squadrons are to escort the Bail Organa into hyperspace.”
“I’ll take the Falcon to Starkiller,” Han said, stirring and coming forward. “They’re not looking for her. The Order don’t know I’ve got her back yet.”
You’d fucking better not leave me out, Chewbacca remarked, folding his arms.
“Would I dare?” Han demanded.
Leia could see Baze and Chirrut from where she stood. They were engaged in one of those rapid, intense and half-silent conversations, roughly fifty percent meaningful looks and stock phrases: for a moment she thought they would want to go to Starkiller, to find Rey, but then they both shook their heads. Chirrut looked up, the movements of prayer murmuring on his lips; Baze looked down, his hands clasped over the top of the stick someone had found him. Leia didn't need to strain her ears to hear his curses.
Leia’s heart almost broke for them both, but it had withstood worse, and she held steady. It was a horrifying thing, no longer to be strong enough to fight for the people you loved.
“We’ll go,” Cassian said, coming forward. Jyn nodded, and tucked her thumbs into her belt-loops. “See what we can bring back, by way of intel.” His eye caught Leia’s: and your daughter. Rey’s fate had not been explicitly mentioned yet, and though Leia knew nightmares of the girl scrambling for purchase on crumbling tectonic plates would now join the nightmares of her lost and afraid, she had to believe that Rey would be found in the course of the attack on the base, and rescued at the same time. If not…
Leia had a galaxy to save; she couldn't think of the alternative, any more than Cassian would be able to. She would trust Han and Jyn to do that for her, and to come up with a new plan.
“You’ll need me,” Finn said, pushing forward to join Poe. “You’ve got my intel, but you still need me. I was stationed on that base for ten cycles. I know all of it.”
Leia felt those currents of the Force draw tight and swirl around Finn, cradling him and pushing him onwards in the same moment, and she fought to keep her face still and impassive. Her decision had been made for her, it seemed; but she needed to see if Finn could justify it.
There was a very short moment of silence and stillness. The base was eternally humming with gossip, and the fact that Poe Dameron had brought home a defector wouldn’t have escaped anyone’s notice. The base was small enough that everyone knew everyone, and the Resistance’s few other bases and far-flung cells wouldn’t have sent anyone here, not now that they knew what Starkiller was capable of: their best chance, should they fail to destroy Starkiller, was to disperse. Finn was a stranger dressed in clothes that clearly weren’t his, and he very obviously didn’t know his way round the base. It would be easy to identify him as Poe’s defector.
Poe was shoulder to shoulder with him now, head tilted down but eyes looking up into Finn’s face with a seriousness he seldom wore. Somewhere between here and Jakku, Leia thought, he’d learned to respect Finn’s opinion. She wasn’t totally surprised; Cassian and Jyn were itching to recruit the former stormtrooper, and Poe had a good eye for good recruits.
“You’re a defector,” someone said. Leia craned her neck to see who it was: Senator Dorian from Hosnia C, which accounted for the exhaustion bleeding around the edges of their voice.
Finn nodded, quick and sharp.
“How do we know we can trust you?” Dorian continued, and was met by a murmur of nodding and quiet agreement. Poe’s jaw tightened, but he didn’t move; Cassian lifted his head and folded his arms, and Jyn sank back into the shadows. Chirrut tapped his stick slowly on the ground.
As Leia’s eyes drifted over Chirrut, he gave a tiny, imperceptible nod. Leia didn’t jump. It was impossible, of course, but she had not forgotten to expect that from him. At least she knew now that someone else felt it too - the Force drawing around Finn, offering him a way forward.
Baze mostly looked annoyed, but then Baze often looked annoyed, and Han’s roll of his eyes and “Aw, come off it,” were equally characteristic.
Finn’s face didn’t move a muscle, but Leia saw his shoulders square the very tiniest amount. “That’s up to your judgement, senator.” The talking had not quietened, but Finn had a carrying voice.
“How do you -?”
“You’re wearing regalia,” Finn said, without any inflection.
Senator Dorian would go well dressed to the end of the world, Leia had always said so. She hid a smile.
“Finn’s covered my back since the second I met him,” Poe said. “He had no reason, he didn’t know who I was, and he defected in the middle of a battle. He’s not part of some plan, Senator.”
“I was a defector,” said Bodhi Rook, flatter than the plains of Ikarra, arms folded. His voice wasn’t quite loud enough, so he had to repeat himself and there was a slight shake in his voice at having to do so, but the second time he spoke the room fell silent. “I was a defector. And you all know what happened to me.”
Bor Gullet was public knowledge. There was no way things could be otherwise; Bodhi had received years of treatment for the damage the creature had done to his mind, and the way he had stumbled over some words and concepts, flinched from rooms of a particular size or type and avoided anything or anyone with tentacles couldn’t have been hidden.
There had been a particularly horrific depiction in one of the Rogue One holofilms, but you couldn’t sue the truth off the screen.
“Uh,” Finn said, “I don’t, and I’m going to guess from the looks on everyone’s faces that it should stay that way.”
Bodhi cracked one of his rare smiles, rarer since Luke’s disappearance, and nodded agreement.
“You have nothing to lose, Senator,” Finn said, extremely matter-of-factly. He straightened a little, and pulled his hands behind his back, feet hip-width apart. He had a way of seeming honest, Leia saw. She wondered if it was true or not.
She also wondered if he was going to Starkiller to stop the weapon, or to save Rey, or both. She suspected the second: until a few days ago he hadn’t known the Resistance from a hole in the ground, and he was plainly enthralled by Rey. Everything Han and Cassian and Jyn had said pointed in that direction.
Another point in his favour, besides his undoubted competence and his unrivalled insider knowledge. Sneakily, guiltily, Leia wanted someone on that team whose first and only priority was Rey.
“If I go and don’t betray you, you have a better chance,” Finn was saying. “If I go and I do double-cross you, Colonel Andor and Captain Erso won’t hesitate to decommission me.”
“Decommission?” Bodhi said, apparently temporarily startled.
“Like a droid?” Han said, from across the room.
“Stormtroopers are decommissioned,” Finn said, with that same blistering matter-of-factness. “If they’re too old, or too weak, or too sick.”
There was a sudden rush of whispering, and a few cries of shock. Finn looked very taken aback, and Poe bumped his shoulder for reassurance; Finn half-smiled and then looked around, until his gaze met Baze’s face. Baze nodded slightly, his inscrutable dark eyes steady.
Leia raised a hand and drew on the Force, just a little, just enough to capture everyone’s attention and bring it back to her. “Welcome to the Resistance, Finn. You’re a person now. And if either Captain Erso or Colonel Andor is obliged to shoot you, they’ll have the grace to call it murder.”
Cassian looked pained, but Jyn actually laughed.
“I don’t see it happening,” Leia continued, imperturbable. “I trust you.” She slapped her palms flat onto the table, and missed the dead edge of it by millimetres: Starkiller Base’s visualisation jumped and shivered. “We have work to do. Squadrons, you know your jobs, and Commander Kerligh, you have your orders. Captain Solo, I need that strike team in the air yesterday.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Han said, and it didn’t sound ironic.
Leia took a deep breath, and inhaled purpose, determination, that edge of a precipice moment, that breaking wave feeling. Then she smiled, and caught the eye of everyone present.
“Let’s go,” she said.
“You should go,” Leia said, after they had watched the Millennium Falcon take off, with its complement of old heroes and young fighters. “Now. There are still shuttles to the Bail Organa, but there are only two left.”
She turned around, and faced the remainder of Rogue One. “This is my battle. I won’t ask you to stand by me.”
Leia looked first at Bodhi, who might listen; who did, sometimes. He’d stood by her since he had wound up his share in Kes Dameron’s business and come to the Resistance, even when it had been difficult and painful, and she had never found the right ways to say thank you. Saving his life might be a start, she supposed, but looking up into his face - the faint scars, the short-cropped burned-ash hair, the expressive dark eyes - she thought it was a start she wasn’t going to be allowed to make. Her feet hurt in her boots, and she wondered if she was tired of campaigning.
“I’ve made my decision,” Bodhi said, with a shrug - and then a painful smile. He shoved his hands in his pockets. “And I’ve made Chewbacca promise to give Luke one good smack for me.”
“ Fuerza, ” Leia said, half-laughing, feeling treacherous tears rise. “That might kill him.”
Bodhi’s face twisted. “Chewbacca still loves him,” he said, and Leia bit back the obvious question. “I think he’ll live.”
Leia turned her attention to Baze and Chirrut. “You, at least - if everything goes wrong…” She swallowed around the choke in her throat. “My daughter needs her grandfathers.”
Baze set his feet and his jaw. “This is where she’ll find us,” he answered. “This is where we’re meant to be.”
“We are one with the Force,” Chirrut said. There was a deep, settled calm in his voice, but Jyn had once told her that when they went to Scarif she’d never met anyone less afraid. Chirrut made peace with himself - he didn’t predict safety. “And the Force is with us.”
“Yes,” Leia said. She could feel it - the currents lifting her with each breath, swirling around all of them, gathering around herself and around D’Qar with cool strong tendrils; around Finn and around Han, before they had left. “But what is its will?”
Chirrut smiled. “That,” he said, “I suppose we shall find out.”
Leia took a deep breath, and turned her face into her fate.
The girl lay slack in her bonds for some time. Kylo Ren waited, patient and watchful; he knew the sedative she’d been given had delivered her into a natural sleep after it wore off, and he had calculated that she would awaken soon. Her Force presence was still quiet, still, curled in on itself. Very self-contained: Kylo Ren approved of her control. She had not been taught much, so far as he could tell, but what she had been taught had been well learnt.
She stirred. Kylo Ren almost fell back on his heels, but recovered himself, his eyes fixed on the girl. She went rigid before her eyes blinked open, and then for one frenzied moment she wrenched hard at the cuffs around her wrists and ankles, fighting her bonds with a ferocity that matched her struggle in the forest.
Kylo Ren did not move or speak until he saw her still, chest heaving, breath whistling through her teeth with panic, and look wildly around the room. It was unlikely she could see him; there was a light over her, as there was in all these unfortunate rooms - he did wish there had been somewhere more suitable for her, but the kind of chambers Lord Snoke had used for his own early training were not available on Starkiller, and it was necessary to restrain her somehow - but he himself was in darkness.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said at last.
It did not have the desired effect. She made a furious noise and jerked in her bonds again, lifting her head in a way that would hurt her if she carried on.
Kylo Ren rocked to his feet, stretching out the knots in his knees, and stepped into the light.
“Very theatrical,” she snarled, yanking at the cuffs again.
“I hope you're comfortable,” Kylo Ren said, musing over whether it would be a good idea to advise her not to fight the chair. “I apologise for the welcome; Hux insisted. And I did not want you to panic and lash out.”
She stilled. Kylo Ren was not foolish enough to think she calmed. Her eyes were an eagle’s, staring directly through him. He met her eyes through the protective shield of his mask, and shivered. She was strong - far stronger than she knew.
“Take off the mask,” the girl demanded, her voice cracking.
Kylo Ren did not hesitate, though he should have done. He lifted his hands to his head, released a catch, and pulled the helmet away. She looked into his face very searchingly, questioningly; Kylo Ren hoped that curiosity was a good sign. If she was interested, she could at least be taught.
She did not relax.
“You’re Kylo Ren,” she said.
“Yes,” he said. He had a reputation, he understood. Presumably it was growing. He felt a certain indifference to that. Fame and glory were secondary to his responsibility to uphold an abandoned legacy.
Her jaw hardened. “You burned Tuanul. You killed my friends.”
“If you had made yourself known to me and asked for them, I would have spared their lives.”
Her teeth drew back from her lips, and something flashed scathing in her eyes. “Liar.”
Kylo Ren set his helmet down. He would have spared as many as possible, of course, but some examples needed to be made. There was no need to explain that to her at present: she would come to understand.
“It is perfectly true,” Kylo Ren said. “With power like yours - the galaxy is at your disposal.”
She laughed, sudden and fierce like a jumping fire. “Your idea of power is not mine.” Her face twisted, and she spat. “Sith.”
“The Knights of Ren are not the same,” Kylo Ren said. “It is a common mistake.” He looked at her for a long time. “You are among friends now.”
The girl spat again, and added a trail of swearwords in several languages. Kylo Ren found himself mildly impressed.
“You are not my friend,” she said. “The First Order is not my friend.”
“We could be,” Kylo Ren said. “The hand is outstretched: all you have to do is take it.”
“I’ll break it first.” The girl swore again, and heaved fruitlessly at her bonds.
“You’ll hurt yourself,” Kylo Ren warned. He was tempted to reach out and halt her, hold her just gently with a net of the Force until she stopped kicking around in a way that would hurt her. This girl would be his apprentice; she could not be allowed to damage herself.
She hissed between her teeth. “I know pain,” she said, and for some reason that troubled Kylo Ren when it should have pleased him. “I know pain.”
“Be that as it may,” Kylo Ren said, and then wondered what he had meant to say. There had been something he’d meant to say - he was sure there had been. He’d planned this encounter, scripted it, worked out how it ought to go, but none of it had gone according to plan.
There was a short pause, in which Rey forced her breathing into slowness and quietness.
“They tell me,” she said, and Kylo Ren lifted his head to listen. “They tell me you’re my brother.”
“I told you,” Kylo Ren said. “I have no sister.”
“It seems to me,” Rey said, “you’ve thrown a lot of things aside that used to be yours.”
“Some sacrifices are necessary,” Kylo Ren said, and was struck by a glittering look of contempt. He felt a little uneasiness - but then, hadn’t he been proud, when he’d first come to Lord Snoke? Proud and uncertain? He had learned. Hopefully the learning would not hurt her as much as it had hurt him.
“Sacrifices,” Rey said with a sudden bitterness, and did not speak further for a long moment.
The silence filled the interrogation room. This wasn’t right, Kylo Ren thought; there was a better way it should have gone. But he wasn’t sure how or where he’d gone wrong.
“What do you want?” he said. “More than anything else in the galaxy, what do you want?”
He stared into her eyes, and she stared back. Her mind was carefully contained, but by reaching out the slightest, most delicate feelers he could pick out a jumble of sensations and memories and desires. He tried to sort through them without letting her see, and found two old men he did not know, and younger people he recognised, fuzzier and less clear, and a handsome boy her own age he knew as Hux’s lost stormtrooper, looking at her with a steadiness and understanding; there was the fine balanced feeling of rushing through the hyperlanes, and somewhere very green, somewhere very blue - where was that? Somewhere she had only known in a dream; it lacked solidity.
“Get out of my head,” Rey said rudely, “you have the manners of a bantha-swiving Hutt. If you want to know what I want, it’s freedom. There. Give me that.”
He felt a rush of relief. “Of course. You will have the freedom of the stars - there will be planetary systems at your disposal. All you have to do is reach out and take, and it’s yours.”
Rey laughed again. “You think that’s freedom? You poor bastard, Kylo Ren. I almost feel sorry for you. Almost.” There was a bloodthirstiness to the way her tongue curled around the word. “What do you want? In your heart of hearts, what do you want?”
Kylo’s jaw dropped open. What do I want? he asked himself, and a thousand images flew into his mind, things he didn't understand and could barely even lay his eyes on.
“An apprentice,” Rey said, “a person you can trust, you can work with, someone to stand by you - family -”
He recoiled, mind reeling.
“You threw that all away. But you still want it. You’re alone - you’re alone, and you’re afraid, Ben, you’re afraid -”
“That name no longer has any meaning for me,” Kylo Ren said abruptly, stepping backwards. He scooped up his helmet and backed away.
“You’re afraid,” Rey said, much more quietly but not more kindly, and Kylo Ren couldn’t decide which was worse, the burning rage or the merciless pity. “It’s hard to be afraid. Ben…”
Kylo Ren left, and assigned the nearest stormtrooper to watch the girl closely. She was more dangerous than he’d realised.
The stormtrooper was confused by the prisoner. She was plainly a risky creature - lethal enough for Kylo Ren to take a personal interest, and lethal enough to meddle with. She seemed like a slip of a girl, but he was old enough and wily enough to know that Kylo Ren’s toys were all dangerous by default. And yet when she spoke to him, foolish and childish, her voice wavered with doubt and she seemed even younger than before.
He did not listen.
And yet somehow he found himself outside his own bunk room door without knowing how he had got there.
He decided it was his hour to go to the mess anyway, and if he’d sleepwalked his way around his rounds, well… these things happened.
None of his business - not at the end of the day. General Hux had always been clear about that: Kylo Ren’s problems were his own.
The Falcon was quiet on the way to Starkiller Base. Captain Solo and General Chewbacca were closeted in the cockpit, engaged in mysterious manoeuvres which were supposed to keep them hidden from the First Order’s forces. Not that many of these were around, according to the pair of Resistance stalwarts, both of whom seemed profoundly suspicious of that fact.
It made perfect sense to Finn, sitting in the main compartment with Captain Erso and Colonel Andor going over the surface scans and limited blueprints the Resistance had of Starkiller Base. There was no reason that the First Order would need to attack conventionally when they could simply blow the entire system out of the sky.
The plan was a simple one, as plans went. Get onto the surface of the planet without being detected (“Han’s speciality,” Captain Erso said cheerfully, and Colonel Andor looked exceptionally sour as he corrected “Chewbacca’s,”) infiltrate the transmitter station to sabotage it as thoroughly as possible (“Jyn’s speciality,” Colonel Andor said, and Captain Erso smiled like a shark) and then infiltrate the base itself, to make the largest possible hole, extract as much intelligence as possible, and rescue Rey. Finn tried not to make it obvious that his priority was the last one.
He had tried to tell them everything he knew, everything he had known from a cadet with a helmet the size of a drinking-mug to an adult teetering on the edge of reconditioning. They seemed pleased with him; with the service corridors he had described and the access points he had located. Sanitation was nobody’s idea of a fun rotation, but it taught you your way around a base, all the dirty corners that other people tried to avoid knowing about. And as a younger trooper, of course, knowing shortcuts and secret places was half the battle when it came to staying out of the way of older troopers, officers, and (worst of all) the Knights of Ren. People only shared their shortcuts with their friends, and Finn had never had many friends - he thought that his fellow cadets had suspected him of having a dangerous something to him, a faint pull that drew officer attention, positive or negative - but Finn was observant, and his memory had always been good.
He drew everything out of it that he could, and laid it on the deactivated dejarik table for Colonel Andor and Captain Erso. His voice went hoarse, and he was sure he had repeated things he’d said earlier. But they were listening closely, and even asking his opinion about things, about routes and details of the plan; he must be doing something right, or at least right enough. Periodically Captain Erso would go and ask Chewbacca’s opinion or annoy Captain Solo into contributing. Captain Solo never had much to say; Colonel Andor rolled his eyes and muttered about improvising, causing Captain Solo to shout back defensively: “It worked on the Death Star!”
“That was Luke!” both Colonel Andor and Captain Erso shouted back, at slightly different times and at different pitches. “And Leia!”
Finn tried to fit this into his limited knowledge of the Battle of Endor, which did not work. When Captain Erso asked him what that expression was on his face, Finn explained.
Colonel Andor shook his head. “Not the Battle of Endor; immediately before the Battle of Yavin. Do they teach you about General Organa’s escape from the Death Star?”
Finn unearthed a memory, but comparing it with his present knowledge of that small woman with shining eyes and power in her every gesture, he suspected it was inadequate. “Uh, they taught us that the Imperial security grew lax through overconfidence, and there was a prison breakout that stole vital intelligence, allowing a disaffected group of insurgents to blow up the space station known as the Death Star, with the loss of a hundred and seventy-five thousand lives…”
“They wrote us out of history,” Colonel Andor said conversationally to Captain Erso. “‘Vital intelligence’. Que no mamen. ”
Captain Erso raised her eyebrows and shrugged expressively. She had not sat down after returning from the cockpit, trailing Corellian insults in her wake; she was leaning against a protruding locker, one hip slightly cocked and her eyes on Colonel Andor. Half a smile was dancing on her lips. “We’ll tell you the real story some time,” she said to Finn. “It’s much funnier. It involves Leia mouthing off to admirals and shoving Han into a trash compactor. She was about Rey’s age.”
Finn found it all too easy to imagine Rey doing this herself, and very difficult to visualise returning from Starkiller Base. He knew the First Order’s resources intimately; he didn’t think they would be allowed to survive.
“Don’t think you’ll have to leave immediately,” Captain Erso said to him. “If you still want out, you can go, no harm done, but there’s no need to rush.”
“And if you wanted to stay… This is impressive work.” Colonel Andor tapped the flimsis Finn had scribbled over, flicked a finger through the holo he had annotated. “There would be a place for you.”
“Thanks,” Finn said, trying to sound sincere when he didn’t mean to be. “I’ll think about it.”
Captain Erso looked like she was finding something very funny indeed. Finn hoped it was not that she was planning to have him chucked into a brig for safekeeping, in the event that they got back and there was still a D’Qar to go back to.
“You do that,” Colonel Andor said, and glanced at Captain Erso in a way that made Finn think his presence in the room was no longer required. “In the meantime, I suggest you sleep if you can. There’s still at least a couple of hours before we get there, supposing Solo manages a decent landing.”
Finn tried not to scuttle out of the room too obviously, but however fast he moved he still caught a glimpse of Captain Erso laying her hands on Colonel Andor’s shoulders, a twisted smile on her face, and Colonel Andor, resting his forehead against her stomach and his palm on the small of her back. She lifted one hand, her fingers combing through his straight dark hair, liberally sprinkled with grey.
“ La próxima oportunidad, y la que siga, y la que siga… "
Someone whispered it, whatever it meant. Finn didn't know, and he didn't stop to ask.
Captain Solo did not manage a decent landing. They more or less crashed, destroying a large swathe of forest along the way. But the Falcon came to a shuddering halt by the edge of a cliff, and when they climbed out they found the dark smudge of the transmitter station and - further away, but not so far away - the bright lights of the base’s most significant surface installation.
There was snow thick on the ground. Finn had been lent a pair of winter boots and a uniform jacket, heavy against the cold; he buttoned this tightly and pressed the flat of his hand against his waistband, where Poe’s blaster was still lodged. The strap of the rifle he had been given in addition settled neatly across his back and shoulders. He checked the simple chronometer he had been issued, and saw that they had two and a half hours until the Resistance’s X-wing squadrons would begin to strafe the installation. Starkiller was dark, almost monochrome with the night, and Finn could see a peculiar edge to the glow of one of the nearer stars. He’d never been on Starkiller when it was firing, either as a test or for real, but he could guess what it looked like, and that strange light in the darkness flung the high pine trees and ridged, disturbed snow into sharp relief.
Colonel Andor looked exceptionally grumpy; he and Captain Erso had pulled hats down over their heads and were checking the weapons hidden on their bodies. General Chewbacca seemed to be contenting himself with a massive bowcaster, and General Solo - who did not appear to permit himself to feel the cold - produced two blasters, checked them, and then holstered them.
“Chewie,” he said to General Chewbacca, “we got a station to blow up.” He looked at Captain Erso and Colonel Andor. “See you back here in an hour and a half. And you, kid -” He pointed a finger at Finn, half-accusatory. “Rey’s counting on you.”
“I haven't forgotten, sir,” Finn answered, his hand curling over the lightsaber at his belt. General Organa had given him the holster and belt to wear; it had been hers, once, so he could only wear it on the loosest hole, but it would fit Rey.
Finn had the weirdest idea that it was singing to him, but if it made any noise, surely Colonel Andor would have mentioned. Or Kaytoo, who had not been happy at all that the plan required him to be separated from Colonel Andor and Captain Erso, because he was too distinctive; he had put forward several good arguments, but had eventually been forced to concede that there was no way he would be able to hide seven feet of butchered half-Imperial chassis, and that the best thing for him to do was man the Falcon, in case.
The Falcon’s gangplank rose, and Finn shivered as if someone had danced on his grave. He followed Captain Erso and Colonel Andor down the steep and winding path to the installation.
At first, everything worked. The codes, the service corridors, everything. The place was quiet; Hux had called them all together in the cold for a speech about the end of the Resistance, as Finn had predicted. Everyone in the First Order knew how Hux liked to make a display of things.
And then Finn came to an access panel which did not work. He hissed, and Colonel Andor came forward and examined it. He tried the code Finn had given, and found it did not work either. Finn explored the edges of the panel and the wall it was set into, and found a familiar sort of smooth scarring. Lightsaber burns.
“It’s been replaced,” he muttered. “A Knight of Ren had a go at it. The panel must have been destroyed, but the wall around it was salvaged.”
“Jyn will have to slice it.” Colonel Andor prodded at it with a gloved hand, and did not seem to like what he saw. Fair enough: it was the kind of panel where a select few could use biometrics to enter, and the rest had to use a regularly changed code to make their way in.
“We don’t have time,” Finn hissed, and then felt his face change as he heard a familiar tread. Boots edged in chromium made a noise nobody forgot, and Colonel Andor leaned closer to hear what was troubling him. “But she has access -”
Captain Phasma was just as strong as he remembered, but Captain Erso knew all the weak points in trooper armour, and her batons were as deadly turned on somebody else. Phasma’s body language was perfectly controlled, and her blank chromium mask gave nothing away even as Finn ripped the gauntlet from one hand and forced her broad palm up against the biometric panel. The door slid aside: it gave onto a surveillance room, and a further door deeper into the facility, one which took a generic code.
“FN-2187,” Captain Phasma said, cool and mechanical. “So this is what happened to you.”
“My name is Finn,” Finn told her, and grinned wildly. Reconditioning, he thought, and the same curious airiness that had filled him when he shot FP-3846 lit him up. “And I’m in charge now, Phasma. I’m in charge.”
" Suficiente, " Captain Erso said, not without sympathy. “The question is. What are we going to do with her?”
Colonel Andor hefted a blaster.
“The First Order will not be intimidated by you,” Phasma said, and it would have been grandiloquent if her voice weren’t perfectly flat. Vocoders did that.
Finn remembered something Captain Erso had said, back on the Falcon. He looked at Colonel Andor, who still looked as if he might just shoot Phasma neatly where she stood, the way Finn had shot FP-3846. But that, Finn thought, would be a waste. Better leave her with a good chance of staying alive, and not being found immediately. Better leave her memorably disgraced. Better leave her as the kind of hole in the First Order’s ranks that corroded.
He was almost sorry to do it to one of the only troopers who had ever risen through the ranks - almost sorry to waste everything any trooper hoped for and wouldn’t get - but not sorry enough not to do it.
“There’s a trash compactor round the corner,” he said, and both Captain Erso and Colonel Andor smiled.
It was easy to find their way to banks of information, monitors that held promising files. They went through them systematically once Phasma had unwillingly granted them access to the installation’s inner layers, Captain Erso and Colonel Andor sweeping through with sticks that could transmit files back to a secure datapad collection controlled by Kaytoo, introducing viruses and silent watchers and anything that might be able to get into the First Order’s other systems, and leaving Finn to hide small packets of explosive, timed to go off as Poe and his squadrons arrived - or earlier, if necessary. It was difficult to find Rey.
Starkiller Base had a brig. They found its records and Finn skimmed through them, but there weren’t many people there; Starkiller wasn’t a prison ship. It wasn’t supposed to have to hold anyone.
“Prisoner of war facilities?” Colonel Andor questioned, rather tense.
“You know as well as Finn does,” Captain Erso said. “The First Order takes very few prisoners.”
“Interrogation, maybe,” Finn said. “That’s the next level up, same as Hangar C - and there’s the Knights of Ren’s stuff, but they don’t - I don’t know how to get in there, I…” He thought of Kylo Ren’s black blind mask and cloak, lit by the fires of Tuanul and the sparks of that malevolent lightsaber, and touched the haft hanging from his belt. “We just have to find Rey.”
Captain Erso yanked on that crystal around her neck again, a heavy frown between those fierce greyish eyes. “We’ll try Interrogation,” she said. “How do we get there?”
Finn dropped to his knees and rolled another charge under the monitor. It nestled right up against a power point, where it would hopefully start a nice big electrical fire once it was triggered. “Service ladder,” he said, scrambling over to the discreet hatch in the wall. “This way.”
Colonel Andor said something in Alderaanian that was clearly extremely emphatic, thin lips pressing together sharply.
Captain Erso prodded him very hard in the back. “Climb,” she said.
The ladder took them up a level, and out into a corridor that was far too pale and brightly lit for Finn to feel comfortable. They stood out a mile, and there was no easy escape route. The hatch was the only one in the corridor, and any other staircases or service corridors were a good fifty metres away, in the direction any approaching force would come from. They were in a dead end, essentially - one culminating in a large oblong window into one of the deep shafts that led down into the installation’s very deepest levels. Stormtrooper legend said that, early in the base’s construction, before Finn had ever even set foot there, the first Knights of Ren had sometimes dropped troopers down the shafts while they were being dug, to see how long it took to stop the troopers screaming.
Finn believed it. He’d heard their ghosts, whispering with the rattle of the heating shafts and muted roar of the incinerators.
“Interrogation is to the left of here,” he told Colonel Andor hurriedly, trying to place it for the man on his mental map. “Two corridors along. There’s a heavy door but it’s not coded. The place is heavily guarded unless the Knights are in there, and if they are, nothing’s getting out alive. If a trooper goes down while guarding, all the heavy doors shut, they have to be manually re-coded by Hux himself.”
“Control freak,” Colonel Andor observed. He seemed to be as badly on edge as Finn was himself, unlike Captain Erso, who had wandered off to the oblong window and seemed to be staring into the shaft.
“Uh, yeah.” Finn took a deep, gulping breath. “We only have forty-five minutes. We have to try. If Rey’s there, Kylo Ren will be. When he takes a personal interest, it’s - personal. So. Kylo Ren, no guards.” He touched the lightsaber’s hilt again, almost for reassurance. It was still singing. He didn’t remember it doing that when he’d fought with it on Takodana. “I’ll go in, make a lot of noise, use - this. You and Captain Erso can find Rey and get her out.”
“You want to do that?”
“No!” Finn almost wailed, but very quietly. “I just have to!”
“Good, you’re not as crazy as I thought!” Colonel Andor snapped back, and then Captain Erso, who had been prodding at them both for several minutes, grabbed them both by the arms and hauled them round to face the window. She had to push Finn halfway into it before his frantic mind saw what she wanted him to see.
A small figure in a charcoal jacket with red trim, a stormtrooper’s blaster dangling from her waist, was climbing slowly but steadily up the shaft, on the other side. The sheer depth of it didn’t appear to bother her, and nor did the fact that the windows were mostly thick blasterproof glass. Some were empty, for access, and perhaps she’d seen that before she’d begun to climb. Or perhaps she’d just started climbing, confident in her ability to escape something that must be a little smaller than an abandoned destroyer and probably contained less hostile wildlife.
Finn’s head swam. “Rey,” he said, and his voice sounded quite unlike itself.
“I guess we’d better go round,” Colonel Andor said. “You know a route that doesn’t have any ladders?”
“No,” Finn said, and darted back through the service hatch.
His Alderaanian vocabulary was expanding immensely. As they hurried round to catch Rey before she disappeared into the bowels of Starkiller Base, Captain Erso provided him with a running translation of Colonel Andor’s bad language. There were tense lines around a mouth that should be smiling just a touch, but the explanation of some of the fouler words kept them both on the uneasy edge before tension becomes too much.
Finn caught up with Rey just before she ripped the panel to a service hatch off instead of pressing it out neatly - what had those abandoned destroyers been like? - and gasped her name. She was twisting sharply before he even spoke, the stormtrooper’s blaster ready to her hand, but she lowered it when she saw them.
“Are you hurt?” Finn demanded, his hand landing on her arm, afraid to hold too tightly.
“No. Kylo Ren tried, but he’s just a stupid, lonely, destructive boy.”
“Uh,” Finn said weakly, but then rallied. “We have to get out of here. We have twenty minutes and then the Resistance arrives and blows everything to shit. They’re going to fire Starkiller at the Resistance.”
“My grandfathers -” Rey’s eyes were wide as cannons’ mouths, and they boded just as ill for the First Order.
“We’re going to stop them,” Captain Erso said, hand on Rey’s other shoulder. “Come on, though, your father is trying to blow up a thermal oscillator and I never saw him do a thing like that without everything getting out of hand.”
“You came back for me?” Rey said, staring at all of them. “Specially?”
Por supuesto. Colonel Andor said, a corner of his mouth lifting, and then added: “Of course. Finn insisted.”
Rey threw her arms around Finn, and he caught her real warm weight in his arms and pressed his face into the side of her skull, her small delicate ear pressing against his cheek and her pulse thundering against his skin, and thought he could probably die happy - but also, he didn’t want to die.
“Come on,” he said. “We have to run!”
They made it all the way to the oscillator station with ten minutes to spare, though by that time Captain Erso and Colonel Andor’s breathing was worrying Finn, and they very nearly collided with Chewbacca laying charges on an upper level. Finn ducked under the sweep of the bowcaster, and Rey threw herself into the Wookiee’s arms.
Chewbacca growled something Finn didn’t catch, and passed an affectionate paw over Rey’s head.
“We should get back to the Falcon,” Colonel Andor said. “As many of us as possible. Is Han still in there?”
“I’m not leaving without him,” Rey said. “I’m not - I just -”
“I know,” Captain Erso said quickly, although Colonel Andor looked like he wanted to argue, and silenced Colonel Andor with a hand on his chest. “We’ll go, at least. Finn -”
“Not without Rey,” Finn answered.
Captain Erso rolled her eyes, but she was almost amused. “The two of us, then. The Falcon should at least be ready to lift off. Chewie, you know what you’re doing - we’ll wait for you.”
General Chewbacca roared emphatically. Captain Erso laughed as she grabbed Colonel Andor’s hand, and there was a wild note to it. Finn couldn’t seem to stop noticing things, tiny details, the locks on the hatches and the colour of Rey’s freckles and snow soaking his knees, and now he saw the way Captain Erso and Colonel Andor’s fingers laced together tightly, the way her knuckles turned pink and his pale beige.
Colonel Andor was looking at Rey very fiercely. " Ten cuidado," he said.
“I don’t know what that means,” she said. “I don’t even remember you teaching me.”
“I think you can guess,” he said. “Ten minutes, remember.”
Last chapter! I said I would get both this and Edge done before The Last Jedi, and I just did it. Skating in under the wire.
General Chewbacca gave them both a basket of charges and sent them up a level as Captain Erso and Colonel Andor ran out into the night, and Rey led Finn up a ladder, soloquising breathlessly about how much this was like the interior of a stellar-class destroyer, if you considered the changes necessitated by planetary gravity.
Finn didn’t understand a word, but it was good to hear her voice. He scurried alongside her, pressing explosives against pillars and activating them, following her directions and making suggestions of his own when it seemed as if he knew the station better than she could reconstruct it from imagination and a profound knowledge of how Imperial and Imperial-affiliated ships worked. The metal of the platforms and rungs rang under their feet in the silence of the station, and Finn winced every time.
Rey, fearless, did not - and he hadn't even given her the lightsaber yet. There had been no moment.
Nor was there any warning, in the end. Finn was laying a charge against a key structural pillar that he could only just reach, even lying on his front with his arm stretched out under the fuse box lodged against the pillar, when he heard a clatter of Rey running to the guardrail. He scrambled to his feet and joined her.
“No,” Rey breathed. Finn used some of the words Captain Erso had so helpfully translated for him, suddenly clammy palms slipping on the rail.
Far below them, on the long bridge that ran across the centre of the oscillator station, stood a tall, broad figure dressed entirely in black. His hands were loose and empty. Finn did not think that meant he was unarmed.
Rey swayed, and he grabbed her by the back of her jacket.
“No,” Rey repeated, in that same small childish voice he remembered from the flight from Tuanul, and then, clearer and sharper - “No, he can’t, he can’t, he mustn’t!”
On the bridge, Han Solo was walking out to meet his son.
Finn grabbed at the belt Leia Organa had given him, fingers fumbling with the buckle. The lightsaber slapped against his hip as he pulled it free, and pushed it into Rey’s hands. “Here,” he said. “You’ll need this.”
Rey’s face was very pale in the halogen lights, her eyes very wide and her jaw set. “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me,” she murmured, and for a second Finn wasn’t sure she would accept the weapon. But then one of those pale strong hands shot out, and she took the belt and buckled it on, fingers quicker and surer than Finn’s.
“Give me a diversion,” she said. “Give me something to distract their attention so I can get my footing.”
“Okay,” Finn said weakly, taking one of the charges in one hand and his blaster in the other. “What are you -”
Rey took several long strides backwards and then, feet clanging on the grating of the floor, ran straight for the railing, vaulted it, and leapt into empty space.
Finn suppressed a scream. He threw the charge high into the air, over the unplumbed depths of the oscillator station with its complement of trooper ghosts, lifted his blaster sight and fired. The starburst of the charge’s explosion knocked him back off his feet, against a wall; crawling to his feet with his fingers clawed against any tiny space that might offer some purchase, his ears rang.
He staggered back to the guardrail as his brain set itself slowly to rights, and stared down into the darkness. He had feared that troopers would come to the noise, but nobody had yet. General Hux always hoped to give Kylo Ren enough rope to hang himself, and that attitude tended to cascade down into general orders.
Rey had, by some miracle - or possibly the Force, or possibly two decades of experience scavenging wrecks - hit the bridge dead on. And now she stood between her father and Kylo Ren, looking doll-sized with distance and in comparison to Kylo Ren’s bulk.
Finn used some more of the words translated for him by Captain Erso, and crept hurriedly back down the stairs to find General Chewbacca, applying the last of his charges at random, wherever he thought they might not be seen.
He glanced at his chronometer. Five minutes.
Han hadn’t known what to expect, when he stepped onto the bridge with his son. There had been a moment of perfect stillness when he saw him; Ben had done his best to anonymise himself, swathing himself in black like that, but Han knew him. Han thought he would always know his son.
It had been fifteen years. Fifteen years and about nine months. If Han thought, and his brain seemed incapable of thought at present, he would be able to calculate the number of days.
He took his first shaking steps out onto the bridge - and then his tread firmed, and he kept walking, and walking.
He stopped when he was about fifteen metres away from the bridge’s foot. His skin should be crawling, his every well-honed survival nerve painfully aware of the easy target he made for any stormtrooper on the gantries above, if Chewie didn’t manage to blow them off the face of the planet first. But he wasn’t. In this shadowed, silent installation, he felt very much alone, save for his son.
So far as Han could tell - and he knew his sight wasn’t what it had been - Ben hadn’t moved a muscle.
Then there was a loud bang that caused Han to drop to the floor and Ben to whip round, lifting one arm to shield his face - and Han’s daughter, with a daredevil theatricality worthy of Luke himself, landed heavily on the bridge and somersaulted to her feet.
“Rey!” Han said, too startled to work up a good head of parental outrage. “What are you doing here? Go back to the Falcon!”
“He came here to find you,” Rey said, ignoring him. Her eyes were on Ben and she was moving like a hunter, and there were two weapons at her waist - a stolen stormtrooper’s blaster, and Luke’s old lightsaber. Finn had found her after all, then, and given it to her. “He doesn’t know what he wants. But I’ve been inside his head, and whatever happens here tonight, it’s not going to end well for you.”
“Ben,” Han said, somewhat unnecessarily, “this is your sister.” He laid a placating hand on Rey’s shoulder; she hadn’t drawn either lightsaber or blaster yet, but it was only a matter of time.
“We’ve met,” Ben said. Even through the vocoder, he sounded dry.
“Take off your helmet,” Han said, and couldn’t help the note of pleading. “Let me see my son’s face.”
There was a split second of quiet, and then the click and hiss of Ben removing his helmet and setting it aside. Han couldn’t stop his fingers tightening on Rey’s shoulder; they were so alike. His nose, his ears, his chin and cheekbones. His build, though Ben was a little taller and a lot fitter than Han had been, even during the war; strong and bulky and broad.
But Han had never looked so torn - or at least, he’d never seen the visceral uncertainty on his own face that trembled on Ben’s now.
“He asked me what I wanted,” Rey said, low and steady. “What I really, really wanted. And I asked him the question back. He showed me - he wants someone he can count on, he wants someone to help him and counsel him. He wants family.”
“Ben, you can come home,” Han said, and meant it with every cell of him. Whatever the difficulties, whatever the dangers, however much blood Ben had on his hands. “Ben, we’ll make it happen. Just come with us. Come home.”
“I have such doubts,” Ben whispered, and his voice was so deep, a basso profundo Chewie might reluctantly approve. “I - Father, help me.”
Han tried to move past Rey, but she was made of rock and durasteel, and he couldn't set her aside.
“Thing is,” Rey said, and there was a clarity in her voice and a justice that reminded Han of Luke in the worst possible way, “there are two kinds of family you’re thinking about, aren’t there, Ben? And no matter what he does to you, you always go back to the family that hurts you.”
“What are you talking about - Rey, get out of the way!”
“Snoke sent him here to prove his loyalty,” Rey said, and she would not move, no matter how he shook her shoulder. “Snoke sent him here as a last-but-one trial. Snoke sent him here to kill you.”
Han felt the bottom drop out of his heart. Of course it had been no chance meeting. Not here, in a disregarded outpost of a weapon focussed on a whole other system.
“I don’t know what to do,” Ben whispered, but Han knew his son’s face, and he read in those eyes the same colour as Leia’s and as expressive as Han’s own the fact that Rey was right.
“You have to make a choice,” Rey said. “You made some choices before. I think you still know how.”
“The Supreme Leader…”
“Fuck the Supreme Leader,” Han said, quick and impulsive. “Come home, Ben. Make your choice and come home.”
There was a dull booming sound, and the station shook around them. Their time was up, and the Resistance had arrived. Han heard metal screaming as their fire struck true, and the distinctive sound of X-wings on a bombing run came faintly to his ears.
They all looked up into the ceiling, up at the tiny circle of sky visible above them - even Rey. The thick velvet blanket of night, interrupted by only a couple of stars before, was now marked by the bombers’ lights, the flash of cannons striking ground.
The moment of détente lasted less than two seconds, and then Han felt Rey wrench herself from his grip and draw her lightsaber, just as Ben drew his.
“I don’t want to fight you,” Ben said, and there was a terrible blankness on his face, nothing like the confusion and pain that had been there before. “You and I - we could do great things together.”
It was as if Han had fallen off the bridge and disappeared. Neither of his children appeared to know he was there.
“I am one with the Force,” Rey said, low and cool, as a bar of blue light snapped into existence in her hands. “And the Force is with me.”
Han heard footsteps behind him, and whipped round with a blaster in hand, but it was just Finn, running out of the darkness.
“Come on,” he said, “come on, the Resistance is here, we’re all going to get blown up -”
Han gestured with his blaster. Rey and Ben hadn’t begun to fight yet; lightsabers raised, they were shifting on their feet, taking each other’s measure. “I can’t leave them.”
Finn seized one of his arms. “You have to! Rey can’t protect you and herself. We need to get you out of here -”
“I was getting through to him!”
“Listen to me!” Finn’s hand shifted to Han’s shoulder, gripping with a ferocity that was almost painful. The boy’s eyes were wide, his voice rough, and for the first time Han saw on him the cruelties inflicted by the First Order’s upbringing. “You haven’t seen Kylo Ren go on a killing spree and I have. He looks like that now.” Finn shook Han’s shoulder. “Not everything that’s left of him is still your son! So get out of the way and let your daughter fight!”
Han took a short, ragged breath. He felt like his ribs were being split in two, like his oesophagus was twisting with the screaming of Leia’s pilots far above.
“You ever heard of living to fight another day?” Finn demanded, a high, desperate edge to his voice.
“Kid,” Han said, and wondered how it had come about that he was sounding as if he wanted to cry. He was still staring at his children over his shoulder, turning back to look at them like he couldn’t look away. “That is my speciality.”
“Good,” Finn said. “Good! Come on, let’s go!”
Finn set a punishing pace. Han hardly knew how he was pulled from the station, or how it was that Chewbacca caught up with them, roaring at Finn - all he knew was that they had gone maybe twenty metres from the station, and were fast approaching the tree line of black pines lit by the flares of X-wing fire, when Finn let him go and pushed him on.
“What are you doing?” Han bawled, mostly out of breath.
“I’m going back for Rey!” Finn shouted. He spun on his heel, the blaster rifle he had been given slung loose in his arms, and ran back the way they had come.
Why do all your plans always go tits-up? Chewie howled, forging forwards.
“Aw, kriff it,” Han gasped as they struggled through the snow, pointing an accusatory finger at Chewie. “This was all Jyn and Cassian! You can’t blame this one on me!”
Finn’s heart hammered furiously as he ran, pulling the detonator General Chewbacca had given him from his pocket with his least encumbered hand. He must be mad, running back into Kylo Ren’s clutches. He undoubtedly was. He should have gone and kept going. He should have stayed on Takodana in the first place, helped Maz clean up, found himself a place in the galaxy that involved at least forty percent less shooting -
But then there was Rey.
The station was still deserted. It was normally guarded; Finn could only guess that General Chewbacca or Captain Solo had killed anyone they’d found, or that the guards had been called away from Starkiller’s least easily assailable outpost to witness the weapon firing, along with everyone else. Or maybe they were all trying to defend the main installation, buying time until Starkiller wiped out the Resistance.
The sky was getting darker. As Finn reached the door, the light was almost gone.
“Rey!” he screamed, in the general direction of a shadow and a bar of blue light. “Rey! This way! I’m going to blow the base!”
The bar of blue light moved towards him with some haste, but so did the spitting red flare behind it. Finn gave her a few seconds, and then began to run; she caught up with him, out of breath, the lightsaber humming with power but no longer singing. Finn pressed the detonator’s trigger, flung it overarm far ahead of them into the trees, and burst into a sprint.
Rey sped up with him, her breath harsh but even, and her hand caught and grasped his tightly as they ran. Finn counted out their ten seconds, and then yelled “Down!” and flung himself flat to the snow, cold shocking him even as he closed his eyes and mouth against it and threw an arm over his head. The lightsaber hissed as Rey hit the snow beside him, and there was a dull boom that Finn felt in his body more than he heard it, the shockwave rushing through him and blowing the trees just ahead of them backwards, followed by a great cracking of branches and the small consequences of Finn and General Chewbacca’s sabotage, the metal shrieking as pieces sheered off or twisted beneath the weight, the thick scent of smoke. Rey scrambled to her feet first, as the X-wings overhead veered and came screaming in to the attack once more, now that the building had been half-destroyed and the station beneath was vulnerable. It was unearthly dark now, with only the ghostly glow of more distant stars and the station prepared to strike and the few fires of the installation and the station giving even the faintest light; it was strange in quality, too, everything cast into sharp relief, and as Finn and Rey ran into the trees towards Finn’s memory of where the Falcon rested, the curious light turned everything to black and white.
They didn’t speak to each other; all Finn’s muscles were howling and his lungs felt full of salt water, rasping and choking. Rey’s hand was cold and tight in his, and all he could do was pray that Kylo Ren had not escaped. But he kept glimpsing a shadow figure half-striding, half-limping alongside them at a terrible speed, flashing between the charred and half-broken trees, and he couldn’t tell if it was a trick of his exhausted eyes or if it really was Ren.
And then suddenly that figure was before them, and Finn forced himself to a halt, swinging the blaster rifle up to fire, as Rey flashed the lightsaber into life and threw herself in front of him.
Kylo Ren was burnt and battered and bleeding. But he was not dead, and Finn felt a visceral horror at that, the horror of someone who sees that the dead will not lie quiet - a horror quickly overtaken by a sharp terror that stabbed through his heart as Kylo Ren made one vicious slashing gesture and cast Rey ten feet up and ten feet back, directly into a bent, splintered tree.
Rey fell into the thick reserves of powder below, and lay motionless. Finn ran to her, dropping his rifle by her body. It was little use against Kylo Ren if he wasn’t caught by surprise: Finn had seen him freeze a field of blaster bolts.
“Rey! Rey!” Finn’s fingers dancing over her throat and mouth found that her heart was still beating and that breath still lifted her chest, but her eyes were closed and would not open.
There was a click-hiss sound behind him, a crackle and a spitting like an electrical fire, and crunching footsteps. Rey’s lightsaber, extinguished, had fallen not far from her hand.
Finn seized it, and tried to remember which way was up. His brain felt scrambled, fearful and cornered; the earth was beginning to shake, the planet tearing itself apart, and he wasn’t sure how much time they had. He got to his feet holding the lightsaber, and turned to face Kylo Ren, lit in blood and dying stars, his lightsaber dripping red sparks.
“That’s mine,” Kylo Ren growled. “I would have suffered her to use it. But you are nothing, FN-2187, and you have no right to it.” He reached out an imperative hand, but Finn didn’t even feel the lightsaber shift in his grip. “Give it to me.”
Finn remembered which way the plasma came out, and how to turn it on. He slid his thumb against the right button, and that cool blue bar of light sprang into being. “Come and take it!”
From the first blow it was clear that Finn couldn’t beat Kylo Ren with this weapon, however much more stable and effective it was, however many gaps Ren left in his defence. Kylo kept trying to batter him into submission with great sweeps of that red lightsaber that Finn could barely guess how to counter; the lightsaber felt light in his hands, with far less resistance than he was accustomed to feeling from any pole arm or from the only equivalent he knew, the riot baton. He thought he could have used it well if only he’d known what he was doing, and beaten back through the snow, tripping on branches and crashing into trees, fighting for his life, he knew he’d never have the chance to learn. All he was doing was playing for time.
He glimpsed Rey stirring, lifting herself from the snow with a puzzled hand to her head, and fought all the more fiercely. He still couldn't get onto the offensive; there seemed to be no way to surprise Kylo Ren, and as hard as he tried, he could feel himself weakening. It was hard to even deflect blows. He was freezing cold and sweating buckets, dizzy and exhausted.
Rey pulled herself up on the tree Kylo Ren had thrown her into.
A great blow forced Finn spinning round, his block failing, and he caught himself on a fallen log shrouded in snow, stumbling, trying to turn himself back round to counter Kylo Ren’s attack, but he never had the chance. Fire burned up his spine, consuming him, and the lightsaber fell from his nerveless fingers. Finn heard his own scream, thin and animal.
And then there was nothing but darkness.
Chewbacca carried Finn into the brightness of the Falcon. Rey stumbled after him, her hands catching blindly at Jyn’s as she pulled her away from the closing cargo bay door, and then chased Jyn and Chewbacca to the medical bay where Cassian was pulling together machines and medical kits. As Rey’s breathing steadied from its panicked whistle and she pressed herself against the wall out of the way while Jyn and Cassian tried to stabilise Finn, she found herself wanting to cry and yet unable to do it, the bones of her face aching under the pressure. Even as the machines’ soft beeping took on a steady, regular character, and Cassian sat back on his heels and Jyn bit her lip hard, Rey found herself too tense to feel, caught between fight or flight instincts so powerful she could hardly move with nothing to direct them at.
Finn lay silent and still with that terrible wound across his back, bacta patches pressed over the wound, and his spine immobilised. He hadn’t so much as twitched or murmured since Chewbacca had lifted him from the snow.
Rey let herself slide down the wall to the floor. She crossed her legs and closed her eyes to pray, and found it peculiarly difficult: the prayers Chirrut had taught her as a child were in her blood, but her tongue stumbled over the old Jedhan words in a way they hadn’t since she was twelve, and the weight of the lightsaber hung heavy on her hip, clinked distractingly against the floor. She felt unbalanced, uncomfortable, dizzied. It was harder than she could ever remember it being to find calm in the Force, to find the still point Chirrut had told her to look for, and Baze, with his steadiness, had inadvertently shown her where to find.
Seeking for that still point she thought of Finn, of that complicated bundle of feelings and memories and glimpses that made him up in her mind – and somehow, she felt him answer. Her eyes flew open in shock, and she squeezed them tightly shut again, clinging onto Finn’s faint contact.
Rey, he murmured, Rey, I came back…
She gathered herself together and tried to soothe him into a true sleep, too surprised to do anything else. She knew her mouth was still moving, half-breaths of the mantras passing between her lips.
“ Fuerza, ” Cassian said, breaking her wavering concentration, and causing her eyes to spring open. He was looking at her from where he still sat on the floor next to Finn’s bunk, and there was a weariness and an affection in his face that made her squirm. These people who all knew her, or something of her, and she knew nothing of them. “ Otra. ”
“ Claro, ” Jyn answered, in that crisper, more awkward accent. “ La criaron Chirrut y Baze. ”
Cassian had shaken his head. “ Nena, ” he’d told Rey, “this is enough. Take a break. I’ll stay with him.”
Rey looked down at her crossed feet in their socks. She had taken off her snow-sodden boots, hopping impatiently to rip them off her feet so she could follow Finn; Chewbacca had growled at her to do it, said she’d soak her feet through. “Why do you always speak to me in Alderaanian?” she asked, instead of what she’d meant to ask.
Jyn’s mouth compressed, and she looked away. She touched Finn’s shoulder lightly, and then one of the hastily jerry-rigged monitors. It didn't do much, Rey thought. But it would at least scream if his heart stopped beating.
Jyn's drifting hand touched a chunk of kyber crystal, half hidden at her neck, and then stopped. Her eyes were on the back of Finn’s head.
“Breha always spoke to me in Alderaanian,” Cassian replied, and one of those unreadable glances passed between him and Jyn. Jyn rose with a slight grunt, rubbing at one knee, and tapped gently at Rey’s upper arm; Rey found herself uncurling from her seat and standing, following the older woman into the main body of the Falcon. After a little, Jyn stopped, and Rey stopped to avoid crashing into her back - and then Jyn turned to face her.
The older woman was several inches shorter than Rey. She should have had to look up into Rey’s face, but it was Rey who found herself looking down.
“It’s heavy, isn’t it,” Jyn said matter-of-factly, and Rey’s hand flew to her hip. The lightsaber’s metal was cold to the touch.
“No. I mean… it’s only a haft.”
“You’re standing off balance,” Jyn said. “So did Luke, when he started carrying that thing around. He thought nobody noticed, but Chirrut did, and Chirrut told me. There’s too much hanging on it for everyday wear, but there was no-one around to tell Luke that, was there? He was the last of the Jedi. For what that’s worth.” She reached out and trailed her fingers along a section of panelling, then stopped, and knocked at it confidently. “Here,” she said, and pushed at a particular section of it with all four fingers and thumb, splayed. The panelling fell out, revealing a dusty space about the size of Rey’s forearm cubed. There was nothing in it. “For safekeeping, if you like. The panel goes back on the same way it pops out.”
She left Rey staring at the empty space.
A few minutes later, the lightsaber off her hip and the panel back in place, Rey found her way to the cockpit.
“We’re nearly there,” Han said, offering her a quick, worn half-smile as his hands danced across the console.
“Can I fly for a bit?” Rey asked, leaning against a jumpseat, trying to pretend to be casual.
He twisted round in his seat instead of merely glancing at her. “Aren't you tired?”
Rey shook her head no.
“Well,” Han said. “For a bit, I guess.” He smiled again, a little broader. “Since you haven't broken her yet.”
“Easy on it, now,” Han said, an hour later. He was leaning so far forward from his jump seat that he could rest his hand on the back of her pilot’s seat. “Steady as she goes.”
“I landed her before,” Rey objected, easing the Falcon down into a quiet and deniable landing pad back of the D’Qar base. Squads of medical personnel were drawn up at a gaping open door; a small, plump figure in olive green stood over to one side, out of their way. Rey did not look at anything but the sensors and the pad.
And it’s a miracle she still flies, Chewbacca rumbled. Listen to your father, littlest cub.
Rey flushed, and not because he’d insulted her skills. The Falcon wobbled slightly under her hands - a bantha in the air unless you knew her tricks, but Rey was beginning to know them, and the Falcon now responded to her slightest touch - and she corrected. The first landing struts connected.
“That’s it,” Han said, his fingers drumming a slow rhythm by her ear. She thought about asking him to stop. “That’s it. Keep it slow.”
“We’re in a hurry,” Rey pointed out. She did not glance over her shoulder, at the space where Finn’s bunk lay.
“I know,” Han said, too gently.
They waited for the medical team to slide Finn onto a better gurney and rush him away. Rey tried to stop herself wanting to follow; she laced her boots on and left her uncle’s lightsaber in the smuggling compartment, where it couldn’t sing to her.
Though the land around the back of the D’Qar base was mostly scrub, it was very green, and Leia Organa was very short, up close. Her eyes were very bright and very wide, and just the same colour as Kylo Ren’s. Her smile was shaking, just as Rey’s was.
“Welcome home,” her mother told her, holding out her arms, and Rey folded her own around this small woman’s shoulders, this firm-chinned general, this straight-backed unacclaimed queen. “ Bienvenida, hija mía. ”
Rey pressed her face into her mother’s neck, and felt her father’s hand rest trembling over one of her shoulder blades. Clever fingers sifted through her half-loose hair, trained and skilled and practised, winding small braids around the eggshell cup of her skull, and something rang in Rey’s mind: nimble fingers, shaking a little with emotion, filtering a style out of her dark hair.
“Oh,” she said, surprised, lifting her head on a tiny jerk. “I remember that.”
Her father’s hand was suddenly a little heavier, and her mother’s fingers halted.
“Really?” Leia Organa kissed her daughter's forehead. “Well.” She tucked her hands against Rey’s cheeks, and smudged the unacknowledged dampness from Rey’s sockets. “Where I came from, every style has a meaning. Let me show you how I did my hair when I was your age.”
Rey reached back, almost hit her father on the chin, and pulled out the last remnants of the three buns she’d used to keep her hair out of the way, the style she had hoped her family might know her by.
“I’d like that,” said Rey.