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Stardust

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Today was the day of her wedding. 

 

Rey stood alone in a plush sitting room, gazing out of the towering transparisteel windows across the busy Coruscant landscape in the distance. Her mind was a frantic blur, focused far and away, anywhere but where she was while her nerves threatened to consume her. 

 

She glanced down and slid her palms down the shimmering bodice of her voluminous wedding gown. It had been made of the finest shimmersilk and lace - just for her. With a step and a soft swish of the fabric on the dark carpet, Rey turned away from the window and spied her reflection in a mirror across the room and could hardly recognize herself. 

 

The young woman who stared back at her, wide-eyed and unsure, was a vision of royalty. Her hazel eyes were lined with the blackest kohl, accented with a thick streak of glimmering gold beneath her lower lashes, from the inner corner to the tail of her brow. Her mouth had been painted a blood red with a delicate gold line that split the center of her bottom lip. With a sigh, she looked back at the stranger in a mask. It wasn’t the first she’d met since she’d arrived there, but she had never expected when she left home, that the one in the mask would eventually be her.

 

The fabric of the gown hugged the line of her collarbones, sweeping down to the floor in a full skirt that trailed more than a man’s height behind her. She moved her hands up the sheer fabric of the bodice with a nervous shiver and traced her fingers across the sparkling lace that strategically covered her breasts and bare back, giving just a glimpse of her tanned skin through the sheer material. 

 

She’d been made anew, from the tips of her toes with a pair of impossibly high shoes upon her feet, to the opulent headdress that sat atop her head. Elegant arcing circles framed her ornately braided hair that began at the tops of her ears and across her forehead. Each circle was gradually larger in size, until it looked like a gilded halo of gold and lace surrounded her - only adding to the feeling in her bones that she was standing in a stranger’s shoes. 

 

Rey reached up and skimmed the tips of her fingers along the edge of the shimmering veil that cascaded down her back and past the end of her train, tracing the rounded shape of the crimson teardrop jewel that dangled from her ear, causing the enormous stone on her left hand to catch the fading afternoon light - and her eye.

 

The blood-red Cosusca gem on her hand gleamed in the light, flickering like it held a fledgling flame at its center. The stone itself was was worth as much as an entire luxury high rise in the heart of Galactic City, and it was haloed by several, smaller glittering stones of white that formed the band that hugged her fingers. The ring weighed heavy on her hand, and on her mind, as she remembered the promise she made, and the deal she’d struck with the man who’d bestowed it upon her.

 

He’d been unfailingly kind to her from the beginning, taking a chance on a stranger when he could literally have chosen anyone else. The man had been patient with her as she was molded from the scrappy desert scavenger into the elegant stranger who stood before her in the mirror. Who was she to deserve the chance at another life, let alone this one?  She didn’t have any place in that story. She came from nothing. She was nothing. 

 

Rey from Nowhere. 

 

“What the hell am I doing?” Rey exclaimed, her voice trembling as a surge of panic flared in her chest. She paced the wide room the best she could with the substantial amount of fabric that trailed her every step, plopping herself down at a vanity in the corner as gracefully as she could manage. 

 

With the tips of her fingers, Rey swept up a delicate, silver chain from the cool surface of the table and skimmed her thumb over the crystal shard at the end of it. Rolling the stone over and over through her fingers, Rey’s heart ached for a family she’d never know. The necklace was precious to her and was the one souvenir of a past long lost to time and the sands of Jakku. Those who’d help transform her into the stranger in the mirror took it from her and told her that it wasn’t appropriate for someone of her station, insisting that it wouldn’t send the “right message to the right people.”

 

With a sigh, Rey closed her eyes, sucking in a deep breath of air as she centered herself with her prized momento tucked into the palm of her hand. In an instant, the distant memory of the darkest nights in the wild desert flooded her mind. Nights with a lonely little girl who was hungry, terrified, and oh so alone. On those nights, in the depths of her tears, she would imagine a voice. Soft and kind, with eyes the color of brandy who’d whisper sweet things to her and make her feel a little less alone. 

 

Don’t be afraid. I’m here. I’ll always be with you. Even if we’re apart. No matter how far. I’ll follow you across the galaxy, my Stardust.

 

Her hazel eyes fluttered open with a heavy sigh. She lifted her gaze to the stately woman in the mirror and gave her a solemn nod. 

 

Even though she was afraid, even though she wanted to run, there was something deep inside her that told her that she needed to stay.

 

It felt like destiny. 

 

*

 

Rey had spent as long as she could remember alone in the scorched badlands of Jakku. It wasn’t a place that many people would willingly choose to live out their lives. Most who ended up there did so because they were running away from outstanding debts and a subsequent bounty hunter, or were dropped like waste from a starship and drifted into the closest atmosphere - never to escape the sands again. 

 

The only thing of consequence that ever happened there was The Battle of Jakku - where Darth Vader famously turned against his master and joined forces with The Rebel Alliance to fight what remained of the Empire.

 

The evidence of that historic battle was scattered on the surface of the planet, dotting the wide expanse of The Goazan Badlands with mammoth skeletons of once fearsome star destroyers, left to rot in a graveyard that served as a reminder of what was.

 

Those starships were Rey’s salvation.

 

What felt like an eternity before she looked upon the face of royalty in the mirror, Rey remembered her first, bleary moments on the planet when she was still a little girl. Lost and alone after Gods knew how many days wandering in the desert, she stumbled into Niima Outpost. Desperately thirsty and with an aching belly, she drank the first water she could find. 

 

The water from the happabore trough was hot, smelly, and disgustingly muddy - but she couldn’t bring herself to care - bringing the muddled liquid to her mouth in quick handfuls as she swallowed it down as quickly as her tired body could manage.

 

Her belly bulged from the frenzy of feeding her thirst, but her stomach still twisted in hunger. She wandered aimlessly around the market, begging each passerby for help - but her pleas were ignored at every turn. While she drifted through the dusty outpost, Rey noticed a line of grubby-looking people hauling bundles of junk through the sand to a fish-like person behind a caged window in a small, metal blockhouse. With all of her other obvious choices doused in bitter disappointment, it seemed like the next best choice, so Rey joined the line to see if the blobfish would be able to help her. 

 

The time ticked by, so long that the light eventually began to bend in different directions through the cloth that flapped in the wind over her head. When it was finally her turn, Rey stepped up to the counter, stretching on her toes as far as she could, and yet was barely able to brush it with her fingertips.

 

“Who’s next?” a gravelly voice bellowed out, patience wearing thin.

 

“I....um…” Rey tested out her trembling voice, sounding impossibly small in the shadow of this new place and how utterly displaced she felt, “Can you help me, sir?”

 

“What?” The alien behind the counter barked out, “WHo’s there? Stand so I can see you!”

 

Please… ” Rey whimpered as precious water began to slip from her lashes with her tears, “I am so hungry…”

 

The Crolute came closer to the window and sneered down at her through a wire grate.

 

“That’s not how things work here, girl. You must bring me something of value, then I will give you portions.”

 

“H-how? I don’t have any money,” Rey whispered, wringing her hands as her hazel eyes darted across this flat face.

 

“Scavenge for it the same way everyone else here does. What makes you so special that you shouldn’t have to work for it? Now, get out of my sight before I change my mind about trading with you at all!” he spat with a snicker, slamming the window down in her face. 

 

Filled with defeat, Rey’s heart anxiously thumped as she trudged away from the outpost. She had no idea where she was going, but a feeling inside of told her that the direction she was headed was the right way to go - something was waiting for her over the horizon.

 

Hours passed by, and the time spent walking through the ever-shifting, scorching sands burned and blistered the bottoms of her bare feet, getting worse with each labored step she took. The twin moons of Jakku began to rise as the sun sank behind the horizon, and with her arms wrapped around her slight body to help keep out the coming cold, the wind began to pick up. 

 

It whipped and twisted around her, carrying the hair around her faces in sharp slices against her soft skin. With a glance over her shoulder to where the brutal winds were rising from, Rey’s eyes widened when she spied a terrifying wall of sand amassing in the distance. 

 

This can’t be good.

 

Her stomach churned in fear, hunger momentarily forgotten as the mysterious feeling in her bones told her that it was time to run.

 

Sprinting as fast as her broken feet would carry her, Rey stumbled with each step, struggling to stay on her feet as the onslaught of sand tore at her freckled cheeks. The waves came in more brutally with each gust, blocking out any last bits of light as the sand blocked her vision.

 

Rey shielded her eyes from the blast, squinting into the distance when she swore she saw a solid... something just a few steps away. 

 

Bolstered with a bright surge of hope, Rey battled against the gale and pushed step by step until the object in the distance began to take shape. A rectangular vessel materialized like magic before her eyes, half-buried in the blowing sand. She quickly found a hole in the belly, throwing herself inside and away from the punishing gusts outside. 

 

The world became abruptly still. 

 

Rey brushed the bits of sand from her face and her hair, squinting in the muted light to get a better look at her surroundings. Cautiously stepping inside, she brushed her fingers across the durasteel wall and thought that, maybe, someone had used the structure as a shelter a long time ago, but had long since been abandoned. 

 

A handful of blue barrels were tucked away behind a tattered corner, a small stand that looked like it could be used to cook something sat in the center of the oddly shaped space, and a small box that held a collection of thin, flimspat packages with green patties and a white, speckled powder.

 

Rey investigated the blue barrels first, using her small hands to smear off the layer of built-up sand on the lid before using all the strength she could muster to pry the lid open with a pop . Her hazel eyes grew wide when she looked upon the blessed sight of a clear liquid inside.

 

Stars! Water!

 

She dipped her hands into the barrel with fervor and lifted the liquid into her mouth as rapidly as she could, sucking up mouthfuls of water in great gulps.

 

With her thirst sufficiently quenched, Rey tore open one of the thin parcels and took a cautious sniff. Her tiny nose wrinkled and she let out a sigh. It didn’t smell the best, but whatever it was - she was sure it was food. Rifling through the mishmash of junk, Rey found a small dish, scooped up a bit of water and mixed the powder in it with the tip of her finger - watching in wild wonder as the powder soaked up the water and puff up into a delicious-looking bread.

 

She enthusiastically snatched it up and took the biggest bite she could muster. Chewing quickly, Rey tore off another bite, then another until it was gone. Ravenous from her arduous journey and unsure of the last time she’d eaten, she was desperate to have more, but her judgment - so much wiser than a girl her age would normally have - told her that she needed to save the packets until she could do as the fishblob told her to: scavenge.

 

With her belly full to the brim, Rey let out a sigh as she took a closer look around. There was a smattering of rusted parts and a few tools scattered around on the floor. On a makeshift shelf, she discovered a short, metal rod. Running her fingers over the cool metal, she let out a quiet gasp when the sharp tip pricked the end of her finger.

 

Seized with an idea, Rey grabbed one of the loose crates and dragged it noisily across the floor to a large, bare wall. She hoisted herself up on her makeshift stool, stretched up on her tiptoes, and notched a short line into the metal.

 

“Day one,” she whispered to no one while her stomach churned with a heavy sense of dread for what was to come. Her mind swirled with all the unknown questions, desperate to have the answers that felt like they’d been so suddenly ripped from her memory. She knew she had to have a family. It felt like she did, but where were they? How did she end up there? 

 

Rey’s chin trembled when she squeezed her eyes shut and wracked her brain for a sense of anything that had happened to her, but no matter how much she tried, everything prior to being on Jakku was completely blank. All she had to show for it was a collection of scrapes and bruises, a bump on the head, and a crystal shard hanging from a silver chain around her neck - and the faintest picture in her mind of kind, brown eyes and a tender voice whispering in her ear.

 

A stuttering cry tumbled from her mouth in an instant, suddenly seized with an overwhelming feeling of loneliness and despair. Tearing down one of the tattered pieces of cloth from the wall, Rey wrapped herself in it like a second skin to shield herself from the rapidly cooling air. She wandered to a little nook and arranged herself into a little ball, tucking her knees to her chin to make herself as small as possible. 

 

With her cheek pressed against the cold of the durasteel, Rey sucked in a quivering breath as the tears came. Sobs quaked her tiny body as her grief overwhelmed her and, as her tears slipped down her cheek into the sand, she heard a voice whisper in her ear.

 

It’s okay. I’m here. I’ll always be with you, even if we’re apart. No matter how far. I will follow you across the galaxy, my Stardust.

 

*

 

The memories of the broken little girl who cried herself to sleep for countless nights in the belly of a fallen AT-AT felt like a lifetime ago - and so many lessons were learned quickly while being alone in such an unforgiving place as the desert.

 

Don’t stay out past dark. That was when the nightwatcher worms would come. Native to the planet, they were massive, worm-like creatures that were the size of a small shuttle, burrowing deep into the Jakku sands to emerge when the twin suns would rise. They preyed upon everything - from the junk that littered the starship graveyard, to droids, and even a human or two.  

 

Rey had witnessed one of the terrifying sandborers snatch up a fellow scavenger right before her eyes one day when the sun had become too low and after that day, she vowed to always be safely tucked away in her AT-AT before dark.

 

Stay out of the way of the Teedo - a sentient reptilian species that was native to Jakku who prowled the barren wastelands. They were fiercely territorial and would fight other scavengers for a find if they found the scrap to be valuable enough.

 

Beware of the wrath of R’iia, the goddess the Teedo worshipped. They believed that the vicious sandstorms that would come sweeping in from time to time, stripping paint from the hulls of the fallen star destroyers, were her breath - X’us’R’iia. The Teedo thought that the goddess was wrathful and hostile, and according to them, she was wholly responsible for The Battle of Jakku and would likely be the case of any future famine and drought. 

 

Stretch your water and portions. When trading for food was the only thing that came close to an income, meals weren’t always guaranteed depending on the haul each day. If Unkar Plutt didn’t see value in what you brought him, it was simple - you didn’t eat.

 

Through everything she’d gone through, there was one lesson Rey found the most valuable- Never depend on anyone except for yourself.

 

Rey had spent thirteen years of her life fighting each day to survive, battling through impossible conditions, through the sand and the sun, climbing to precarious heights, and every evening, she’d scratch a new mark into the wall of her humble AT-AT home.

 

The first few years were the most difficult. There were many nights that Rey went to sleep with the rumbles of hunger in her belly, and many days learning what parts held value with Unkar Plutt, and which did not. She survived the first weeks on the portions she discovered in her AT-AT, but quickly found work for a few sympathetic scavengers who would give her a share of their portions for payment from gathering bits of scrap in hard to reach places. A talented climber, Rey’s small size made it easy for her to slip into tight spots where other scavengers couldn’t fit, making her a valuable asset to ambitious scrappers.

 

When she first found her home in the abandoned Imperial walker, Rey wasn’t sure how she’d be able to make a home in the barren wilderness of the desert planet - not when in her heart, she longed for things she’d only ever dreamed about. Someplace green, warm, and full of life. There were days that she was convinced that she would fail, that it was only a matter of time before the desert claimed her for good - until she stumbled upon a lonely green spinebarrel flower growing out of a smattering of sand that had drifted into her walker.

 

The tiny flower, something of no consequence to anyone else, filled Rey with a boundless sense of hope. If something as small and fragile as that flower could survive on Jakku - so could she.

 

Rey felt strong in her newfound determination, but the loneliness was never far away, especially at night. The howling winds of the X’us’R’iia haunted her sleep. It was in those terrifyingly lonely moments that the voice would visit her, and the promise was always the same.

 

Don’t be afraid. I’m here. I’ll always be with you, even if we’re apart. No matter how far. I’ll follow you across the galaxy, my Stardust.

 

Every time her fear and loneliness would start to consume her, stealing her breath and replacing it with tears, the voice would come, and she’d wrap the treasured feeling it gave her around her heart like a warm blanket. It happened often enough during the first few months that Rey came to depend on the voice to soothe her into a fitful sleep. So much so, that she began to blindly hope that one day, the keeper of that voice would come and whisk her away from her grim life in the desert.

 

The days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. The voice visited less frequently as time passed by, and eventually, grew silent altogether. 

 

No longer a little girl, Rey had become a talented mechanic, pilot, and was even able to hold her own in a fair fight with a quarterstaff - which gained her quite the reputation in Niima Outpost.   

 

She developed a knack for languages and even built her own speeder out of parts she found buried in the wreckage of the starship graveyard.

 

Over the years, some of the other scavengers were kind to her, but most others were not - and even thought of her as their property. Rey came to realize that, while some of her fellow scavengers needed her help, she didn’t need any of them. No one took the lonely little girl seriously and, fueled by her stubbornness, she refused to fail.

 

By the time she was a teenager, she was Unkar Plutt’s best scavenger. With a mysterious sixth sense, she knew where the best parts were tucked away, and she had the skills and the tenacity to get to them.  She had earned a slight amount of respect from the Crolute because she always brought him the very finest parts. By being Unkar’s favorite, along with the reputation she gained with her quarterstaff, most of the other scavengers left her alone. Still, the odd few, usually new scavengers who didn’t know her, or those who were particularly desperate, would try to steal from her - and would learn a hard lesson at the end of a blunt staff. 

It had been a good day. Rey had spent many hours combing through the skeleton of the behemoth star destroyer, Ravager. She was able to pry away a gravatic sensor, a few power flux connectors, and some valuable power coils. She knew that Plutt would be able to make a fair amount of credits off of unsuspecting passersby to Niima Outpost, and he would reward her with so many portions, she could very well eat for a month. And on her walk back to her speeder, she’d even stumbled upon a fragile nightbloomer. 

 

Surely a sign of good things to come.

 

At first light the next day, Rey loaded her speeder with her valuable finds and began the long ride to Niima Outpost, rocketing past the ghosts of the Empire while the sun climbed into the sky.  She arrived by midmorning and hopped down from her seat to start unloading her cargo, releasing the side net with a turn of her wrist and a loud swear.

 

“Kriffing hell,” she grimaced as she took stock of her haul and found a noticeably absent quarterstaff that had been left behind in her AT-AT. With an exasperated sigh, Rey shook her head as she bent down to gather up her finds to take them to a washing station, hoping that the forgotten staff wasn’t a sign of how her day was going to go.

 

As she hauled her net of parts across the sand to clean them, creating a trail behind her with each step, Rey caught sight of the distinct vertical black wings of an Upsilon-class command shuttle looming over the rooftop of the outpost, making her brows scrunch together in a puzzled stare as a shiver passed over her.

 

If the First Order is here, that can’t mean anything good…

 

Rey knew that it was for the best to keep to herself, so she shrugged off the sight of the shuttle and the feeling it gave her, and sat down at a table to continue her day the way she’d originally planned to.

With the palm of her hand, Rey wiped a stripe across the worn surface, brushing it clean of the layer of sand that had built up on it overnight. She settled onto a bench and tugged on a pair of leather gloves that were made for hands much larger than hers, but like so many other things in the life of a scavenger - she’d make the best of what she had.

 

Rey scrubbed furiously at a power coil, determined to make it shine and ensure that Plutt saw it for the value it truly held. While she cleaned, she shuddered with the eerie feeling that she was being watched. She lifted her gaze and instantly locked eyes with someone she didn’t recognize. More than likely someone new to the planet - a freshly minted scavenger, perhaps - he averted his gaze the split second she met it and walked away. 

 

With a small shrug of her shoulders, Rey shifted her attention back to the task at hand, going about her business until the parts gleamed and she was able to load up her net and take it to Unkar Plutt. Her stomach twisted in a thrilling sense of anticipation of how many portions she’d receive, hoping that she’d be able to replenish stores to last her through the slow days.

 

Out of nowhere, as she trudged through the loose sand beneath her boots, a simultaneously strange and exhilarating sensation crept into her mind, sending an electric shiver across her entire body. A pull, captivating and magnetic, drew her attention to a figure standing across the outpost. 

 

Tall and imposing, he cast a shadow longer than the one at his feet, clothed entirely in black from head to toe. He wore a surcoat that swept the toes of his black boots, with ribbed armbands that hugged every curve of his muscular arms. A tattered cowl was slung across his broad shoulders, with a dark hood drawn over his head. On top of the entire ensemble - be it some sort of armor or for some other purpose, Rey wasn’t sure - was a striking black helm, with a delicate set of silver bands that wrapped around the narrow visor.

 

The dark stranger strode with a purpose through the market with a long, loping gait with his gloved hands clenched into fists at his sides. The second Rey laid eyes on him, he stopped dead in his tracks and turned his head in her direction. She swallowed a lump in her throat with a shiver, swearing that if it weren’t for his mask, that their eyes would have met. And, somehow, even with his face obscured, Rey could feel his burning gaze upon her skin.

 

A strange fire burst to life in her chest, flaring so brightly, she thought she might go blind from the overwhelming sensation of it all. Her mind reeled with a thousand questions, swimming through each one as the time stopped. What was this? Who was this dark stranger who was making her feel that way? Was it fear? Curiosity? ...Or something else.    

 

Rey’s attention was so wrapped up in the mysterious, faceless stranger when, without warning, a pair of strong arms grabbed her from behind.

 

She reacted quickly, thrashing her legs out in front of her as hard as she could muster to try and gain the leverage to get out of his grip. The arms gripped her tighter still, so Rey did the only thing she could think of at the moment. She opened her mouth and tore into her attacker’s arm with her teeth. The offending individual yelped in pain, releasing their hold in an instant. 

 

Rey spun on her heel, swinging her fist at her target. Her knuckles collided with his mouth with a thump, and her hand instantly throbbed from the force of her blow. She pressed her mouth to her aching hand, shaking it loose as she looked up to see the face of her attacker. 

 

The new scavenger who’d been staring at her earlier chuckled darkly and spat a glob of blood onto the sand with a tilt of his head in her direction.

 

“You’re a feisty one, aren’t you?” He sneered with a blood-smeared smile as he stuck a pair of grimy fingers in his mouth to let out a loud whistle, “I’ve got some friends who are interested in that haul of yours. Maybe they’d be interested in something else of yours, as well.” His eyes shifted slowly down her body in a way that only fueled her rage.

 

“I’d like to see you try,” Rey gloated with a huff of laughter, spreading her feet as she readied herself for what was coming, but oh, what a day to leave her prized quarterstaff behind.

 

Rey knew she could have taken on that scum on her own without her staff, had it just been she against him, and he wouldn’t have known what hit him - but they weren’t alone. With the sound of his whistle, four of his comrades strode over through the sand, hungry for a fight. 

 

The first grimy piece of trash swung at Rey’s face, which she quickly ducked and responded with a swift kick to his ribs with a crack. She turned to lay another swift kick to her next assailant, when a set of calloused knuckles collided painfully with her brow, sending her to the sand in a heap. Blinded by her pain, she tried to push through the ringing in her ears and pick herself up when a foot connected with her ribs, again and again. She gasped for breath between each one, counting each new fracture as the onslaught continued. Rolling her face into the sand, she closed her eyes, held her breath, and awaited the next blow.

 

It never came.

 

Looking up from behind her bloodied lashes, Rey saw the dark knight standing over her like a rabid dog. His massive, gloved fist collided with the jaw of the first goon, who in turn hit the ground, motionless. The next attacker came towards him, and the mysterious stranger responded by throwing out his hand, tossing the scum into the air invisibly and violently - as if they’d been ripped backwards by an invisible rope. 

 

The thug landed with a sickening thunk on the sand, his limps twisted and contorted from his abrupt flight. With a single look, the dark knight stopped the final two dead in their tracks with his hand outstretched.

 

You will turn around, walk into the desert, and never return to this place,” a deep, modulated voice reverberated through the mask as the pair of men suddenly straightened up with a glossy look in their eyes.

 

“We’re leaving now and won’t be coming back,” they murmured, turning slowly on their heels to amble out of the outpost towards the horizon. 

 

Rey pressed her palms against the hot hand with a groan and lifted herself to sit while she caught her breath as she watched in a dazed puzzlement as their figures shrank into the distance. Her stomach churned and her mind was still filled with questions as she smeared blood from her mouth with the back of her hand.

 

“What did you just do?” she questioned through labored breaths as each one sent a ricochet of pain through her lithe body.

 

The dark knight stayed silent beside her, clenching his fists at his side as the steady rise and fall of his broad shoulders slowed to a normal pace. Rey reached around her torso and gingerly pressed her fingertips to her ribs with a hiss of pain, knowing in an instant that she’d more than likely broken a couple of ribs. It wasn’t the first time and wouldn’t be the last, but it was still a frustrating and painful setback to her normal routine. 

 

She glanced up curiously at the man beside her, who still had his back turned to her, and somehow seemed to take up all the space in the entire outpost with his presence. Her questions rattled around in her mind as she watched him slowly turn his head to the side to cast her a brief glance before speaking. 

 

“Do you make a habit out of getting your ass kicked?” he growled and Rey couldn’t help but feel that she had somehow angered the man.

 

“Are you serious?” Rey balked with an exasperated laugh that echoed with an ache in her tender ribs, “I was completely outnumbered and unarmed. Had I been prepared, I would have been able to handle myself, thank you very much.”

 

“I’m sure you can, Sweetheart,” he drawled as he slowly turned to step back towards his ship with his ambling strides.

 

“Listen here, Bucketbrain,” Rey snapped with an acidic glare, appalled that a perfect stranger had the gall to talk to her in such a manner, but the dark knight held up a gloved hand to silence her as he came to an abrupt halt - listening to something or someone from inside his mask.

 

“You’re coming with me,” he muttered in a clipped tone, somehow more surly than he’d been only seconds before, “There’s someone who wants to speak with you.

 

“I...what? You’re a kriffing nerfherder if you think I’m going anywhere with you. I’ve plenty of strangers today, but thanks.”

 

The knight’s fists clenched and unclenched in frustration as he let out a groan through the mask.

 

“Look, I’m just as pleased about this as you are. You’re coming with me, and I’ll carry you if I have to.”

 

“You wouldn’t dare,” Rey snapped.

 

“You’d be surprised, Highness,” he drawled with a quick look around the outpost, “Listen, I don’t have time for this and I can see how things work around here. Trading, right? I need to give you something valuable and you’ll do what you’re told?”

 

“That’s debatable.”

 

“How about,” he ignored her and Rey grinned inwardly at the thought of annoying him further, curious what he was able to offer her, “A blaster and a holopad for ten minutes. It certainly seems like a blaster would come in handy with the types of...habits you seem to have. I won’t be here to save your skin next time.”

 

“You couldn’t pay me with all the blasters in the galaxy to come with you, e chu ta.” Rey spat.

 

“My, what a potty mouth you have on you, Your Worship. You know what? Fine , since you can protect yourself so well - no blaster. Will asking nicely get me anywhere?”

 

Rey could feel it, the way they were effortlessly goading each other in such a way that was simultaneously infuriating and intoxicating, but she knew that it wasn’t going to last forever - no matter the strange pull she felt. 

 

She couldn’t help but want to tell him to kriff-off and leave her alone, but the pull gave her a tug in the back of her mind and told her that it was so much more than just a feeling. 

 

With a slow lick of her lips, she decided to be the first one to give him and narrowed her eyes up at him from her seat in the sand.

 

“Five minutes. Blaster. Holopad. And two energy cells.” she nodded with a sigh.

 

He regarded her with a slow tilt of his head as he considered her terms to their bargain.

 

“Agreed.”

 

Rey sucked in a trembling breath when the dark knight held out a gloved hand and patiently waited until she slid her hand into his, pulling her up from the sand and sealing their agreement.

 

She followed him towards the looming upsilon-class command shuttle, trying hard to calm the rapid beating of her heart as they stepped up the ramp and into the belly of the ship. 

 

Her eyes instantly were drawn to a man sitting on a plush bench in the main hold. Young, thin, and elegant with bright, auburn hair, he sat with one leg crossed over the other as he remained casually focused on a datapad in his lap.

 

As they approached, the man looked up and flashed her a brilliant smile and his well-defined brow raised in interest as he stood to greet them. 

 

“Ah, Lord Ren, who is this stunning desert flower you have brought me?” He asked, with an impeccably posh accent.  He stood nearly as tall as the dark knight behind her, dressed in a neatly pressed black uniform. He was flawlessly clean-shaven, with a sharp, square jaw and pronounced cheekbones.  His red hair was neatly combed, with long sideburns framing his ears, but Rey was instantly drawn in by the icy blue eyes that glittered as he smiled down at her.

“I’m Rey,” she murmured with an odd twinge in her heart, completely unsure of the newest stranger before her.  She inwardly cursed to herself. Her nightbloom had lied. She thought that it was a sign of good things to come, but it had turned out to be something more strange than she could have ever imagined. 


“Ah, Rey. Such a pleasure to make the acquaintance of such a captivating beauty, hidden away here in the desert. My name is Armie,” he gave her a kind smile as he reached out with his bare hands, capturing hers and brushing a delicate kiss across the knuckles.

A breathlessly confused giggle tumbled from her lips as a baffled smile spread across her face.
   
“I’m sorry, but what am I doing here?” She motioned back towards the open gangplank with her free hand, “I really should be getting back to my speeder before it walks off in a hundred different pieces.”

The new stranger, Armie, clapped his hands together cheerfully.

“Ah, yes! Let’s get down to business, shall we?  Please, sit here with me, Rey,” he kept her hand in his, and guided her to the long, black seat he was sitting on only moments ago. The dark knight, “Lord Ren”, as his associate called him, stood like a sentinel at the top of the ramp.

Rey sat the bag with her promised loot down next to her feet as  Armie arranged himself so that he was angled towards her, her hand still held firmly in his.

“I understand this situation is a little odd, but please bear with me. I am in a position of... power within The First Order. I have certain, shall we say, advisors that dispense advice to me every so often. While I am a young man, I am not getting any younger, and I have been advised that it is time for me to get married,” he chuckled.

“Um...well...congratulations?” Rey said, her lovely freckled face contorted with confusion, “But what does this have to do with me?”

“As it happens, I was on my way to meet some prospective suitors when our warp vortex stabilizer suffered some damage. That’s how we ended up here, a fortuitous chance, to be sure. Jakku was the closest inhabited planet where we might find the right parts to repair my shuttle. We arrived here, and that’s when I saw you, my dear. I saw you, and knew I didn’t have any more need to see any of those other girls.”

 

“Me?” She let out an uncomfortable laugh, the questions in her mind mounting higher with each second, “What’s so special about me?”

“You, Rey, are a real girl. All the other prospects I have lined up for me are impossibly stuffy, and know nothing about what the galaxy is like outside the luxurious comforts of the core worlds. I need someone authentic. Someone who understands what it is like to be one of the people. Someone they’ll love.

“You don’t know a thing about me,” she shook her head with a deep sense of skepticism, “How could you want to marry me if you’ve only just met me?”

“Give me a chance to prove to you that this is the right choice. Come with me to my ship and spend a few days. Let’s get to know each other. Let someone else take care of you for a change. No scavenging, no sand, no worrying about someone hurting you,” he reached up and gently brushed the deepening bruise along her brow bone, “Please, let me help you.”

“I can’t...I can’t just leave. I’ve built a life here. This is all I have ever known,” she shrugged with a sigh, standing to leave, “I don’t know how to live any other way.”

Armie caught her hand and stood, pulling her closer to him. Mere inches away from each other, she looked up into his pleading blue eyes as her breath hitched sharply in her throat - realizing she had never been this close to a man before. 

“Take a day to think about it. Here, take this,” he reached into his pocket and slipped a small comlink into her hands, “We will stay in orbit for the next few days. Please, just consider my offer of coming to stay. Let me get you away from this place - even if it’s just for a little while,” he pleaded, his eyes soft as he skimmed the pad of his thumb over the tender flesh on the back of her hand.

“I will,” Rey murmured, still looking into his eyes. He flashed her a dashing smile and ghosted another kiss across her knuckles. 

She accepted the comlink from Armie, along with the loot she was promised by Lord Ren. Striding past the dark knight at the top of the ramp, Rey hesitated for a moment.
   
“Thank you,” she whispered softly, “Thank you for helping me out there.”

He turned towards her, fists clenched at his sides, and gave her a terse nod. His expression was completely unreadable because of the mask, and Rey couldn’t help but wish for a split second that she could see who he was hiding underneath it.  

“I will see you soon, Desert Flower, I’m sure of it,” Armie called to her as she stepped into the bright, desert sunlight, “Can you feel that? It feels like destiny.”

Rey offered an unsure smile and a nod before she turned to walk down the ramp of the shuttle. She strode through Niima Outpost, mulling the conversation in her mind - both of them - until she made her way back to where the fight occurred, discovering that the unconscious assailants were gone - and so were her scavenged parts.

Kriffing hell.

Disappointed, she headed back to her speeder, stashing the comlink on her belt before jetting off towards home.

 

                        *

Rey didn’t make it far before the moons began to rise, and the X’us’R’iia blew in.  The storm, with relentless winds and voracious walls of sand, was one of the most brutal she had seen in ages. The biting sand stung her skin and burned in the wound on her brow as Rey gunned the twin-turbojet engines of her speeder to try and outrun the relentless, whipping sand.  

 

The engines roared, jolting forward momentarily before the speeder sputtered to a stop. Swearing loudly, she banged her fist on the damned thing out of frustration. The conditions were too poor for her to try and repair it then, so she would have to try and make it the rest of the way on foot and pray that her speeder was still there in the morning.

Hauling the loot given to her by Lord Ren with her and using her hand to shield her eyes, Rey trudged through the drifting sand towards her AT-AT.

It felt like hours had passed before Rey stumbled into the belly of her walker, collapsing on the floor in a heap as soon as she stepped inside. Painful coughs racked her body as she struggled to take a sand-less breath with her aching ribs. She pulled out what remained of the trio of buns that she’d been tying in her hair every day for as long as she could remember. Rey tried to shake the sand out of her hair - to no avail. What she wouldn’t give for a real ‘fresher with water, not like the sonic ‘freshers in Niima Outpost that you had to trade portions to use. Eat, or be clean. The choice was simple for her.


Rey busied herself with grilling up some vegmeat, and mixed up a polystarch roll to satiate her growling stomach. Thankful that she was home and not lost out in the sands, she ate her portion and then went to the wide, metal wall to scratch in the day’s mark next to all the others - the same monotonous routine she’d done for as long as she could remember. 

 

She’d lost count of how many there were over the years, and sometimes wondered why she bothered with it anymore. Rey let out a wistful sigh as she imagined what it would be like to leave the dusty planet behind and start fresh. What would it be like to live a life away from here? Armie’s offer was tempting, to be sure, but it didn’t change the fact that the man was a stranger to her. 

He said she would come to know him. He wouldn’t be a stranger then, would he? He was so kind to her, and she’d never had a man be that close to her before. It was thrilling, to say the least, and it took her breath away in the most unexpected way. Is that what being attracted to someone felt like? Rey couldn’t be sure, having no experience in the matter, but part of her wanted to find out.

In the secluded world of her walker, as she sat with her back against the wall of a lifetime's worth of notches in the durasteel wall, Rey couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to not be alone anymore. It was ever so tempting - to have someone to call home.

Rey shook her head to try and snap out of the daydream. She’d had them before -  and they’d only led to a broken little girl who cried herself to sleep when a voice she’d made up in her head stopped talking to her. None of it was real, it never had been. She was grown now. She knew better. 

Don’t depend on anyone but yourself.

Rey crashed down from her delusion of a different life with a shake of her head and a sigh. She stood up and wistfully pressed her palm to the markings on the wall before turning to climb into her hammock to drift into a fitful sleep.

*

 

Everything is chaos. Blaster fire echoes in and around the great temple’s pyramid.  Screams fill the air, and fire spreads through the jungle. She is a child again. She is terrified and wailing into someone’s shoulder as strong arms hold her tightly. A desperate voice pleads,
   
“BEN. You must leave. You aren’t safe here. They are here for our family, please, you have to go!’

“I can’t leave her. I can’t do it!”

“Here, give her to me, I will take her with me. I swear she will be safe.”

“No, I can’t. I promised her that I would protect her.”

“She will be in more danger if she stays with you, and you know it.”

“My son, please, you have my word. I swear I will make sure she leaves this planet safely.”

Something is horribly, terribly wrong. A voice murmurs frantically in her ear.

“Don’t be afraid, sweet girl. I will find you, I swear! I don’t care how long it takes. Just remember, I will always be with you no matter if we are apart. No matter how far. I would cross the galaxy for you, my Stardust,” he kisses her hair, wipes away her tears, and smiles at her with tear-filled, honey-brown eyes.

Without warning, she is ripped from his arms. She reaches out for him as he is pulled further away. Their grief-stricken screams echo amongst the blaster fire. He is pushed into a shuttle as an explosion rocks the space between them, turning the world white.

“Stardust!”

Rey woke with a start, covered in sweat. She reached up to her face, wiping hot tears from her eyes. That voice was so achingly familiar. The dream felt so achingly real, like an echo of a distant life.

                        *

As daylight began to break outside the walker,  Rey tried to shake herself free from the heartbreak and fear she felt from her dream. There were real things to do and to worry about -  not a memory of an old echo of a voice. She pulled on her boots and trudged outside into the bright morning sun.

It wasn’t long before she found what was left of her prized speeder, and Rey had to stifle a heartbroken sob. It had taken years of scavenging to find the right parts, but she had built the speeder with her own two hands. Now it sat in the Jakku desert, torn to shreds by the competing scavengers.

Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she made an impulsive decision. 

Enough with this kriffing sand bucket.  I need a change of scenery.

Rey pulled the comlink off her belt and pressed the call button. A cool, appealing voice answered.
   
“Ah, it is my desert flower! Are you ready to be whisked away, my dear?”