Rey had once attempted to coax some kind of sand rabbit out of the shadows of her ship. Not because she cared about its health: she'd been working on Jakku for two hundred days by then, and was well past the naivety that would make keeping a pet on Jakku seem like a good idea - but because it was in her way. Every two weeks or so the sun would shine at such an angle and such a level of power that, had the rabbit stayed, it would have been cooked to death. And then she would have had to deal with the smell, or the creatures who came to investigate it.
The rabbit had refused, and refused, even after she'd given it food, and then the rabbit had tried to bite her when she'd reached in to pull it out. Ultimately, she'd left it alone, and dealt with the stink of cooked-to-death rabbit among the wires for a few days until she had the time to pull it out and bury it in the sand.
Trying to get Luke to return to civilization was easily three-quarters as annoying as dealing with the rabbit.
"Isn't the whole point of being a Jedi that you can travel, go where you want, do what you want -"
"We're no Jedi. Not anymore. We barely had a chance to figure out the point of being a Jedi when the First Order rose. Also, no."
"Oh, okay, then let's just give up - that makes sense." Rey rolled her eyes. "How is it benefiting either of us to stay here, on some rocks, weeks away from civilization, from current events?"
"Weeks away from trouble," Luke said. "And light-years away from the Sith."
"They're not calling themselves that anymore," Rey said, "and anyway, I'd think you could at least take me to one of the Resistance bases - it's not like they don't have woods for you to throw rocks at me in." And make her stand on her head, and make her climb trees. Ha! As though trees were the most difficult thing she'd climbed. "And people miss you. You're some shadowy figure, they probably think you've gone evil and imprisoned me."
"R2 sends reports," Luke said. He looked utterly unaffected.
But Rey was no longer a hesitant scrounger girl, who'd leave a rabbit to die because it might get its teeth in her. "I'll go back, then," she said.
"Alone? Half-trained?" Luke snorted in a way that was very at odds with his current wise-old-man look. "Please."
"It'll make me more vulnerable to Ren," she said, "but I won't be alone, after I leave. I don't like being alone."
"You're not -"
"If you're going to claim to be good company, I will push you off this mountain." And then maybe she'd get real confirmation regarding whether or not he could fly.
Luke regarded her with weary eyes. And so might he; he had the right to be weary. But it wasn't like Rey had been raised in a palace. Not to mention that it seemed to her that a great way to go evil was in fact to spend all your time alone, muttering to yourself.
"Fine," Luke said. "When things go wrong -"
"You'll blame me. I can deal with it." She stood up, brushing crumbs off herself. "Let's go."
"I was going to say, you might have to kill me." Luke looked at her with wry approval. "But I guess you'd do that."
"If I had to." Images of Ren stabbing Han flashed in her head. Curse him. She'd had all of a few days to get to know Han - but that wasn't important right now. "Let's go," she said, and began making her way down the mountain, more than slightly concerned that if she stopped or hesitated at all, Luke would spend another twenty years grumbling on the island.
Luke had told her, in a world-weary voice, about the rhythms of war. So she was unsurprised to find the Resistance relaxing on a remote world, for values of relaxing that included heavy artillery engineering and grueling physical exercise. But the General herself looked relaxed enough, until she saw who followed Rey, ragged cloak concealing his face, his shoulders bunched.
"I could kill you," she breathed, looking past Rey like she didn't even exist. And then there was hugging, and a few tears, and a power flowing through the air that Rey could sense, and that was so compelling she found herself a bit afraid. This, then, was why he'd hidden himself. He'd taught her to use the Force - was still teaching her - but he'd been holding back. Or maybe he'd been incapable of using his own ability fully, in isolation. Either way, she'd never felt like she did as Leia demanded answers. The hair on the back of her neck stood up, and the Force's whispering presence felt more like pre-sandstorm thunder.
The pressure, plus the general threat that a personal shouting and/or lightsaber match could break out any minute, led her to flee the scene. She'd never been on the base before, so fleeing led to wandering, seeing and dismissing many a dead end or sleeping-soldier-filled bunk, before she found the lean-to that counted as a bar and could order a drink.
She'd only had a few swallows when someone said behind her, "You know this is a pilot's bar, right?"
Urbane, provoking, and flirtatious. Of course. "I've flown a few times," she said without turning around.
"Ah, but judging by the clothes, you're not from around here." He hoisted himself up on the stool. "A double klik, neat."
The bartender went to pouring the vile grain liquor, and the man nodded to Rey and said, "I wouldn't flatter myself by trying to drink what you're drinking."
"It's just beer. I was enjoying the quiet."
He smiled. And of course, it was a remarkable smile. His jawline was sharp, his eyes keen, and his hair very carefully arranged. Rey had not been on the islands with Luke for so long that she'd forgotten how this sort of thing worked. But then, nor had she been removed from Jakku for so long that she'd lost her wariness of flirtatious pilots.
"I'm sorry," he said. "Should I leave?"
It sounded like a genuine question - which, ironically, made Rey soften towards him. "Stay if you like," she said, and took another drink.
He let the silence persist for a few minutes before saying, "It would be dishonest to pretend I don't know who you are. Skywalker's apprentice."
"I'm Rey," she said. "Luke is helping me."
"Luke?" The pilot snorted. "Luke, right. Just some guy."
"He's a nice man," Rey said. "Bit batty, though. Still, he's just a man."
"And you're just an apprentice."
"What does that mean?"
"The rumor mill is already flying, is what that means."
Rey regarded him over her glass. He wanted information, and not just about who she was in relation to Luke. He had some kind of ulterior motive.
Well, she knew how to deal with that. "Apprentice or not, I'm still broke," she said. "Give me something I can sell, and I'll tell you what I need to know."
"Something you can - you know, the Resistance has currency."
She shrugged. "Easily devalued."
"So you drive a hard bargain."
"Some areas of the galaxy know wealth."
"I'd like to see them."
"I bet you would. Easier to get a good bargain there."
At a decided loss for words, Rey shrugged again.
"So what's your deal?" the pilot said.
Flirtation had fallen by the wayside remarkably quickly, even for someone engaging himself with Rey. She said, "As you pointed out, I'm an apprentice."
"The Jedi way of life is lonely, right? That's what the stories say. No loved ones."
"I don't know if it works that way now."
"So if someone tried to marry you, say, or keep you close - date you -"
"That won't be happening here." Rey scooted away.
He looked honestly surprised, an expression so incongruous with his interrogation that it served to make her instantaneously more suspicious. "I wasn't suggesting it," he said. "Just curious, that's all." He gave her a smile, but it was oddly edged.
She was about to reply - though with what, she hadn't yet figured out - when a familiar voice said, "Poe! Rey! How'd you meet?"
Poe. Poe Dameron, famous pilot and Finn's newly minted friend.
Poe made a "whoops, caught" face and turned to Finn. "Just now, actually," he said. "So this is the famous Rey."
"Figure of speech." He flashed her a smile, which warmed her cheeks, which in turn made her annoyed. She frowned back.
"It's good to see you," Finn said, embracing Rey. He was so warm, and cleaner than he'd been after the battle - of course he was cleaner; spending so much time with Luke had clearly gotten to her. She didn't realize she'd begun hugging back, locking Finn in an embrace, until she opened her eyes and saw Poe watching them. After that, she disengaged quickly.
"It's good to see you, too."
"How's training with Luke Skywalker? Becoming a Jedi?" Finn's smile was entirely too interested and hopeful for a man who'd been raised to kill Jedi - and all kinds of other people, for that matter. But then, that was Finn. She couldn't resist a returning smile.
"It's good. Interesting. Hard. All the usual stuff." And she'd only left off telling herself she could return to Jakku anytime a few days ago. "What do they have you doing?"
"Oh, all sorts of things," Finn said. "Not digging latrines, though."
"He's selling himself short." Poe spoke a bit sharply, eyes on Finn. "Tell her."
Rey raised her eyebrows. "Well?" It wasn't like Finn to hold back expressing his accomplishments.
And yet he fumbled a bit when he said, "The General's taken an interest in me. She's got me delivering messages for her, directing drills -"
"Which he's great at," Poe said. "Expert, in fact."
"It's just a start," Finn said. "But you won't catch me running to the Outer Rim any time soon." He looked at Rey with just a bit of a smile.
And oh, she was proud - and happy, too. She'd missed him. It was an odd feeling. "That's good," she said. "That's really good."
Finn smiled even wider, and then he hugged her again, his hand traveling down her arm and catching her hand. She ought to let go, but even as she thought about it, she didn't do so. Instead she let him pull her along as he said, "And we've upgraded the base a bit. Poe, come help me show her."
"Of course," Poe said. He tossed some money down on the bar. "I wouldn't want to miss out on a second of showing Rey around."
There was something there. Sarcasm, maybe. Rey darted a glance at him, but his face was completely bland. Was he angry that she was studying with Luke? Annoyed that he wasn't Finn's only friend? She couldn't tell. Pulling parts out of ships hadn't exactly prepared her for this. Neither, she thought with a bit of irony, had balancing on one hand while Luke talked about the Force.
But it was easy to fall into, all the same. Finn's upgrades to the base included a more efficient shielding system and a monitoring program that had an ability to detect anomalous people or movement from twenty klicks in any direction. The additions were impressive, and the way Finn talked about them reinforced Poe's bragging. And of course, then there was Poe, who showed her around the Resistance's multiple hangars and who needled Finn when he held Rey's hand for too long.
She didn't particularly enjoy holding hands. She really didn't. But Poe making fun, even if he was doing it nicely, made her want to never let go.
Poe as well featured heavily in Finn's stories. Apparently they'd been using him for recon missions - "Only dangerous if you get caught, and I never get caught."
"Very impressive," Rey said in reply, careful to maintain a deadpan expression.
"He's very good," Finn said. He clapped Poe on the shoulder. "The best. But it's still not enough. It might never be."
"And yet, you're still not running."
"I can't anymore," Finn said, like that all settled it.
She envied him. Or did she? No, Rey thought, she envied how clearly he belonged. He'd been a stranger on Jakku, conspicuously so. Now, no one looked at him twice, unless it was to nod acknowledgment. He'd made friends. Poe was stuck to his side like a burr under a speeder seat. And meanwhile, Rey was only really known by Luke, who'd spent hours secluded with Leia. It was vexing.
After a few hours, she could feel herself flagging. "I should find somewhere to sleep, sorry."
"I've got my own room," said Finn, with the air of one who'd never had it before. Rey thought of the clones - dozens she'd killed, just in those desperate few days. She then took those thoughts and shut them away. She'd deal with them later.
"Most of us do," Poe said, "just to clarify. We're not that hard up yet. I think my section has some spare spots, if you want. If you're not high enough up on the food chain to warrant your own suite."
Her hand itched to do something about that vaguely smug smile. "I thought you were the best pilot in the galaxy," she said. "Does that not push you up the food chain?"
His smile didn't budge. "The Resistance is a tough crowd."
"You'd better take me to that spot, then," she said.
"I'll see you tomorrow?" Finn said. "I've got some stuff to take care of before dinner, and I bet you'll sleep right through it."
"I will not!"
He laughed - outright laughed! - at her. "You're so tired, and I read up on Jedi training. Go. I'll see you tomorrow." He took off in the opposite direction, raising a hand to wave at another pilot on his way.
She realized when she looked at Poe that he'd caught her staring. "He's odd," she said in half-ashamed defense.
"Sure," Poe said. "That's what everyone says. Funny to watch."
"He's also brave," Rey said sharply, "and he's done more to become someone, to learn, than you or me or anyone, so how about you knock off trying to mock him?"
He looked satisfied then, like he'd been testing her. "Sure. Not another word. This way."
The camp was larger than she'd expected, but despite that, the rooms were indeed small. They looked like converted shipping containers, albeit clean and well-furnished ones. Poe taught her to program the access pad and then left her standing there with a sly, "Good luck."
She thought maybe she didn't like him. But Luke had counseled her on that impulse, telling her to ask herself if she really didn't like people, or if it was just reflexive, a defense leftover from her days of scrounging alone. But what use was it, either way? Poe was an important part of the Resistance, and she was - well. No one really knew, that much was obvious. And Luke might decide to depart for some one-island planet any day.
Falling asleep was a struggle. She'd expected it, and yet it was still hard to deal with. The room was too small to pace, and had nothing to distract her: just a bed and a set of shelves. She finally gave in and grabbed her pack, pulling out a bit of charcoal and scratching the wall. One line, up and down and then up again. One day in a new place.
She'd probably leave soon, she thought again, and then these lines would be left for some new occupant to clean off. But seeing the line there anchored her. She fell asleep with the Force humming around her, life in her veins alight with a still-unusual near-calm.
"Hello again," someone said at breakfast the next day, setting his tray down next to hers.
Only it wasn't "someone"; it was Poe.
"Hello," she said. Her brain searched for something else to say and came up with a big blank. She and Luke hadn't been very talkative. Actually, she hadn't been very talkative with anyone.
"Did you sleep okay?"
"I can sleep anywhere." She took a big bite of her bread. It was easily twice as big as the amount she'd eat on Jakku, and no one demanded she scrounge for ship parts, or cheated her when she delivered.
"Sure," he said, "so can I, but that's not what I asked."
"It was fine."
"Just fine? Finn enthused over having private space. Apparently Resistance beds are twice as soft as First Order ones."
Rey shrugged. "Finn enthuses over a lot of things."
"He sure does." Poe looked over her shoulder. She turned to see Finn sitting at a table with other people - maybe pilots, she thought, based on the clothes. And some scientists. Whoever they were, they clapped him on the shoulder and jostled him as they all ate.
The odd longing that coursed through her felt no different than it had in the desert, though it was more annoying. She was training to be a Jedi, after all. "Good for him," she said, and tore again into her food.
Poe didn't try to draw her into conversation again, and she didn't have the chance to go to Finn. Luke found her right after breakfast and took her to a training facility.
Based on the wires strung from the ceiling and the pile of pilot's gear in the corner, it was some kind of pilot training room, but Luke had cleared it out. They went to the middle of the room, and then he turned and looked at her - still in his ratty cloak, looking no better rested than he had when she'd met him - and said, "I can sense turmoil within you."
"Being back on a planet with more than four occupants can do that to a person."
She'd learned that it was impossible to get a rise out of Luke. He favored her with a semi-sarcastic look. "Not that kind of turmoil."
"Then I don't know what you mean," she said. She thought again of Finn, his back to her, surrounded by friends. Her stomach twisted.
"You'll have to get used to loneliness."
"That's stupid," Rey said. "This whole thing is - people thought you were a myth, you know. It's disappointing having you here, telling me to get ready for things to be awful forever." She shifted her weight a bit, into a fighting stance. If he was trying to goad her, rather than being his usual gloomy-minded self, she wanted to be ready.
"It's not stupid. And I don't mean alone forever. But you'll be alone, sooner or later. We all are."
Suddenly his gaze carried more weight, and his voice became more steady. She stopped clenching her hands and listened.
"The Force can be forgiving, but it can also be destructive. You'll feel that side sooner or later. You're too strong not to."
"You're talking about the dark side."
"The dark side is a choice. Or a series of choices."
"Like what Ren did."
"Like what Ren continues to do," Luke said. "And he feels the pull, just like I do, because of my father. But everyone feels it. Sometimes it's louder than others. It can find your vulnerabilities and use those, twist them, call to you."
Rey did the math in her head. Luke had been missing for ages, and Ren had fallen from grace a long time ago too. "And so you locked yourself away."
"For a time," Luke said. "And you'll have to as well. Eventually."
"I was alone for a long time. I can do it again."
"Or it will hurt even more for you to go back to it, and the Force will call to you that way."
Again the feelings rose in her, like accidentally sticking your foot into a sand pit. She recoiled from it.
Luke must have known how close she was to the edge, because he said, "That's enough. Get your guard up." Two fighting sticks flew to his hand, and he tossed one to Rey. It wasn't as good as her staff, didn't have the right balance or weight, but it was familiar. Familiar was good. She threw herself into sparring.
Luke had taught her to listen to more than the physical. When two Jedi fought, the currents of the Force surrounded them. She'd felt it while battling Ren, but she'd been distracted by her imminent death, as well as terror for Finn. With Luke, safety meant she felt the invisible stuff more. It was, in its own way, terrifying. Even when she used it to get a hit in.
When she did that, they broke away, and Luke smiled. "You're progressing well. Spend the rest of the day adjusting to the camp, then meet me here tomorrow morning."
That was more or less an explicit order not to shut herself in her room. Well, fine then. Rey could explore. She could make friends.
Or she could wind up sitting in a supply tent, watching people run past with purpose, and feeling sorry for herself.
"Idiot," she muttered. But she couldn't coax herself into moving.
She felt him before she saw him, like an itch on the back of her neck. "Rey!" Finn said. Somehow, she found herself on her feet and being drawn into a hug. "I thought Skywalker would be working you into the ground."
"He seems to view this as an adjustment period. Like I need one."
"You might not, but I sure did. Especially after the battle. I don't think the Resistance is really used to winning."
"That was following directions, not winning. What does Luke have you doing?"
"You've heard about Jedi training?"
"Not a lot," Finn said. "Not as much as you'd think, considering."
Considering that he'd been enslaved and taught to hate Jedi from childhood. Or to fight them, at least. Rey wanted to ask more, but she didn't think he'd welcome that questioning. And if he did, then he'd probably be very expansive, and it wouldn't be at all cheerful. No, best to stick to lighter topics. "Sure," she said. "It's mostly physical. And ridiculous. A lot of, oh, feel the Force. No, not over there. And then he gets a hit in because I'm distracted."
But Finn didn't laugh, like she'd expected him to. He said, "It's real, though. And serious. Isn't it?"
She thought again of how she'd felt encountering Ren in the forest: deadly ill, as though evil had turned into literal poison. "Yes," she said. "I don't like it, but it's real."
"Maybe you'll learn to like it. You'll have a sword."
"A lightsaber," Rey said. "And I'd rather have a blaster."
"You and me both." Finn looked like he was going to say more, but then a droid rolled up. It wasn't one Rey recognized, but the summons it issued sounded serious.
"It's probably too classified for me, huh?" Rey said.
But Finn shook his head, looking troubled. "You'd better come for this. Sooner or later, I bet it'll involve you."
She still expected to be turned away at the door. But then, to her shock, she wasn't. She slipped into the command room with Finn as though it was the most natural thing in the world. Luke was there too, and Poe, and a bunch of people she didn't recognize. At their center was Leia - and she looked angry. It was obvious in her posture and the hard line of her mouth, and it was obvious in the turbulence of the Force around her. Something terrible had happened.
"Everyone," Leia said. "I received some disturbing news from the Western Reaches."
Jakku. Rey opened her mouth - to say what, she had no idea - and caught Luke's gaze. He was giving her a warning, as clear as if he'd spoken. She shut her mouth.
"The First Order is on the move again," she said. "Which we knew would happen, of course. But for once, they're not simply building a bigger version of the weapon we destroyed."
"In part because that'd be impossible," Poe said. "More impossible than last time."
"Very true," Leia said. "But it's also not a weapon you can destroy, I'm afraid."
"What's happening?" said a woman Rey didn't recognize. "General, what are they doing?"
"I'm trying to find a way to describe it," Leia said. "It's not something we have experience with. They're moving from planet to planet - like raiding parties. But where Ren's ship lands, everything changes."
She drew up video then, projecting it above the crowd. Rey watched with the others as Ren, flanked by stormtroopers, held out his hands. He spoke, though the recording had no audio. And then, looking perfectly happy to do so, an entire town knelt to him.
Everyone in the room tensed. Leia said, "That's not normal."
"What about stormtroopers?" Poe said. "Is it the same brainwashing?"
"It can't be," Finn said. "We - stormtroopers are kept in isolation, raised to serve. It's not like that. Stormtroopers can think. That's worship."
"That's the Force," Luke said.
Privately, Rey couldn't see how announcing that Ren was a using the Force would help convince anyone that the Jedi weren't overall sinister. Aloud, she said, "What happens after?"
Leia sent her an approving look. "That's the question, isn't it? The Force can help you bend a person's will, but it doesn't last." The recording changed. They were looking at the same town, judging by the buildings - but these people were wearing uniforms of dark blue, with pins in their lapels. They did drills with blasters in the streets. Children watched, wearing the same uniforms. "And yet, somehow, this trick has stuck."
"That's impossible," Poe said. He'd lost all humor. His mouth was flat, his eyes angry. "This has to be some kind of trick. They've got leverage. Threats -"
"Leverage on entire planets? They can't destroy them anymore. They poured everything they had into Starkiller Base." Leia fixed Poe with a firm glare. "When you met me, you thought using the Force at all was impossible. Let's not declare impossibilities just yet."
Luke shifted. He didn't have to do much more, Rey saw, to draw the attention of nearly everyone in the room, herself included. "It might be a trick," he said. "But it might not be, either. 'Impossible' is...difficult to determine. And Ren would have reasons for focusing on the Western Reaches."
Nearly everyone in the room, including all the people Rey didn't know, turned to look at her. She frowned. "That can't be related."
"Everything's related," Poe said. He didn't look at her, though. He kept looking at Leia. "Isn't that right?"
"Close enough," Leia said. "We'll send a team to Jakku. If the pattern holds, Ren will hit that planet in a week. That gives us time to get boots on the ground and in position."
"And if his power overwhelms them?" Luke said.
"Oh, it won't," Leia said. "You'll be there. So will Rey."
Rey felt very much like a ship had just been dropped on her. She opened her mouth to object, but Finn caught her hand and squeezed. "So will I."
"You'll need someone who can get past the First Order's guns," Poe said. "That's me."
"Do you want to take anyone else?" Leia said to Luke. "My finest technician, maybe? My cryptography team?"
"This should be enough." Luke drew his cloak around himself even more tightly. "We'll leave as soon as possible."
Wonderful, Rey thought. She wouldn't get any time to adjust to the idea at all.
And she didn't. Her bags were still mostly packed, and as soon as she brought them to the ship, Luke told her to board. She wound up strapped down next to Finn, with Luke sitting across from them. Luke made as poor company as ever, since he did very little except stare into space. And Poe, sitting in the pilot's seat, did nothing but crack jokes.
"I can't believe we have to go back again," Finn muttered.
"I can hear you, you know," Poe called back.
"I'll say it louder, then! I can't believe we have to go back again. Why Jakku?"
"Because it's Rey's home," Poe said, "and Ren's got some kind of issue with her. Isn't that right?" He hit a few buttons, and they lifted off.
Rey didn't bother responding. Poe wanted to keep an eye on Finn. She understood that, because Finn really needed it. But if Ren was destroying Jakku in hopes of luring her to him, well. It wasn't Jakku itself that Rey couldn't bear to see hurt. Let him drown the whole desert. In the past few months, her desperate hope that she'd see her parents again had slowly died.
"If I had the power to make everyone love me, I'd at least focus on a nicer planet," Finn muttered.
"It's not love," Rey said. "It's enslavement."
"I know that," Finn said. "Do you think he does?"
It was a good question - but then, Rey knew very little of Ren, even after being in his head. He was mostly afraid, she thought, and that made him stupid. "Maybe."
She stayed silent after that. Poe was handily maintaining pre-battle energy, whooping when they went into light speed and bantering with Finn as they flew through the stars. They came out in the airspace around Jakku, which was - fortunately - empty of First Order ships.
It took Rey a few moments, and a sharp, "Oh, no," from Luke, to realize that wasn't the only problem. The airspace around Jakku wasn't just uncluttered. It was utterly, eerily empty.
"People ran," Finn said, looking out the observation window.
"Anyone who could," Poe said. "There's nothing out there. Nothing on the scanners, no one hailing me."
"Jakku's always been poor," Rey said. "But shipments go out once a week at least. Usually more often."
"There's no sign of anyone," Poe said. "Should I still land?"
That last question was directed at Luke. He nodded, his face expressionless. Rey suppressed a shiver. She could sense his unease, and anyone could see the way his hands tore at the fabric of his cloak. He wasn't ready to face the devastation they were there to stop.
They landed near Rey's old home, per Leia's instructions. After confirming that nothing terrible had happened yet - meaning that the atmosphere was still in place and neither Rey nor Luke could feel immediate death or terror - she led them to the trading outpost.
She had never belonged here, not really. She'd been an average scavenger, mostly because she didn't care to work enough to become better than that. But then, most scavengers were average. Only someone whose priorities were extremely skewed would think becoming more than average was worth it.
Or, apparently, Poe. Because as soon as they got to the outpost and Luke told them he was off to investigate, Poe walked right over and started bargaining for a bit of a brake mechanism that, according to him, was worthless - but worth having.
Rey knew better. That particular mechanism would hold chips that could boost the intelligence of any ship by at least half. It was filthy and ugly, but not old. The scavenger who'd taken it, however, clearly didn't know what he had. Poe bought it off him for a song.
"If they're brainwashed," he said, returning to Rey and Finn, "then the First Order doesn't care about hanging on to their valuables."
"How are they getting money, anyway?" Rey said. "The First Order, I mean."
"Illegal activity," Finn said. "Plus owning a few planets."
Rey supposed that made sense.
"Has Luke found anything?" Poe said.
"Not that we know of," Rey said. "No one here has a clue what's been happening on other planets."
"You don't sound surprised," Finn said.
"Hardly anything's even networked here. Most people don't care, or don't want to care. The ships have stopped flying before."
"Depressing place," Poe said.
He watched her like he thought she'd prickle. Ha. She didn't even bother replying.
Finn, for his part, looked between them like he wanted to say something. Fortunately for Rey, Luke returned just as an alarm sounded from the outpost's lone official building.
"Ah," Rey said. "That's the invasion, then."
Luke chose that moment to tell them something that Rey would really have rather been informed of immediately, or perhaps never. "We're going to take shelter in your ship."
"What? No! Why?"
"It's large enough and looks abandoned." He gave her a speaking look. "It'll be a good place to hide."
Sure, and Rey would be embarrassed of everything they found. "Luke -"
"It's settled," he said. "Let's go. If that's an airspace breach alarm, we've got maybe an hour before the First Order shows up."
And so they ran, past the Resistance ship and to Rey's old home. Crawling into it now felt like time travel. Something had changed since she'd met Finn and heard he was part of the Resistance. That change had solidified when Ren had killed Han. She'd sustained herself for so long on tales of rebel fighters and daring-do. And now she had very little: a man who trained her by telling her things were terrible, and a friend whose other friend didn't seem to like her much.
"Don't comment on the decor," she said as they came out in the main room.
She'd kept most of the ship clean. But there were the dolls, of course, and the helmet. And there were the marks on the wall, hundreds of them. How many times had she thought she'd grown a bit more and had no one to ask? How long had she spent deluding herself that someday she wouldn't be alone again?
No, she thought as Finn put an arm around her shoulder. That wasn't the delusion. She wasn't alone now; she just didn't have parents. Had not, in fact, had parents, since the moment they'd left.
They weren't coming back.
She took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. Finn still stood against her, warm and comforting. She should push him away, really, but having him close reminded her that she was with the Resistance now. She had people who cared about her. She was someone's apprentice - Luke Skywalker's apprentice! And somehow, standing there, feeling Finn's warmth and seeing Poe's consideration of the space, feeling the Force rippling around Luke, she realized she'd been drawn into darkness the last few weeks.
Maybe it was some kind of premonition. Or maybe, she thought, she'd just finally let herself feel how tired all the lonely years had made her.
"There's a table in the back," she said. She tried to make her voice sound welcoming. "We can plan our approach there."
"Can either of you feel anything?" Poe asked, looking between herself and Luke as they sat down. "You look twitchy. No offense."
"None taken," said Luke.
"We can definitely feel something." Rey drummed her fingers on the table. "Power."
"You said Ren was weak when you met him," Finn said. "He felt pretty strong to me."
"He wasn't as strong as he wanted to be." Rey closed her eyes briefly, letting herself remember. "He was afraid all the time. Deadly, sure - but it wasn't enough for him. Or for his Master."
"Snoke," Poe said. "Real piece of work, I've heard."
"But now you can feel him?" Finn said.
"It's hard not to," Rey said.
"Artificial," Luke said. "He's found some way to bend the Force. His will isn't enough. It never was."
Rey tried to think of what kind of mechanical apparatus would allow someone to control the Force like that. She came up blank. With most machines, it was easy enough to figure out what they did, but her mind skittered off the edges of this problem. Maybe that was just because it should be impossible, and it seemed impossible. Or maybe the Force itself didn't want her thinking about it. "Artificial or not, it seems to be working," she said. "If we walked out there now, we would belong to him."
Finn stood up and began to pace. "Why does he want this? What does he want?"
"Rey, is the simplest answer," Luke said. "But maybe that's hiding the truth."
Rey didn't understand, but Poe said, "Ah. The Millennium Falcon was here."
"And Rey herself," Luke said, "and you and Finn wound up here. This planet is drawing people in. Why?"
"Coincidence," Rey said. Luke's stare immediately made her feel foolish. "I know you'll say nothing is coincidence, but what else could it be?"
"There's something here that draws the Force," Luke said. "That's why you ended up here. That's why it was of interest to Ren."
"That's why you left the map here?" Poe said. When Luke glared at him, he said, "What? Just stating the obvious."
"That's a different conversation."
So, not a no.
"Finn," Rey said, "did Phasma ever mention the Western Reaches? Was it part of the First Order's plan?"
No answer. And - Rey looked around, sudden panic lighting in her stomach - no Finn.
"No," Poe said, "no, no, no, no." He leaped up and ran down the hall. "Finn!"
He couldn't have gone far, Rey told herself, and followed at a dead run. When she got outside, she expected to see Poe waylaying Finn a hundred yards away.
Instead she found herself standing next to Poe, staring at already-blurring but unmistakable tire tracks in the sand.
"We've walked into a trap," she said.
"And they got what they wanted."
Poe's voice shook so badly that she couldn't even pretend to ignore it. She lifted a hand, feeling foolish, and set it on his shoulder. He tensed under her touch, but didn't move away.
"It's been affecting me for longer than I realized."
"The dark side," she said. "Or something like it." She felt it now, too. If they went after Finn, if she reached in and used the dark side, she could destroy Ren with one blow. She could kill every single member of the First Order. She could kill their stormtroopers by the dozens, and restore order to the galaxy.
But then there was Finn. Finn, who'd been a stormtrooper. When they shot the soldiers with blasters, Rey knew, Finn didn't see them fall like they were just droids. There were people under there.
No. She wasn't going to listen to the whispering pull. Not today. "The longer we wait, the more time we waste," she said. "I'll let Luke know we've given chase. You get the ship ready."
Approaching the First Order in a Resistance ship that hadn't been designed for stealth wasn't exactly Rey's idea of a good time. But for all that upset shook her from head to toe, it was obvious that Poe was even more affected. And why shouldn't he be? He'd spent more time with Finn, Rey reminded herself. And Poe was - well, normal. He'd grown up with friends, presumably, and he was easy to talk to now. All of that ease was funneled into concern for Finn. His friend.
Rey's friend. She took a deep breath as they landed nearly a hundred miles from Rey's old home, and a good three miles away from the First Order's enormous carrier ship.
The air was tense and still, practically its own solid substance in front of them. A few people walked between the enormous ship and the stands and shanties around the town. None of them, Rey'd bet, were part of the First Order.
Not yet, anyway. Jakku held its own stubborn Force worshipers. But it also held poverty and the kind of isolation that Rey knew from personal experience led to fantasies. Sure, her fantasies had been about fighting with the Rebellion and making a name for herself - but to some people, the First Order might be a decent substitute.
"How do you want to do this?" Poe said.
She gave him a sharp look. "Are you really telling me you don't have a plan?"
"It's your home world."
"Not this part of it. Not even - never mind. Where would they be holding Finn?"
"This might shock you, but there's maybe a million places to hold a prisoner on a First Order ship." Poe's mouth flattened into a worried grimace. "And he'll be a desirable one."
"Why? What's he got that they want?"
"Information," Poe said, "about how the hell he got away from them to begin with. Plus tactical information about the Resistance."
Finn hid it well, most of the time, but he was still a defector - to the First Order, a deserter. He hadn't really volunteered personal information about his time with the First Order, and Rey hadn't asked.
She was regretting that now. "So we have to just hope we find him."
"Or," Poe said, "the one of us who has actual magic powers could try to find him."
"That's not -"
"How it works? For Finn, it should be."
On the surface it was a ridiculous thing to say, but she understood what he meant. And damn it, she wanted it to be true, too. She felt a connection to Finn, and with that connection came the conviction that she ought to be able to find him.
She closed her eyes. Luke said doing so was a way of making things easier that she didn't really need. She doubted even he'd object to it right now. She reached out with her senses, feeling the people of Jakku, the ship - and Ren, of course, a focused object of anger and pain that she skirted around as much as possible. He couldn't know they were there.
At first she thought the experiment was a failure. Finn was nowhere to be found; she couldn't feel or sense him. But then she felt the warmth, a dim but steady kind of glow, like a solar powered boundary lamp. And she followed it, down corridors and up stairways.
And she found him.
"Let's go," she said, grabbing Poe's hand. She'd only realize later how remarkable it was that he allowed her to.
From there they boarded the ship. It was horrible; it made her heart race in sheer terror, even as she did her best to hide herself, and Poe, from Ren's detection. But she had to do it. She couldn't leave Finn here, to be tortured as the First Order undoubtedly would. To be killed.
And so they went. Down corridors, up ladders - the ship might be smaller than Starkiller Base, but it wasn't exactly tiny. Finally, though, they got to Finn. He'd already been beaten; he had a cut on his cheek and a nasty bruise around his eye. He was also, she noted, unconscious. "He's been drugged." No wonder it had been so hard to find him.
"Better than beaten senseless," Poe said.
Something in his tone made her look at him. On first glance, he seemed detached. He surveyed Finn with no expression. Rey had learned a lot about how to read people since leaving Jakku, though. Poe was in a war zone right now; he wasn't detached. Like Rey, he was worried for Finn.
More worried, maybe. Romantically worried. It wasn't really Rey's business. "Help me get him out," she said.
In the end, it was Rey who forced the restraints open, and Poe who carried Finn out. They got lucky; Rey could deal with the few stormtroopers they encountered, and Ren never sensed them. They got Finn onto the ship and took him back to the hidden encampment.
From there they only had to wait it out. Only it was a bit uncomfortable, sitting in the ship with Poe, Luke, and an unconscious Finn. There were too many people - too many feelings. And it was her space, with so much awful history. She'd been so lonely.
"I want to kill him," she said, almost without thinking about it.
Her mind had been flickering between Ren and Plutt for hours at that point, through their food rations and through Finn's shift from absolute motionlessness to occasional twitching. She felt so angry, more angry than she'd ever been. It was deeper now, like a rushing river instead of a trickle from a desert stream.
Luke's voice jolted her out of her trance. He didn't say anything else, but he made a hand motion that was easy enough to interpret: don't go crazy and evil after two months of training and a slight adventure.
Cheeks coloring, she refocused on the floor.
"What are we going to do once Finn wakes up?" Poe said. "We can't count on him having useful information."
"We can't count on anyone." An uncomfortable shiver went through Rey. "Someone will have to confront Ren."
"I can't," Luke said. "You know that."
Rey did know, and yet that didn't really help matters. "We need someone to find out why the First Order is so interested in Jakku. It can't be me, I'm not strong enough."
"I could ask him," Poe said. "Doubt he'd answer, though."
Finn stirred, and the conversation was dropped for the time being. Rey rushed to get him water, and Luke pressed two fingers against his pulse. When he finally opened his eyes, all three of them were hovering over him.
He focused on Rey first. "You came."
"And returned," Rey said. "Of course I did. We did."
"I helped," Poe said. He put a hand on Finn's shoulder. "We'll need any information you have," he said. "There's not much time. I'm sorry, but -"
"I get it," Finn said. "I know how they work, remember?"
It was true enough, yet Rey hated how he said it - like the knowledge was a burden, which of course it must be.
Finn slumped back against his pallet. "The First Order's here because this is where Rey was left," he said. "Ren's determined to find her, and he thinks this whole place - there are Force worshipers out here. So he thinks there are probably more Force-sensitive children, too."
"Children like me," Rey said. "But I only grew up here, I'm not from here."
"He's desperate to find people. He'll take any lead."
"What about the mind control? How's he doing it?"
Finn closed his eyes and shuddered.
Poe shot Rey a warning look. She did her best to indicate she understood. They couldn't push Finn, couldn't hurt him further. And she didn't want to, either. But still: they needed to know. "Finn?"
"Stormtroopers," Finn said on a breath. "He's using them. They die quickly, but we - they - are always replaced."
The horror of it took a moment to sink in. Even being at the heart of the First Order didn't mean you were safe from them. "How many?"
"Dozens," Finn said. "More Force users mean more power. I'm not sure what he plans to do with them."
Drain them or train them, he meant. Right. Feeling sick, Rey said, "We're all tired. We should sleep. We can't plan anything right now."
Finn looked very slightly panicked. "Rey -"
"I'll stay," Poe said. He looked at Finn with easy sympathy. "That's what you were going to say, right? You'd rather someone stayed."
"Yeah," Finn said. "I, yeah. That would help."
"No problem." Poe kicked off his boots and lay down next to Finn like he did it every day of his life.
By then, Luke had retreated, so Rey did too. She took her own separate bunk, pulling a thin ship's blanket around herself. She could practically feel her old loneliness winding around her, strangling her - but she had to sleep. Finn had Poe. They had to defeat Ren. It was all very simple, even though it was somehow also complicated.
Sleep was a long time coming. When she woke, she saw the others eating ration bread in the corner. She joined them in silence.
"Rey will have to sneak in," Poe said, as casually as he might have mentioned his favorite book.
"What?" Finn said. "No, it's too dangerous." He looked between Rey and Luke, and his expression hardened. "It's too dangerous," he said again. "There's no way."
But Poe looked at Rey with a steady gaze, and she returned it with a nod. "I don't want to," she told Finn. "I'll be careful. But if we want to stop Ren..."
"Throw your apprentice at him? Really?" Finn said to Luke.
"She's not going to kill him." Luke spoke with his usual care. Finn seemed less than impressed. "We'll just drive him off. It's simpler."
"How exactly is that simpler? It's still a confrontation!"
"He's afraid of everything, including death," Rey said. "And he thinks I might give it to him. I just have to get close enough to strike a blow, to make him realize the Resistance might be able to hurt him. He'll leave."
"He's a coward," Luke said. There was no mistaking the bitterness of his tone. "We'll be able to chase him away."
"He's gotten more powerful," Finn said.
"So have I," Rey said. "I'm doing this, Finn. Whether you want me to or not."
"We'll come with," Poe said to Finn. "Provide cover for her. You're not going to be helpless."
Finn did a double take and glared at Poe. Rey looked away to be polite, but she couldn't help but be confused. Of course Finn wouldn't want to be helpless; he'd been captured by the people he'd only just escaped. There was nothing about that to embarrass him, in Rey's opinion.
"Spend today resting," Luke said into the awkward silence. Well, maybe Luke didn't realize it was an awkward silence. He often didn't. "We'll go in under the cover of night."
"Is that how we want to do it?" Poe said. "The longer we leave them alone, the more damage they can do."
"Jakku's survived would-be invasions before," Luke said. "It's a hostile place with tough people. But if you want to try to approach a ship carrying a dark side user in full light..." He waved a hand, raising his eyebrows.
Rey watched as Poe colored just a bit and stuck his chin out. "Fine," he said. "Nightfall."
"Ren won't move?" Rey asked Luke.
"Unlikely," Luke said.
That was good enough for her. Rey took her dish over to the mess, then paused and scratched one more mark on the side of the ship. Might as well continue keeping track. Everyone else very carefully looked away, as though a tally on the side of the ship required absolute privacy.
Waiting for nightfall wasn't lonely, exactly, but it was - disconcerting. Poe went outside and did several circuits of the nearby dunes; Finn reported in to the Resistance base and then read, he said, a Republic strategy book that the General had given him. Luke meditated.
Rey wanted to claw her skin off. But that would have attracted attention, so instead she sat and thought, and meditated, and waited.
Finally, the sun neared the horizon. They got into the transport; this time, Finn was strapped in next to Luke, and looking not so pleased about it. The sun had barely set when they landed close enough to again sneak onto the ship.
"I hate this," Finn muttered as they climbed up a hidden ladder. "I hate this, I hate this. Hey!"
The stormtrooper he'd spotted lifted his - her? it was strange to think about - gun and fired at Finn. Finn dodged, so quickly that Rey found herself surprised, even as Finn shot the stormtrooper with a blaster.
"Let's keep going," Finn said. "They can't find us before we corner Ren."
But it wouldn't take long to corner Ren. He blazed like a beacon in Rey's mind, and Rey could tell from the way Luke's face sank, the grim set of his mouth, that he felt it too. "He's alone," she said. "Let's go."
They found him crouched on the ground in front of a control panel, glaring at them from behind his hood. Poe and Finn positioned themselves outside the door, and Rey hit the control panel fast enough that Finn barely had time to say, "Hey!" before the door shut them out.
"Uncle," Ren said. The lights on the panel illuminated his snarl. "So good to see you, after so long."
Rey felt the pressure against her temples, and the twisting of her other senses. At first she only pushed back against Ren. Then she realized - and of course, she should have realized it before: it wasn't just Ren she was feeling.
"Luke," she said, keeping her voice steady. "Remember what we're here for."
"Will you let her give you orders, Uncle?" Ren's gaze flickered between them, disturbingly quickly, almost frantic. "Aren't you going to tell her -"
"That's enough," Luke snarled, and brought the Force to bear.
It was a terrifying power. Rey would run from it if she could. But even though she knew it was wrong, there was still some satisfaction in watching Ren recoil, gasping with pain.
"Leave this planet," Rey said. "Leave this system. You will not control the people here. You have your own territory." The next words stuck in her throat, but she pushed through. "Suck them dry if you want."
It was a terrible compromise. What he was doing was a sick perversion, the worst sort of misbegotten power. But just as Luke had predicted, he looked between them and then nodded, slowly. "If you killed me now, you wouldn't make it off this planet."
"No," Rey said. "But neither would you."
"I could kill you now!" Ren shouted, and then tried to do so.
But Rey wasn't weak. And she had Luke. She held her ground, even as terror threatened to overwhelm her.
"Leave," she said. "You already have an agreement. Go back to your territory." And no one would bother them, at least until the Resistance figured out a better strategy. Damn, but she hated compromise.
"Uncle," Ren said. "I won't see you alive again."
"Maybe not," Luke said.
Maybe it was the fact that Luke didn't sound particularly bothered; maybe it was Rey's own honest willingness to kill him. But Ren backed down. "Go," he said. "Hopefully someone will catch you and execute you on the way out." He turned his back on them both.
So, Rey thought. He wasn't sure he had command. Could the stormtroopers be enticed to - no, that was a plan for another time. She followed Luke out of the room.
Finn's face was a picture of relief, and more than a little annoyance. "You were supposed to leave the door open!"
"It worked," Rey said. "Let's get out of here." She reached for Finn's hand.
And then the world - jumped, a bit - the Force, and Finn himself. He flinched. It was only for a second, and then his palm was fitted to hers, but it was long enough to set her heart beating faster. What exactly had they done to him?
"Let's move," Poe said. If he'd noticed the moment, he didn't say anything. Rey had no doubt she'd be getting an earful from Luke later.
They waited long enough to confirm the First Order's evacuation, then returned to the Resistance base. Finn kept largely quiet and close to Poe. It made sense, Rey thought. He'd been a prisoner of war, and so had Poe. And Rey herself didn't particularly want company. She still felt weighed down by the memory Jakku. She'd forgotten about it, she thought - or perhaps she'd only shoved it away in some mental corner, to be dealt with later. Either way, she didn't feel like talking.
Luke left her alone, even when they returned to the base. She slipped off early, submitting her report in writing and shutting herself in her room. She could rest here, she knew, and no one would tell her that she was only entitled to half portion when she went to the cafeteria. It was fine. Things were better here.
Of course, then she accidentally slept during the day, and wound up all alone and hungry long after the cafeteria was shut down for the night. She grabbed a ration bar instead and relocated to the long wall outside the barracks, telling herself that it was just a matter of practicality, that open air would help calm her down enough to sleep again.
It was so beautiful here. The trees leaned in over the camp, and the night breeze carried a hint of lake scent. She could hear birds and the occasional heavy step of larger animals. And though people moved about, it was much quieter than during the day, so much that she almost felt alone.
"There you are. Luke told us not to look for you."
Rey jumped in spite of herself, before her mind could register that the speaker was only Poe. He took a step back, then, so that several feet separated them. "Sorry. I figured you'd have heard me coming. Or felt me coming."
"It's not that simple," she said. And then, because she could tell she sounded rude, she added, "How's Finn?"
"Hanging in there," Poe said. "I think he's lonely."
"Because of being captured?"
"Sure, that's never easy. But I meant he misses his squadron."
Rey tried, and failed, to picture that. "The stormtroopers?"
"His friends," Poe said. He watched her, wearing his usual friendly expression. Someday Rey would figure out what was behind it. "Disturbing though that might be."
"Plenty of people are disturbing," Rey said.
"Like the people on Jakku?"
"Not all of them."
"But some of them." Now he was watching her closely, his expression much less bland. "Why were you there for so long?"
"I wasn't -"
"We all saw the tallies. It would've been hard to miss them."
Yes, because she'd practically pointed them out. "I was waiting. My family said they'd come back for me."
"And they didn't?"
She looked away.
He let out a low whistle. "That's rough. I'm sorry."
"I learned things. Survived." And now she'd become entirely free, and she was going to learn to use the Force. It all should have been very comforting.
"But you were lonely."
For a moment Poe just stood there. He looked at Rey like she was a flight plan leading to some unexplored system. The part of her that was still stuck on Jakku told her to frown back, maybe to snarl. Rey hadn't always been the sort to fight, but something about Poe made her want to.
Finally he said, "I'm trying to say you two have something in common. You and Finn."
"He's my friend," Rey said.
"You should talk to him, then. Go find him. He really is missing people."
Rey wanted to ask why Poe wasn't there, then. What kept him from being the friend Finn needed? But maybe Finn needed more than one friend. Maybe Poe had other things to do. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Rey wanted desperately to stick around long enough to have fewer maybes.
"Where is he?" she said.
"The second block of barracks, room 210."
"Thank you," Rey said. She ate her last bite of ration bar and walked towards the room. She was aware, in both Force-sense and normal-sense, of Poe watching her as she left.
Finn opened his door before she had a chance to try the controls. "Poe got you, didn't he?"
He sounded annoyed about it, which made no sense. "No," she said. "Well, kind of. I was already up."
That relaxed him enough to let her inside. His room, she noted, was a bit bigger. He had a side table she could sit at. "It's not really luxurious," Finn said, sitting on an overturned crate across from her.
"Poe said you miss your friends."
"Friends? To them I'm a traitor."
"But you miss them."
He looked away from her. "I do a little, yeah."
"I almost miss the ship," Rey said. "On Jakku. My home."
"That little cubbyhole?"
"I knew what I was about there," Rey said. "How things worked, who people were."
"But it was terrible."
"It wasn't that terrible in my squadron." Finn spoke like he thought she'd need convincing - which, okay, she did. Not that terrible to be a stormtrooper? "We learned a lot. We were challenged. They managed us well, is what Leia says."
"And so the rest are loyal."
"Maybe. Is it loyalty? I thought I was loyal, and I miss them. But they'll kill me if they see me again."
"I don't know. It's not something I have experience with."
"Because I'm not a ship," Finn said, smiling a little. "My guts are harder to figure out."
"That part's easy. You're brave and loyal. But how other people think, how things fit together?" She shrugged. "I'm still learning."
"You learn quickly."
"So Luke says."
"So everyone says," Finn said, and then he took a deep breath, like he had after being knocked down on Jakku, or like he would before going in to speak to the General. Then, letting the breath out slowly, he took Rey's hand.
His skin was warm and soft, much softer than Rey's own hands. He squeezed her hand just a little, and she caught her breath. "Is this okay?" he said.
"Don't stop there," she said, and leaned in for a kiss.
And of course she'd done this before, but never, really, with anyone she knew. It was different with someone you knew, apparently. She'd spoken with Finn enough that his lips against hers, his hand stroking her shoulder, was just a different kind of communication.
Well, no. It wasn't just anything. Her whole body lit up with adrenaline, and as she kissed him back, she felt a sudden rush of need. Wanting to touch him more, but also wanting to be closer in every sense, so much that she reached out with the Force for a moment before realizing what she'd done.
She pulled away then, because she had to. Finn didn't seem alarmed; he kept hold of her elbow as he said, "Is this okay?"
"It's fine," Rey said. "No, I mean - it's good." How did people do this all the time? "I liked it," she said, and tried for a smile.
"You've done it before, right?"
At first she didn't understand the urgency of the question, but then she realized: it was too much for him - maybe for anyone - to think of her so alone she hadn't managed to kiss anyone in all her years on Jakku. She noted it like a fact about a ship, and filed it away: her life on Jakku was something she should try to smooth over, if possible.
Luckily, this time, she didn't have to lie. "I wasn't that busy scavenging."
"Not a lot of people on the planet."
"People passed through."
She meant it casually, but concern again entered his eyes, and he squeezed her elbow gently. "It was different for me."
"I'd imagine so, being held captive."
"We were," Finn said. "But also, not really. They took care with us, you know, our development - because we're no use to anyone if we're constantly crying for home. I had friends. I had people I, uh. Spent time with."
Kissed, Rey realized. Possibly more than kissed. "Girls?"
"Sure," Finn said, which was and wasn't an answer. Girls and boys, then.
"But you didn't have a name." Poe was proud of having given him one.
"They took care with our development, but we were still properties." Finn shrugged. "That's why I got out."
It seemed so simple when he said it, and so noble. She couldn't imagine phrasing open rebellion that way. After all, hadn't she stayed? She could have run from Plutt, but she didn't, because she hoped her family would return. And then they hadn't.
Stupid, she thought. She began to pull away.
"You could stay," Finn said.
Lightning sparked over her skin. She froze.
"I never slept alone before coming here. We had our own beds, but we were six to a room at least."
Oh. He didn't mean it that way. She was relieved, she told herself. She had too much to do to jump into - relations - right now.
"You only have the one bed," she said.
"Poe hooked me up," he said, and nodded to the far corner. A hammock hung from the ceiling, fashioned from basic army rope.
Rey's own bed would be more comfortable. But she'd never had someone invite her to stay because they wanted company - or for any friendly reason, really. And Finn looked at her so nicely, so hopefully. And he'd kissed her, so he must like her.
"I'll stay," she said quickly. She smiled at him. "Of course I'll stay."
"Oh, good," he said, but he didn't let go of her elbow.
She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek, pulling away at the same time. "Goodnight," she said, and flung herself into the hammock.
It was a more restful night than it should have been. She thought she'd be distracted or afraid, but it was only Finn, and he fell asleep soon enough. She lay awake for awhile, thinking about the stars, and thinking about flying among them again. Then she, too, slipped into sleep, cradled in the hammock.
She woke to a pounding on the door. Finn grunted, but Rey was the one who went to open it, so Rey was the one who came face-to-face with Poe.
"Ah," she said. "Hello. Hammock."
He raised very well-formed eyebrows. "Hammock?"
"Thank you. I slept in it." Innocently, she wanted to say, and not with Finn. Though Poe wouldn't care, would he? He told Rey to go find Finn. But he probably didn't mean kiss him.
"Who'sat?" Finn said from behind them.
Poe laughed. "You're late. We were meeting at breakfast, remember?"
"Ugh," Finn said. "I was up late. Sorry."
"It happens to the best of us," Poe said. "Especially if we're lacking the squadron and drills we had before."
Finn made a face, but he sat up. "Which is why you want to take me on a drill."
"It'll be good for you."
"That's what you said about taking me out for drinks."
"That was good for both of us," Poe said, and laughed.
Rey looked between them with growing understanding. Finn might not have noticed, but Poe looked at him with such fondness. He'd clearly taken to him right away. Rey had interfered. "I'm going to go," she said, and attempted to edge past Poe.
But he, unobliging, didn't move. "You could come too. We're going on a circuit of the hills. Scouting, basically. It might be right up your alley."
"Thanks, but I have other things to do. With Luke. Jedi training." She looked pointedly at the door he still blocked.
"That's weird, I heard he was off-planet today. Something about meeting a Republic ship with the General."
"He must have been confused," Rey said. She wasn't about to be caught in a lie.
But just as she thought Poe intended to mock her, his expression softened. "Come out with us," he said. "It'll be fun."
"You can help me keep Poe in line," Finn said. "And it'll be good to get out of camp. Trust me, you'll go stir-crazy within a week, otherwise."
He looked so hopeful, and Rey felt like a bloggin in comparison, ready to peck anyone to death who came too close. She forced herself to relax. "All right, then. Let's go."
The scouting drill turned out to be not so different from scavenging - with more people, of course, and knowing she'd be able to eat when she got back no matter what they found. But still, they took a small vehicle out into the woods and then patrolled the perimeter on foot, noting areas that might be useful for supplies or building, and keeping an eye out for any sign that the First Order had found them. Or, Rey thought, more accurately, any sign that the First Order had chosen to attack this base. Surely they knew where the General was keeping her best soldiers.
At that, a shiver went through her. Ren was many things, among them contemptible. But he wasn't stupid. They'd have to deal with an attack sooner or later.
For their parts, both Poe and Finn seemed to enjoy being out and about in the woods. Poe showed them various types of edible flora, and Finn went over the First Order's style of surveying. It involved a lot more cutting down trees, apparently. Rey was interested, but not half so much as Poe was. He watched Finn with that same fond look all the time.
The problem was, Rey thought as they walked through their fifth checkpoint, that she wasn't busy enough. On Jakku, and while training with Luke, she'd had things to do. The Resistance was certainly busy, but she wasn't struggling for survival, and so she had time to notice things. And she had time to want things.
She'd done her best to ignore it all day. Unfortunately, then Finn found the lake.
It was a sunny day, and the fifth checkpoint had taken them down into the heart of the valley. They went through a copse of trees, and came out on the shore of a wide, brilliantly blue lake, with trees dipping into the water on all sides.
"Swimming," Finn said.
"Really?" Rey said. "In there? Anything could be in there."
"We've classified it as safe." Poe waved at Finn. "Go ahead."
Rey didn't miss the satisfaction in his face as Finn stripped and ran into the water, gleefully whooping. In fact, she spent so long staring at his strong nose, his smile, his incredibly shiny hair, that he caught her staring. "See something you like?"
"That's a cliche," she told him. She looked out across the water. "Is it your job to indulge him?"
"My job? No. It's normal to want to take a swim. He's enjoying freedom."
Rey didn't respond. Finn had taken his coat off, and then his shirt, and his pants. The underwear that remained didn't leave much to the imagination, and he hadn't waded in far enough for the water to cover him up.
"You could too, you know."
Why was he still talking? "I had freedom for years."
He was clearly trying to get a rise out of her. Rey fell back on her old strategy and simply didn't respond. She looked at their surroundings instead.
As a scavenger, she'd learned to look for valuable things. Valuable things were not, generally speaking, the same as beautiful things. A ship might contain a long, shiny length of copper wire - but copper could be gotten in every port in the galaxy. Better to grab the filthy-looking cylinder. Grime in the bowels of a ship meant that part had been used for something, which meant it was valuable.
Jakku itself had been beautiful, but stark - and so painfully familiar after ten years. Here, she saw so much beauty, and all kinds of things she had no idea what to do with. Dry wood could make fire, she knew that, and surely some of the brightly colored plants were edible. But she didn't know enough, and it was so frustrating that it pressed on her, tightened her chest.
And then, with fear, came awareness of the Force. It whispered here, slithered under rocks and rustled the leaves. It lived in the water and the sky. And it pulled to her, urging her to stoke her anger, to give in.
She stood. "I need to leave."
"Now? Finn's busy."
Rey looked down at Poe, sprawling on the grass, his drab Resistance clothes outlining arms and a chest that Rey wanted to touch, legs that she -
No. She gritted her teeth and began walking. "I need to leave."
"I saw the helmet."
Poe spoke quickly, sounding almost desperate. It was his tone that made Rey stop mid-stride and turn back to face him. "What helmet?"
"The Rebellion helmet. Back at your - place."
"Ship. Abandoned ship. Where I slept." She spoke each word deliberately, and inside her, the tiny spark of anger grew stronger.
But Poe had apparently decided to be impossible to fight with, because he only shrugged. "Whatever you want to call it."
"It was just something I found."
"But you wanted to fly, didn't you? There's no harm in it. I wanted to fly, too."
"You had parents," Rey said. "You're the best pilot in the Resistance."
"The galaxy." Poe's correction came with an easy grin. "I wanted plenty of stuff before I joined up. A ship of my own, droids, General Leia's hand in marriage..."
"That last was a bit far-fetched, I'll admit. But here's what I think is weird. Finn says you're so friendly. A little prickly, but you like him, right? He remembers you saying goodbye when he was healing. He tells me about how excited you were to fly. But every time I talk to you, it's like trying to shave a Wookiee."
"Finn's friendly. He doesn't pry."
"And you'll push him away, won't you? You'll break his little heart."
"His heart's not little. He's an adult."
Poe didn't respond. He only looked at her, and then, when Rey walked back to sit back down, lay back against the grass.
She'd sat back down because the message was clear: Finn wanted them both there, and so they'd be there. For the sake of friendship. Rey didn't need to tell Poe about her dreams of fighting for the Resistance, or her desperate wish to have a family. Poe didn't need to know anything.
After a few minutes of silence, though, she couldn't help but ask: "General Leia's hand in marriage?"
"She's beautiful," Poe said, "and commanding. What can I say? I like people who might choke me to death."
Rey snorted. Down the hill, in the water, Finn stretched his arms to the sky.
As emotionally fraught as their reconnaissance day turned out to be, the next day was worse.
Rey began it by waking up from sandstorm nightmares, alone in her room. That was ordinary enough - who could grow up on a desert planet and not dream of sandstorms? - that she didn't give it any credence. But Luke found her before she'd even begun eating, and he announced his presence by sitting down across from her in the cafeteria, fully robed, glaring.
"You look ridiculous," she said.
"This isn't the time. You heard about yesterday's meeting?"
"With the Republic? Yes, for all that no one announced it."
"It was meant to be secret." Luke's tone said that secrets in the Resistance were a poor bet. "They're repudiating us entirely."
"They were already uncooperative."
"And our funding will largely remain the same," Luke said, "but when a Resistance fighter can be arrested on a Republic planet, and handed over to the First Order - that's a problem."
"That's not repudiating. That's collusion."
Luke nodded. "And what does that tell you?"
He'd spent time teaching her the tangled history of the galaxy, the Republic, the Empire, various planets, the Jedi, the Sith, and other dark and light side practitioners. But mostly he'd told her that history while making her balance on one hand or something. Rey had left the islands more informed, but also more confused. Politics, such as they were, had been much simpler on Jakku. "Collusion with the dark side means influence by the dark side," she said. "Can I eat my eggs?"
"Very good," Luke said. "And yes. Eat quickly. We're meeting with Leia in half an hour."
"With the General?" Rey nearly choked. "And you tell me now?"
"You look the same as you always do." Luke gestured to her plate. "Eat up. Leia's not going to stand on ceremony."
"That's easy for you to say." But Rey obeyed, mostly because the image of her stomach grumbling in front of Leia Organa was too much to handle.
The meeting was a small one: herself, Luke, General Organa, Finn, Admiral Statura, and several older officers Rey didn't know. None of the pilots were in attendance, including Poe.
The reason for that became obvious quickly. "We're grounded," Leia said, pulling up a holo-map.
The room buzzed. She quieted it with a look. "This is our system." Part of the map glowed green. "This is the part of the galaxy the Republic claims." A huge swath of blue. "And this is the part the First Order controls." A small glow of red that, as they watched, slowly advanced.
"The Republic has turned their backs on us," Leia said. "They'll arrest any member of the Resistance they see. This includes, of course, our notable members: myself. The pilots. Anyone wearing Resistance orange, anyone accompanying a known Resistance operative." Her voice tightened for a moment, fury leaking through her facade. "They've retroactively condemned Han Solo as a felon."
"Snoke," Luke said.
Leia gave him the exact dry look Luke had often given Rey - tempered with the same grief. "You don't say."
"No one else was going to say it."
"Quite a few of us are very sensibly scared," Admiral Statura said. "For all the good that will do us. How's your apprentice progressing?"
"Quickly," Luke said, over Leia's, "Not quickly enough."
"I'm trying!" Rey said. "I'm working!"
"That wasn't meant as a criticism, only a fact," Leia said. "The truth is, we're surrounded on all sides, with very few options."
"Why isn't Poe here?" Finn said.
It was enough of a departure of tone that everyone looked askance at him. Finn being Finn, though, he didn't back down. "The pilots are part of this, you said so yourself."
"This was meant as a brief meeting," Leia said. "You and Rey are here largely because of your unpredictability. And specialized knowledge."
"If we're going to retreat, which is what you seem to be saying, we'll need pilots," Finn said.
He didn't shout it. He didn't even look particularly belligerent. But he did meet Leia's gaze, and ignored the ripple around the room his words caused.
Rey felt warmed, by both fear and his courage. "He's right," she said.
Leia looked between them, clearly exasperated. "Save me from a dynamic duo. Fine: we're retreating. Get as many people in here as possible."
What followed was a lesson in how people worked, of the kind that Rey had really never seen before. Poe led the pilots in, and all the techs, engineers, and everyone else followed. By the time they finished, the room was full of people, and more watched a feed of the room from outside. Poe moved immediately to stand next to Finn, putting a hand on his shoulder. It was the kind of contact Rey knew he wouldn't have gotten with the stormtroopers, but he welcomed it.
Fear. It was everywhere. Rey could feel it eating at her, eddying around them, sharpening when Leia began to explain the situation. She ended with, "We're leaving with what we can carry tomorrow, which means you should drink whatever bunk moonshine you've been brewing tonight. Be ready at dawn," and Rey could feel the room about to explode.
Then it did: questions, shouts, angry mutterings. Rey half expected a mutiny. But even as Leia began circulating the room and talking to people, Luke nodded at her to leave.
"You don't own much," he said when they were outside, clear of the crowd.
"No," Rey said. "When would I have had time?"
It came out more defensive than she intended it to be, but Luke, in his typical manner, ignored the question. "Good. We're leaving as a small party, in the lead ship. If the Republic decides to aggressively enforce its borders, some of us will need to go to ground faster than others."
"You, of course," Rey said. "You're famous."
"I'm vulnerable, and so are you."
He looked so sad, Rey thought. The cloak was traditional, but it made him look like he was being swallowed by some mysterious being. Which in a way, the Force being what it was, he was.
"Who will be going with us?"
"You'll see," Luke said, which Rey assumed meant it hadn't been decided yet.
So Finn and Poe might be on a different ship. Fine. They might all scatter; Leia hadn't made that clear, all the better to avoid the information getting back to the New Republic. So she might not see them again for awhile. But she'd have Luke, and that was what mattered, Rey reminded herself. Training. Helping the Resistance.
It still felt awful. And then she was annoyed that it felt awful, which of course just made it feel worse.
Luke cleared his throat. "Have fun tonight," he said. "Leia wants to let people relax a bit. We're not in any immediate danger, and it's nice to let young people have a bit of fun."
"Sure, grandfather," Rey said.
Luke flinched. Oh. Right. Awkward topic. "I'll just - I'll do that," she said, and all but ran away.
Finn found her drinking beer around her own small bonfire, away from most of the revelry. "I thought you'd taken off already."
"Why would I do that?"
"It's pretty obvious who the Republic will be after. The First Order, too."
Rey looked at him. She'd lied to him, before, when she was scared of what she could do. She half wanted to lie again. But there was no way of hiding it now. She trained with Luke, and there were rumors. "It's a bit ironic, don't you think?"
"I spent years waiting for someone to find me. Now all the wrong people might show up."
Finn didn't laugh like she'd hoped he would. Instead, he made a face and sat next to her, carrying his own cup. "Your parents were idiots. Or in trouble. Or maybe they meant to come back and couldn't. But it wasn't your fault."
"Have people been telling you that?"
"I have," Finn said. "Ever since they took me."
Still more embarrassment. "I'm sorry."
"It was a long time ago. You can get used to that kind of thing, I guess." He took a long drink. "The nightmares are the worst part. When they kept me under to heal, they just...stayed."
She tried to imagine that: an ocean of nightmares, and no escape. It was horrifying enough that she put an arm around him, awkwardly, trying to make it seem like an ordinary movement.
He leaned into her, and the awkwardness disappeared.
"I dreamed of an ocean," she said. "And an island. When I was hungry, when I was tired. Imagine my surprise when that was where we found Luke."
"More dramatic than my story."
"Less human, maybe," Rey said. She let the fear into her voice for a moment, the terror that the whispering pull would consume her, just as it had so many others.
He turned his head and let his lips brush against her shoulder, just barely. She let out a breath slowly as he turned again, putting an arm around her. It was just a quiet moment. But sometimes, on Jakku, she'd felt a bit like a ship part, rappelling down from old junkers: small, but with purpose, fitting into the movement of the whole. And here she felt that again, so strongly that it almost made her dizzy.
But it was still only a moment, and it was broken by revelers. Pilots, in fact, singing lewd songs as they staggered towards Rey and Finn's fire. Rey spotted Poe almost instantly, a fraction faster than he saw who they'd encountered.
"The kids!" he yelled, and came over to them. Rey found herself the subject of a messy embrace. Then Poe hugged Finn, pivoting as he did so that he could sit next to them.
"We," he said, taking a long pull from a flask, "are all in so much fucking trouble."
"You love trouble!" one of the pilots shouted. Rey focused on her. Jess Testor, another hero. Another very visible hero.
"I don't love the kind that kills me," Poe shot back. To Finn - leaning in, so close to his face - he said, "I might love the kind that kills me. A little."
Of course, those words carried other meanings. Rey looked away from them both. She wasn't the only one; Testor and a few other pilots also suddenly found the dark landscape incredibly interesting.
"So," Testor said. "Anyone know where the General's sending us?"
"The answer's in the question," another pilot said. "You'll be locked up safe, I'm sure."
"Oh, can it," Testor said.
She was on half the posters; Poe occupied most of the others. "The Resistance will still need pilots," Rey said.
It sounded redundant as soon as she heard herself. Naturally they'd need pilots. Testor just smiled at her, though, and said, "And we'll need Jedi."
"I'm not a Jedi." She might never be, if Luke kept repudiating the entire concept.
"Force users, then. And there aren't that many anymore."
Rey had no answer to that. She toasted Testor with her beer and let the others take up the conversation.
Luckily, drunk pilots were a talkative bunch. Rey sat in peace as they bantered, and then as they began to move on. Even Poe dragged Finn away to see some artifact BB-8 had found the other day - which was fine, of course. Rey hadn't been alone for awhile. It would be nice. The artifact was probably interesting, not an excuse to get Finn alone at all.
But then Testor didn't leave. Beyond that, she took the seat Finn had vacated. "You know what's fun about being a pilot?"
"Lots of things?"
"Being able to say I could die tomorrow, and meaning it." Testor laughed at Rey's confusion. Then she leaned in and kissed her.
This was normal. Testor was friendly and pretty, and they might not see each other ever again after tonight. And Rey needed normal. She needed to feel like she wasn't about to lose everything to an unseen force yet again.
They went back to Rey's room. Testor kept an arm around her the entire time. When the door shut behind them, Testor slammed her against it, fingers biting into her shoulders. She kissed with teeth, putting her whole body into it, laughing into the kiss a little when Rey thrust against her hips.
Rey's bed was small and not particularly comfortable, but fortunately that kind of thing never mattered to military people. Testor got her naked quickly enough, touching her all over, watching Rey react as she pinched Rey's nipples and dipped her fingers shallowly into Rey's cunt.
It felt good. It felt so good. She pressed a hand against the wall of her room, and then, when that wasn't enough - when Testor began to use her mouth - she grabbed Testor's hair, pulling her closer, crying out when Testor pressed her fingers inside.
She was close, so close, and it felt as near to being off the earth as she'd been for weeks. Then, as she gasped, as her throat closed on a cry, her door slid open.
"Rey! Rey - oh, hell."
Rey froze. Her arousal died. Then it sparked, a little, when she laid eyes on Finn and Poe, both drunk and staring at her.
"Stang," Testor said from between Rey's legs.
"I thought - I thought you were in trouble," Finn said. "I'm sorry. I had a weird feeling. Clearly a wrong feeling."
"Yes," Rey said. If one of them had been within punching range, they'd be out cold on the floor. She'd been so close.
"Let's go," Poe said. His eyes were still on her, but he put a hand on Finn's chest to push him out of the room. His fingers flexed against Finn's shirt, and for one awful, astonishing, dizzying moment, Rey almost reached out, almost asked them to stay.
A moment later she and Testor were alone again. Since they were both tipsy, it was easy enough to start again. But Rey couldn't quite banish the image of Poe and Finn staring at her from her mind, even hours later, as she struggled to fall asleep alone.
Leia had instructed everyone to wake up at dawn, but she hadn't relied on orders alone. Much too early, Rey's room lit itself up, and a piercing whistle of an alarm shot down the hall of rooms.
Twenty minutes later, Rey had arrived at the ship her communicator directed her to. It wasn't until she'd set her baggage down in the ship's loading bay and squinted at the droid a few feet away that she realized she might be in trouble. The droid was BB-8, and the dark-haired man a little too far away to make out was almost certainly Finn.
BB-8 was, of course, happy to see her. "Yes, yes, I heard all about your adventure," Rey lied. "Is Poe coming, then?"
They were all coming, BB-8 told her. Poe and Finn and the General and of course, BB-8's other other favorite pilot, Jess. Jess was the best!
All the most visible Resistance fighters in the galaxy, and not one of them whom Rey hadn't made herself awkward around in the last twenty-four hours or so. She forced a smile. "I'd better go say hi, then."
But she planned it badly. By the time she made it over to Poe, the tech he'd been talking with had already left for his own ship. Rey's tongue felt glued to the roof of her mouth.
Alcohol, or being a pilot who often drank alcohol, apparently had some immunization effects for Poe, as far as embarrassment went. He smiled and waved hello with no indication he was thinking of the previous night. "The gang's all here," he said. "I thought the General might have some more surprises up her sleeve, but it looks like she's putting all of her golden eggs in one starship carrier, so to speak."
"Oh, are you a golden egg too? I thought she'd just want you along to keep the valuables safe."
Rey was proud of herself for that one, but Poe didn't even blink. "The next time there's a tiny target to hit, she'll need me. Have you seen Finn?"
The worst change of subject imaginable. "You saw him last, I think. Not me."
"He left pretty early on. Said he needed to get some sleep."
There was something there, some knowledge or experience that Poe wasn't divulging. For a horrible moment, Rey thought about pushing - getting the information out of him. Not bullying him with the Force, but maybe a light interrogation. She needed to know.
She was going crazy, was what was happening. She shook herself a bit. "Well, we're all tired."
"I expect that'll continue for at least a few years."
"Scattering makes sense, but -" Rey clamped her mouth shut. No one needed the confused thoughts she'd had alone, between nightmares.
But apparently Poe wanted them, because he said, "But?"
"What's General Leia's plan?" Rey said. "Long-term, I mean. She has to have one. Right?"
Poe gave her the kind of look she'd given Jakku newcomers: vaguely pitying, assuming a certain level of incompetence. "I'm pretty sure you're her plan."
"Well," Rey said. "She might be waiting awhile, then."
"Sure." Poe tilted his head. "Here are the others. Let's go."
Rey boarded the ship. Poe went straight up to the front, where Testor sat in the co-pilot's seat; no huge surprise there, Rey told herself, pushing any emotion down. Leia sat next to Finn, and Luke sat next to an empty seat. Rey sat down and strapped herself in, nodding a hello and projecting, she hoped, don't talk to me.
It wasn't a comfortable trip. Finn kept darting glances at her, like he hadn't imagined her capable of - what, exactly? Having fun? Despite knowing he didn't mean anything bad by it, she felt prickles of irritation anyway. And of course, Luke noticed her agitation, which only embarrassed her. And Testor and Poe were spending all their time joking in the cockpit, which annoyed her still further, for reasons she didn't understand. To cover their tracks, they exited light speed several hours before they'd reach their destination. Rey was half considering forcing herself to sleep the rest of the way when Testor said, "Look who decided to join our road trip. Republic ships, three of them, and none of them friendly."
"Can we fire on them?" Finn said.
"If we want to start a war," Leia said.
From the front, Testor said, "General, with all due respect, they've already started the war."
"This is why pilots don't tend to double as diplomats," Leia told Finn. "Testor, you know fully well opening fire would be seen as a declaration. We're not firing back. Lose them."
"Tall order, General," Poe said.
"Are you or aren't you my best?"
Poe only laughed as they hurtled forward. The ships followed, gaining on them. "Ah, hells. Their shields aren't reading like normal Republic shields," Poe said. "They've upgraded."
Everyone on the ship grasped the implications immediately. "How can the Republic be trading with the First Order?" Rey said.
"If the First Order sees it as trading with itself," Luke said quietly. "Leia. We can't let them go."
"They know too much," Luke said. "Even if we lose them, they'll find us within weeks. We've given them a small bit of space to search. Jump into light speed. They have the technology to follow. Then we deal with them on the other side."
Deal with them. That was a nice way to say 'kill them'. Finn's look at Luke - surprised, half concerned - confirmed he was thinking the same thing. But Leia only stared at Luke for a moment, hard, before saying, "You heard the man, Dameron, Testor. Let's get going."
When they dropped out of light speed again, the three ships joined them. Rey wanted to be calm, but fear choked her. She could feel the lives in the other ships, and she could feel the twistedness of the Force: the dark that tried to twine through herself and Luke had full hold on the three ships behind them.
Corruption, again. The same way the Empire rose.
"I have a lock," Testor said, and fired. The shot didn't glance off the ship's shields, but Rey could tell from Testor's curse that it didn't destroy the ship, either. She let off another shot even as Poe sent them into a spin, then another - and finally, the ship exploded.
She felt it go, lives torn apart and then blinking out in an instant. How could Jedi, real and full Jedi, do this every day?
"Hang on, guys," Poe said. He sped them up, dizzyingly fast, and then slammed them down again. They went tumbling, and as they did, Testor destroyed another ship.
But the third ship had been watching, and waiting. And now it fired on them. One strike destroyed their shields. Another set the ship's alarms to blaring.
"Rey," Luke said in an undertone, and held out his hand.
She told herself later that she didn't know exactly what he meant to do, but that wasn't exactly true. She had an inkling; she knew what they needed right then, more than anything else. She took his hand anyway.
The power coursed through them both. Luke reached out, and Rey followed, and together, they found the pilot.
It only took a push. It wasn't an enormous explosion; they had no Starkiller Base to power them. But Humans, if they could be found, were weak. And when this one had the air pushed out of him, he died. The shooting stopped, and Testor destroyed the ship with ease.
Finn whooped in joy, getting up to clap Poe on the shoulders. Testor yelled, "That's how it's done, baby!" as they leaped back into light speed. But Leia, still strapped into her seat, stared straight ahead, hands clenched tightly in her lap.
Luke didn't say anything. Rey kept her mouth shut. They landed safely.
The planet wasn't like anything Rey had expected. The climate seemed mild and attractively habitable. She couldn't help but think that were she a First Order stooge looking for fugitives, she'd look at nice planets like these.
But Leia didn't lead them to a flat clearing or a beautiful copse of trees with a stream. She led them down a rocky gorge, where Rey watched a tree snatch up a passing bird and absorb it into its shiny, sticky bark.
"The surface only looks friendly," Leia said, and they continued down.
Their destination proved to be a warren of caves. They walked down a dark tunnel and came to an enormous enclosure, with just a bit of sunlight peeking through the top. Dark green moss covered the cave walls, and a slow-moving creek cut the room in half. It had clearly been lived in before; tools and eating implements were scattered here and there, and one rock had been shaped into a prehistoric-looking table.
Poe whistled. "General, you sure know how to pick 'em."
"No one who's stayed here has been precisely on the right side of the law," Leia said. "But it's clean - no disease, no grisly dead bodies. And it's not on the First Order or the Republic's maps."
"How did you find it?" Testor asked.
"I dreamed it," Leia said, and smiled.
She used that smile as a weapon, Rey thought. She'd said something terrifying, but Testor wouldn't question her. No one would. That smile said that she was at peace with her power, and thus everyone else should be, with a weighty threat to follow if they weren't.
It was a kind of art Rey didn't think she'd ever master herself.
Luke broke the silence in the most Luke way. He wandered over to the creek and kicked it, splashing the water. "Cozy," he said, and followed the creek into the nearest rough-hewn, dark tunnel.
"Will he be okay in there?" Finn said.
"He usually is." Leia's sharp gaze moved to Rey. "Come with me. I need to talk to you."
Leia led her to the far side of the main cave, into an alcove where they had relative privacy. "I felt what you and Luke did," she said without preamble.
"They would have killed us," Rey said.
"Did Luke talk to you about the Jedi's history?"
"Not a lot. He's quiet."
"He's stubborn, is what he is," Leia said. "And a fool to reach out to the dark side like that, when Ben is looking for us."
She didn't know what Leia wanted, aside from a promise never to do it again - which Rey didn't want to give. She stood there, shifting her weight from foot to foot, until Leia said, "Just be careful. That's all I ask."
"I will be."
Leia nodded, and they went to rejoin the others.
Finn clearly wanted to know what their conversation had been about, but just as clearly wasn't going to ask. Rey busied herself helping them make camp.
It was a dreary activity, all told. Poe and Testor were both clearly unwilling to be grounded, even as they obeyed Leia's every order. Finn worked with astonishing efficiency, but that only highlighted that he'd been a stormtrooper, a horrible life that everyone worked not to mention. And Luke stayed disappeared the entire time. No one said anything about his lack of contribution - except for Leia, who said, "Just like a Jedi to disappear at the moment when he's needed most."
Once assembled, the camp looked relatively pleasant - and Rey was already itching to be gone. "Is there anything else to do?" she asked Leia. "Can I go aboveground?"
"To hang out with the man-eating plants?" Finn said.
Irritation pricked at her. "I'm pretty sure I can deal with a few carnivorous plants."
"I was more questioning why you'd want to."
"Because we're cooped up down here! There's hardly any space!"
Finn looked around at the enormous, well-lit cave, then back at Rey. "Okay."
"Both of you, stop bickering," Leia said. "Caves don't appeal to everyone. Rey, you can go aboveground if Luke gives the okay. He's training you, he'll know your capabilities better than I do. Finn, come with me." She walked past both of them with that steady, authoritative step that Rey had come to associate with military officers. The authority worked, too: Finn immediately followed her.
And, well. Leia hadn't said she couldn't seek out Luke if she wanted. When Leia got absorbed in showing Finn some of the cave's hidden security features, Rey slipped through one of the side tunnels. The last thing she saw was Poe looking up and spotting her - but he didn't say anything. He went back to talking to Testor with an easy smile on his face. Maybe things really would go back to normal. She thought of the way he'd looked at her with Testor, like he'd been cracked over the head with a paddle. They'd all been drunk. Maybe he didn't even remember.
And maybe this was the wrong worry to be focusing on when she was trying to find her very straight-laced mentor. Rey made a face and returned her attention to the tunnels.
Luke didn't make finding him easy. He liked open spaces, which were in short supply in the caves. But in the last few months she'd gotten even better at keeping maps in her head, and the caves weren't so extensive that they were impossible to search. She finally found his hiding place: a small room with the biggest window to the outside she'd seen yet, and sunshine on the exact spot he chose to sit.
"Running away is a bad habit of yours then, is it?"
"I'm meditating," he said.
"And you needed to be half a mile away from everyone else to do so, I gather."
Luke didn't so much as twitch.
"Is this about the ship?"
"I wouldn't recommend being unbothered by it."
"I'm not, and you know it," Rey said. "But we had to do it. Testor wouldn't have made the shot in time."
Luke sighed and opened his eyes. "It's been a long time since I was among people. A long time since I had to kill someone. I'm trying to set things right again."
"So you're not tempted to go all dark side?"
"So I can stay here."
Not denying the temptation was practically acknowledgement that he felt it. Rey, in contrast, felt very little. But maybe that was the point; maybe that was how temptation happened. "Is it always like this? Forever?"
"Balance can eventually be found. But yes."
"I don't need to be like that. I'm not like you."
"I'm not Darth Vader's son."
They hadn't really spoken about it, though Rey had learned the truth before she even set out to look for Luke, during those two long post-battle days when everyone decompressed. She watched as Luke winced. "It's not always blood that's the problem."
"Why train me at all, then?"
"Because the ability will find you, whether you're trained or not. The need to exert your will, the power - it was all already there. I could tell just by looking at you. Potential can't be eradicated, only influenced."
Influenced so that history stopped repeating itself. Right. "Then teach me. Don't just run off." When he said nothing, she added, "Please."
Luke stood, moving very slowly, and pulled his hood up. "Follow me."
"Where are we going?"
Luke's only response was to point upwards.
"You've already landed five hits!"
They stood in a clearing, one that was relatively free of carnivorous plants. But only relatively. They'd been up sparring for over an hour, and Rey regretted her every desire to go to the planet's surface. They both had a staff, and Luke had used his to attempt to drive her into the plants over and over. She never wanted to have to roll out of the way of a plant with three-inch teeth again.
"Enough," she said finally, after she'd only just avoided a vine with thorns as sharp as blades, whipping towards her to drive her into a waiting acidic mouth. "I don't want to die here."
"You'll never want to die," Luke said, and for a second Rey knew they were both thinking of Han.
"Probably true," she said. "Still." She leaned on her staff. "We can keep going tom - what?"
Luke's eyes had left her and begun tracking the sky. "A ship," he said. "Come on."
They ran back to the caves at a fast clip - but not fast enough. By the time they got to the main room, Captain Phasma already had the group at gunpoint.
Rey recognized her from the General's extensive briefing, but she hadn't expected her to be so...tall.
"Skywalker," Phasma said.
"Do I know you?" Luke said.
"Drop your weapon."
Luke laid the staff down, his face the very picture of calm.
"And the saber. Do you think I'm a fool?"
"Do you think I am?"
A long pause. Then Phasma said, voice made monotone by her mask, "I come in peace."
"Doesn't look like it," Rey said.
"I'd think an apprentice would know when to keep her mouth shut."
Phasma sounded nettled, which only emboldened Rey. "And I'd think a member of the First Order would have informed her comrades upon finding the most dangerous fugitives in the galaxy. What are you running from?"
"Rey," Leia said.
She meant it as a clear warning, but Luke was frightened beneath the calm, and Finn was staring at Phasma like he'd seen a ghost. Rey didn't really recognize the feeling that reared up in her, but she couldn't deny it any more than she could stop a sandstorm. "You step back," she told Phasma. "And put your gun down, if you come in peace."
Phasma's posture stiffened - impossibly, it seemed - and she slowly turned to stare at Rey. Rey, itching to knock her into the dirt, stared back.
Staring down a mask wasn't very satisfying. "Take the mask off."
"Bad idea," Finn said.
"Take it off," Rey said again, gritting her teeth.
Phasma sighed. "This is unnecessarily dramatic."
But she took the mask off with a hiss of decompressing air. Rey was momentarily struck speechless: a long, bright red cut ran from Phasma's temple to her chin, still glistening with blood.
"So they struck you and you ran?" Finn said. "They've done that before."
"I stepped between Ren and a child he found unsatisfactory."
Finn recoiled. "Why would you do that?"
Rey couldn't tell what he thought of her, aside from nothing good. He stared at her like she was both a stranger and worst and most well-known enemy.
The child had almost certainly been a stormtrooper. How often did Ren attack children?
"I had my reasons," Phasma said.
"Not believable," Finn said. "You've never worried about the discipline of children before."
"Ren's never taken an active interest before."
That explained it. And Phasma was smart, Rey noted, laying out a narrative for everyone who didn't have experience with the First Order's structure.
"It should be obvious."
Finn took a step forward. "It's not. Why now?"
He looked at Phasma so steadily, seemingly completely unafraid. It was admirable, and Rey was frightened for him.
Phasma only pointed at Rey and Luke. "It's waking up. Everywhere. More and more children have it. That child did, even though we thought we'd bred it out of them."
"The Force," Finn said.
"It's driving him insane. And he's going to do something about it."
Rey thought of Jakku. "He's already tried."
"All of which is excellent intel," the General said. "But that doesn't explain you landing on our planet, fully armed. How are we to know the First Order's not tracking you?"
"They tried. I disabled the trackers and walked through an electromagnetic scrambling field. If they have anything in me, it's fried."
"That could've killed you," Leia said, looking very much like she didn't care about the prospect of Phasma's death.
"Better than the First Order finding me again. I'm a trusted lieutenant. Snoke would have taken me apart."
"He still could," Finn said. "You know that."
"I'm safer here than anywhere else." Phasma shrugged. "I gambled."
No one seemed to know what to say to that. She stood so still, Rey thought, that she hardly even looked Human. It made sense that everyone was opposed to her. And yet - she'd know so much about the First Order, more even than Finn on some subjects. She'd have higher clearance, too. And turning her back out into space would be as good as telling her to commit suicide before anyone else could find her.
"We could use her," Finn said.
Rey blinked. Of all the people to admit it.
"I don't like it." As evidenced by his frown. "But we could. And sending her back is a death sentence."
"Of course, keeping her here could be our own death warrant," Leia said. "My son undoubtedly thinks of me, and the Resistance, as too soft-hearted for our own good. What better way to infiltrate us than with a story of autonomy and resistance?"
"Phasma's a terrible liar," Finn said.
"People can be made to improve in all kinds of ways," Phasma snapped. "You of all people should know that."
It was almost comical. Or it was comical, but also painful, the way Finn's expression turned stormy, then carefully smooth. They seemed half like siblings who hated each other, and half like allies.
Rey really hoped Phasma wasn't a mole.
"Luke?" Leia said. "What do you think?"
"She seems to be telling the truth. I've been fooled before."
Lightning and rain and a field of broken bodies. Rey remembered.
They'd kept silent through the whole thing, but Poe's expression held no uncertainty when he said, "Let her stay for now. We can always mulch her if she lies to us."
Being a pilot, Rey had noticed, came with a certain tendency towards bluntness.
"Very well." Leia gave Phasma a once-over. "Get out of that armor if you've got anything underneath. BB-8 will be watching you for now. He's cute, but keep in mind: if you try anything at all, we'll know."
Phasma nodded, stony-faced, and began removing her plate armor.
Finn didn't storm off, or even do anything so clearly indicative of his mental state. He looked almost entirely impassive - but the key there was almost. Rey could tell he was upset, and when he retreated to one of the smaller caves serving as bedrooms, she followed.
She knocked, of course, before going in. Or, well, tapped; the stone was too hard to knock, the curtain giving the room privacy too thin. Finn said, "I know it's you, Rey," and she stepped inside.
He sat on the stone bench, staring at nothing. She realized when she opened her mouth that she had no idea what to say. Hardly anyone had confided in her in her life, and she'd never felt attachment the way she felt it for Finn. She was almost completely at a loss.
Which was why what came out was so foolish. "No one said you had to like her."
"But I do have to be around her."
"She could be useful."
"She's First Order. She's too old, she believes too hard. However useful she is, I'll never want to speak with her, to look at her. None of it."
He spoke with a kind of vehemence she'd never really heard from him before - which made sense. Yet Rey's sense of fairness compelled her to say, "She was also taken when she was a child, wasn't she?"
"That's not the point."
"You'd better tell me, then." And hopefully it wouldn't become an argument.
"She had charge of my squadron. They don't shuffle commanders as you grow up; you have a primary leader from when you - start - to when you're combat ready. That was Phasma for my group."
"And she wasn't good to you."
"She was awful, and she knew it. Cruel, heartless. It was why she was so good at being a captain."
Rey tried to imagine it. He'd have been so young at the time. Of course, so had Rey been, but she'd at least been mostly left alone.
"I had command potential," Finn said. "I could've been like her."
"You never would have been like her. Don't be ridiculous."
"That's not actually comforting. You weren't there. It wasn't like I was planning on running. I just did it, because I couldn't take it anymore. Any of us could've been like her."
Rey wanted to argue with a desperation that surprised her. Finn had been nothing but gentle, just and good, in a way she thought must be incorruptible. His time as a stormtrooper was like her time on Jakku - it said nothing about them, really, only that they'd been stuck somewhere. But then she thought of Jakku's old scavengers, so beaten down by the sand and sun and autocratic business that they didn't even protest anymore. And she thought of Phasma, cold and furious. She had to have gotten that way somehow. Finn would know.
"I've been afraid too," she said. The lack of anything better to say gnawed at her. "But you're not her. That's true enough - you're not her. You're here with us."
"Poe says I should just throw myself into the Resistance. He says that'll make it all better."
"Does he really?"
"He's a nice guy."
And Finn liked him. Loved him? Finn wouldn't share wanting that with her, probably, even if he felt it.
The world was considerably more complicated than Rey really wanted it to be. She settled on reaching out and catching hold of Finn's hand.
That turned into him pulling her close, onto his pallet, which wasn't really thick enough to allow the stone beneath it to be ignored. But Finn was warm, his body solid behind Rey's, and the way he pulled her close made her think he might be used to this - getting contact in less than ideal spots. She let herself close her eyes and relax, a bit, lulled by the smell of another person so near, and her familiarity with Finn himself.
Then the curtain stirred aside and Poe said, "Hey, we're about to see how edible those plants - oh."
Rey blinked up at him. She'd only shut her eyes for a few minutes, but it took her a moment to focus. Poe's face, when her eyes resolved themselves, was composed of smooth angles and absolutely no definable expression.
"Not a lot of privacy in the caves," he said. "I get it."
"We were only resting," Finn said. "Phasma?"
Poe relaxed a bit, the carefully-hidden discomfort draining from him, until to Rey's inexpert eyes he looked perfectly calm.
"She's being handled," Poe said. "Testor's getting stories out of her. She seems to think Phasma can be adopted."
Rey must have made a face, because Poe looked at her and laughed. "It's not my idea of a fun time, either. Phasma's determined to stay, though. And Testor likes a challenge."
"I don't think the plants here are edible," Rey said, desperate to change the subject. Every time Poe said Phasma's name, Finn's arm around her waist tensed.
"Carnivores often are. Edible, I mean. But you've never foraged off-world?"
"Or on-world." Rey shrugged. "Jakku had rations."
"Right. Well, come on out, then. It'll be educational for all of us." He backed out as though to leave, but his eyes lingered on them.
Rey's skin burned and burned with her blush. She shrugged Finn aside and hopped off the pallet. "Come on," she said to Finn, holding out her hand.
He took it and pulled himself up. But under Poe's gaze, he let go. They walked up to the surface as a distinctly separate trio.
It wasn't until they reached the surface that Rey realized no one else would be joining them. "Did Luke not want to explore?"
"He said he got enough earlier," Poe said
"With me! Pushing me into man-eating plants!"
"Jedi, right?" Poe leaned down, snagged a stick, and threw it in the mouth - leaves - jaw of a plant. It was all one smooth movement, graceful as Rey had ever seen anyone move. If Jedi were maddening, pilots were dangerously distracting.
She looked away as the plant snapped the stick in half. "What sort of animals live on a planet with murderous plants?"
"The plants appear to be the fauna," Poe said. "The carnivorous ones, anyway. Admittedly, we haven't surveyed the entire planet. It's classified as a dangerous unknown."
"That's why we're here," Finn said.
Poe threw him an easy smile. "Exactly."
"Do the plants have a meaty bit?" Rey walked over to the plant that had snapped the stick. It seemed to sense her somehow, throwing out a tendril of a vine that Rey now knew would be preternaturally strong.
She leaped aside to dodge it, then took her staff off her back to strike the plant on its underside, attempting to overturn it.
The plant just writhed, though, and wrapped vines around the staff. It had thrown the stick aside, and indeed didn't seem interested in eating other plant matter at all, but it drew Rey's staff dangerously close to its mouth before Finn came forward and smacked it with a branch.
They retreated together. Poe, who'd had the sense to stay hanging back, said, "We could always just shoot it."
"Don't kill the fun," Finn said. "We're doing important research, here."
"Historic scientific discovery," Rey said. Finn's beginning of a smile made her continue. "They could give us an award."
"That's what the Resistance is missing," Poe said. "Medals for scientific innovation."
"Medals for all kinds of things," Finn said. "Or don't you want one?"
"The General trusts me. That's all the medal I need."
"Oh, sure, suck-up," Finn said. He laughed then, a happy sound that made Rey smile as well.
Then they heard the roar.
It was distant, but they all fell silent immediately. Then they heard the roar again, and Rey watched as the plants around them, including the one they'd been poking, curled in on themselves, vines retreating, mouths curling in on themselves.
"No fauna?" Rey said into the stillness.
"Unexplored," Poe said through gritted teeth.
The forest was utterly still. Too still. Rey's senses pricked at her. "Run," she said, and grabbed the nearest hand.
She hauled Poe into the forest, Finn on both their heels, just as the leaves at the edge of the clearing burst to the side. The animal that came through looked like something out of legend, covered in feathers, four times Rey's height, and in possession of a roar that, in such close range, made her ears ache. "Run!" she yelled again. "Run, run!"
One of the cave's entrances was near enough that they could reach it within a minute. Rey's lungs felt near to bursting as she sprinted toward it, looking back every second to make sure she hadn't lost Finn. Together, they all three dove into the entrance, then turned to watch the creature's pursuit.
But it wasn't interested in them; it hadn't followed them at all. She could hear the roar, and see the disturbance; the trees themselves seemed to bend away from the clearing they'd just come from. Another roar later, a lump of fibrous-looking matter flew out of the trees and landed in front of the cave's entrance. Rey stared at it. It was deep purple, slimy, and almost iridescent. When Finn poked it, flipping it over, she saw the unmistakable pebbly green trunk of the wood's carnivorous plants.
"Well," she said. "I suppose we know what eats those things now."
"And we've got something to take back to the others," Poe said.
"Just because it's edible for those things doesn't mean we can eat it," Finn said.
"Sure," Poe said, "but it's rude to refuse a gift." He grabbed the slab of matter in a gloved hand. "Let's see how it tastes over a fire."
As it turned out, the answer was, "fine, with enough of Poe's sazón dumped on it". Leia reacted to their having run from a giant bird-cat-thing like it happened every day. Rey bit back a thousand questions about how many unknown planets Leia had explored as Leia ran a scanner over the matter and declared it calorie-dense, and then they sliced it into chunks and cooked it over a fire. Rey did her best to describe the animal to BB-8, who added it to the planet's profile.
Throughout the whole thing, Phasma sat in a corner, silent and visibly disapproving. Well, Rey thought, the First Order probably had ration bars, or carefully tasteless gruel. She wasn't going to bring it up and see FInn's sad face, so she kept quiet, sharing in the food and planning their next steps with the General.
"Ideally, you'd be all trained up and ready to take on the First Order next week," Leia said to Rey. "But since that's unlikely to happen, we need to work on the Republic."
"Can we consider them not a lost cause, then?" Poe said.
"Snoke is powerful." Leia's expression became drawn, as it always did when she touched on topics near her son. "He's not just persuasive. He pulls you in. He can bend a person's will in a way that makes them forget they ever had any ideas other than what he wants them to have."
"Ren was also weak." Poe spoke sharply, and so quickly that Rey felt sure they'd had this argument before.
"For once, I wasn't talking about my son," Leia said. "I was referring to myself."
"No. He didn't -"
"I never gave in." Leia's lips thinned as she locked eyes with Poe. "And you know I wouldn't. Everyone in this camp does; that's why we're all here. But knowing how he works is vital. If he can exert his influence over an entire representative body, then we'll never free ourselves from the dark side's hold unless we know how he's doing it. Even if we killed Snoke, another would move to take his place. There has to be another way."
"Ren," Poe said.
"I told you -"
"General, for once I'm not talking about killing your son. Ren knows more about how Snoke operates than anyone else. That might not be a lot, but it's still worth something. We have very little chance of even getting on the same planet as Snoke, much less disabling and dealing with him, with the intel we have right now."
"It's too dangerous," Leia said. "And yes, I see your point, and you're right. But we have two Force users with us, and...no. We can't risk it right now."
"Three," Poe said. "There's you."
Leia's look at him was one Rey couldn't decipher. Fond, yes, but also exasperated. Familial. There was, she'd come to learn, a vast number of relationships that she'd never encountered, and that she still needed time to understand. All the dreaming in the world hadn't prepared her for the reality of being around real live people all the time.
"We can find other people," Leia said. "I have contacts within the Republic. Testor's father runs a hotel on Thokos, a fine one, patronized by dozens of Republic politicians. He might have information, if my own contacts don't. One way or another, we will find Snoke, we will work out how to end his influence, and we will deal with him."
Rey wanted to believe her. Part of that was just that Leia seemed so certain, and so strong - a light shining against the darkness that Snoke represented. But that was her power, really. Luke had described it to her more than once. Leia could have become the head of some new religion if she wanted. She had a kind of power of personality that Rey had never encountered before.
Still, the feeling was there, and it was as real as anything. Poe obviously felt it too. He straightened and said, "And the Republic will be restored."
Leia smiled, clearly aware she was granting a kind of benediction. "Exactly."
Finn had stayed quiet throughout the conversation, so much so that Rey had thought for a moment that he wasn't listening. She should have known better, of course. No sooner had a congenial silence fallen than he said, "We could always question Phasma."
"A prisoner? Believe it or not, I have a few ethics I try to adhere to. A very few."
"I understand, General, but Phasma's said she wants to work with the Resistance now. The most value she could possibly add is being the person who brings us Snoke."
"That's a very team-focused point of view."
Rey knew Leia didn't mean it as a compliment. Finn probably knew it, too, judging by the way his jaw tightened. But it was Poe who said, "He's right, General. Don't deny it."
"I liked you better when you were sixteen and too paralyzed by hero worship to argue with me." Leia sighed. "I'll ask her. At minimum, she probably has more information about Snoke than she realizes. Luke can help her with that - and I do mean help. We're not going to coerce secrets from people. If we start doing that, we'll be no different than the First Order." She tossed her empty eating stick into the fire and went over to Phasma.
"Leia Organa," Poe said. "More of an idealist than she'd like her enemies to know."
"You love her," Finn said. He was staring at Poe's face, his hands curled into loose fists on his knees. "You really do."
"Not like that." Poe clapped Finn's shoulder. "Stay here long enough, you'll love her too."
Finn looked over Poe's shoulder, which unfortunately meant he met Rey's eyes. She jumped up, feeling a very sudden and imperative impulse to be anywhere but right there. "I'm going to - you know, I think I can hear Luke calling me. With the Force. I can hear it, yes, Luke, I'm coming." She scurried off.
Escape was blessed relief. She found her own alcove, with its pallet and small bag of belongings, and sat down in it.
Being around so many people felt like that moment when she'd gotten the Millennium Falcon off the sand and into the air: exactly as terrifying as it was exhilarating. Poe and Finn had something odd going on, Poe and Leia had an old camaraderie, Phasma looked ready to go berserker at any minute, Jess kept looking at Rey with that knowing glint in her gaze - and meanwhile, there was Rey, surrounded by forces she still didn't understand, forces she still largely resented.
She wanted adventure so badly, but she hadn't expected and didn't want adventure to come with so much responsibility. Luke had taught her to feel the life in everyone around her, and he'd now shown her how to end that life. The dark side and the light weren't divided by the presence or absence of death; intent, he'd told her before, was what mattered.
What could Rey do, then? She didn't know her intent.
She expected someone to find her eventually. She'd half-assumed it would be Luke. But the person who wound up sitting across from her in the tiny, rough-walled place was Leia.
"I know none of this is easy," Leia said.
"An understatement," Rey said. "Though I guess it's a good one, for a motivational speech."
Leia snorted. "We're too small a group for a motivational speech. We have been for a long time. The last I heard, the Republic's leadership was calling me a power-grabbing bitch trying to relive her glory days."
"What are you really?" Rey said. "What - I don't understand this. You and Luke." Finn and Poe. Her chest felt so hollow, for no real reason.
"Has Luke told you how we met?"
"I'd barely begun to know him, to figure out who my brother really was, when he started rebuilding the Jedi Order. And then, well."
So many bodies. So much pain. "Yes."
"Life isn't easy. Life when the Force is tapping you on the shoulder, trying to get you to listen and live a certain type of life - that's harder. But I suspect what you're going through is beyond that."
"I'm just so tired," Rey said. She hadn't realized it was true, really - but of course, as soon as she said the words, they made sense. She really was tired. Exhausted, even. She felt like she had to learn hundreds of things every day just to keep up. It had begun as endless excitement, but now, on this strange planet, so close to people she'd begun to know, it was overwhelming her.
Leia couldn't possibly know what she hadn't expressed. Rey had been careful to only rarely mention Jakku. But Leia still smiled in sympathy and said, "Why don't you rest up for tonight? We'll begin again in the morning."
"That also sounds exhausting." Rey bit her lip. She sounded like a child, and she hated it.
Leia, though, didn't seem surprised. "Life is exhausting. And I'd hoped all of this would be over by now. I fought with the Rebellion because we wanted to build a better world for our children. And now..."
Now, her child specifically was ruining things. Right. "I'll do my best tomorrow," Rey said. "And all the days after that. I want this. I wanted to leave! Even when -" Even when she knew leaving would mean she truly never saw her family again. But she couldn't tell Leia that. "I want this," she said again.
Leia leaned forward and very briefly embraced her, then stood. "You'll wake up wanting it again. You need rest, Rey, that's all. Go to sleep."
It wasn't the most comforting pep talk in the world, but at least it confirmed that Leia wasn't going to judge her unworthy. Rey only tossed and turned for a little while before falling asleep.
At first, the dream was only blandly pleasant. She felt warm - not the suffocating warmth of Jakku, where sand could sneak into the lungs and kill, but the kind of warmth that came with a cool breeze and a gentle sun. She lay in that warmth, feeling it caress her skin, letting liquid joy steal through her bit by bit.
Slowly, she became aware of another person with her. It didn't cause any anxiety or uncertainty. It felt like that moment on the Millennium Falcon had, with Finn: simple and open, gloriously uncomplicated. In the dream, she opened her eyes to see that it was Finn himself who was with her. He put a hand on her cheek, his palm just rough enough to heighten the sensation. And he looked at her, so soft and understanding, familiar without being frightening. When he kissed her, she pulled him closer, until the length of his body pressed against hers.
It went on like that for awhile, in the way of dreams. When the bed - it was a bed, slowly solidifying in her mind - dipped behind her, Rey turned to look, feeling impossibly unsurprised.
Poe smiled at her. He wasn't wearing clothes - for that matter, neither was she. The world seemed to slip a bit as he touched her, spinning around her in a whirl of light. Then Finn said, "Rey, stay here," and kissed her again.
They were all gentle with each other. Nothing happened too quickly or too slowly. Poe pressed his fingers into her, and she wrapped her hand around Finn's cock, and they all came like that, together, clinging to one another in the light and warmth.
She woke with her heart racing and an ache between her thighs. That was taken care of easily enough, but then she was alone in the dark, a little too cold to really be comfortable. She didn't need dreams like that. They were dangerous, and beyond foolish. Poe and Finn had each other, by all accounts, and the First Order was out to kill her. She had to focus on what mattered: getting better. Learning what she needed to know to defeat Ren.
But still, there had been the warmth, and that overwhelming feeling of safety. As she drifted back into an uneasy sleep, she couldn't help but wonder how her mind had even managed to dream such a strange feeling.
She overslept - by design, apparently. No one came to wake her, and her datapad's usual eight-hours-after-stillness alarm didn't ring. Leia must have disabled it. Rey wasn't precisely grateful, but she did feel much more awake when she re-entered their main room.
The tension in the room became immediately obvious. Phasma sat off to one side, abandoned even by Testor, glowering at the cave wall. Across the room, BB-8 presided over several shattered wooden boards. The sight was so odd and archaic that for a moment Rey didn't understand what she was looking at. Then she realized: Phasma had lost her temper.
"Apparently," Poe said, coming to stand beside her, "Phasma doesn't like the idea of being used as bait."
"How's Finn taking it?"
"You always go to him, huh?"
His voice carried implications Rey absolutely did not want to think about. "He's the one who suggested using her."
"I think he expected this. He's not wrong, anyway, in a sense. She'll need to make herself useful if she wants to be part of the Resistance. Otherwise, we'll dump her on a distant planet and be on our way."
He sounded so cold. "She's still a person."
"Sure. A dangerous one." Poe patted her shoulder. "Give it a few more months, and you'll see what I mean." He wandered away.
Why was he behaving so strangely? No; that wasn't Rey's concern. She had other things to worry about, like food. And training.
The morning was consumed with both. Luke had had some kind of epiphany, or something; he greeted her in their underground training room - hardly less dangerous than the woods above, given its jagged walls and rough stone floor - with an offer of a lightsaber. "I thought we'd stick with the staff forever," Rey said. The saber felt heavy in her hand, and strangely inert. "This one isn't yours."
"It's yours," Luke said.
"It doesn't -" Rey clamped her lips shut. She wasn't entitled to Luke's saber, no matter how much it seemed to call to her. "It looks nice. Thank you."
"No. Not at all."
"Use it, then."
The blade was fine: long and green, and silent in her mind and body. She didn't feel it at all. Luke drew his own saber, and they crossed blades, Luke spinning away faster than a man in his fifties had any right to be moving. He watched Rey's form with sharp eyes. "You're off step."
Well, to hell with it. "It doesn't feel right. The saber. It doesn't feel like anything to me."
"And that's unusual?"
"Your saber called to me so much it frightened me," Rey said, with no small amount of bitterness.
"Ah," Luke said. "There it is."
"You can put that away." He nodded to her saber. "It's for training. It's about as personal as a rented speeder."
"Training," Rey said. "You were testing me?"
"Deactivate this one, and I'll explain."
Luke's explanations were exactly as rambling as you might expect from a man who'd spent almost two decades alone on an island. He wound around the main point, getting closer and closer to it, but taking a good twenty minutes to finally say, "Most of the apprentices have a hand in building their sabers. I wasn't sure if that would - I wasn't sure if your affinity for mine was a coincidence. It doesn't appear to have been."
"Why would I have an affinity for yours and not this one?"
"That's a training saber, like I said. They're not the same."
"So what you're telling me is I can design my own? Here? Really?"
"The ship has the capacity to produce one."
It felt almost too thrilling. "Anything I want?"
"Within reason. Some designs make more sense than others."
Rey thought of Ren's blade and didn't respond. In retrospect, it had been strange. She'd lacked the expertise to realize it at first. The way it had flickered, the spears at the end - it was the blade of someone who'd never really studied, or someone who'd forgotten what he'd been meant to learn.
She would be better than that. She in fact had to be better than that.
"What if I wanted it to be like this?" She tapped her staff. "It's easy to move with."
"And suits your height, yes. There's precedent."
She didn't miss that he didn't specify what kind of precedent. "I want to get started on this," she said. "Now."
"Is virtuous, I know. But so is not dying at the hands of Snoke, don't you think?"
Luke found that humorous, in his gallows way. "Sure. Let's go."
The saber wouldn't be completed for days, as it turned out - and most of the actual engineering was left to the ship, which was capable of calculations that would have taken Rey days. "How is this possible?"
"I asked Leia to take a ship with these capabilities. I suspected we'd need them," Luke said. "Now, back to the training room. We're not done for the day."
"It's almost dinner time!"
"And when it's really dinner time, then we'll stop. Go."
Luke had her settle on the stone floor, cross-legged. To call it uncomfortable would have been almost criminal understatement. "What's the purpose of this?"
"Meditation. Centering. Grounding yourself within the Force."
"I've done that already."
"And you'll do it every day. But right now it's more important than it might otherwise be."
"You saw what happened to my students."
"You know my nephew did it."
He was waiting for her to ask for details. She wouldn't. If she pried in others' lives, she'd feel obligated to tell them about her own. "Yes."
"Snoke's power is based on mental weakness, a certain availability to influence. The best, sometimes the only, way I know of to circumvent it, is this."
"Closing my eyes and thinking about the Force."
Rey sighed, but he was making sense - and part of her was still very unwilling to argue with the legend embodied in Luke Skywalker. She redoubled her determination and, slowly, sank into a trance.
The world around her fell away. She was swimming in a dark sea. It should have been frightening, but vision-Rey didn't have as much a sense of self-preservation as normal Rey. And the dark didn't mean to hurt her, anyway; it carried her along on a gentle current, with occasional sparks of light, until it ebbed onto a shore.
She got her feet under her and stood. Sand fell from her body and pressed up between her toes. She stood on a beach that extended into the horizon in both directions. The stars above twinkled in a rainbow of impossible colors, and the sand ended after just a few feet, to be overtaken by sharp blades of dark purple grass.
"What's this meant to tell me, then?" she said.
The strange world didn't answer, so Rey began to walk down the sand. A soft wind blew into her face; when it hit the grass, the blades chimed an odd, haunting tune. Rey had never been this absorbed in a vision before. For a moment she thought she ought to go back, but some instinct made her keep walking.
At first it only looked like a hill in the distance. The sky was filled with enough stars to mostly illuminate the landscape; she saw the silhouette of the hill early. That nagging feeling persisted in the pit of her stomach, so she kept walking.
She saw the hand first: five fingers splayed to the sky, outlined against the top of the hill. Then the gentle breeze carried an off smell to her, like a fallen animal the carrion birds hadn't gotten to quickly enough.
But she kept walking, her feet carrying her forward without any input from the rest of her. And so she came closer to the hill, and closer, until she saw the eyes - eyes staring out from a broken neck, a tangle of limbs stacked high, so high that it blocked out the light and the breeze no longer touched her, so high that she could see and think of nothing else.
The world shifted. The bodies suddenly surrounded her. She had no time to scream as they slipped by her, the stench making her retch as she clawed at them, desperate to get out, to live, to -
"No," Rey said, "No, no, no! I'm not him!" And then, realizing that she could scream, she did so. It tore at her throat, the stench washed over and through her, and still she screamed.
Again the world shifted. Now she lay on the same beach, with the same stars overhead, and no hill in sight. She heaved a breath of blessedly clean air, scrambling to her feet again.
She saw him too late. He stood in the sharp grass, wearing a robe that seemed to pull darkness in around him. His eyes were bright glints; his face was too smooth. "Child," he said.
"No," she said. She tried to stumble back, but her legs were caught in nothing - no. Caught by the Force, in a grip ten times more subtle than Ren had ever achieved.
"It's time," he said. "Your line will not escape again."
"I - stop! Stop." She moved to grab for something, anything, but her arms were caught too. And the man began to advance, until the light wormed its way under his hood, and she saw his features. Not Human at all, but not alien, either. Twisted.
"This won't hurt at all," he said, and reached for her.
From very far away, someone screamed. Then they screamed again. Then the whole world began to shake, and Rey shook with it.
Then she understood the scream: her name, over and over. Luke. She had to get back to Luke.
Her desperation, for a moment, seemed to take physical form. It was with that desperation that she reached out, lashing out at the man in front of her, at the very world she'd been drawn into. She reached out, she clawed, and she pulled.
The change wasn't gradual this time: she came back into her body with frightening immediacy, teeth chattering, throat raw from screaming. Luke still held her by her arms and was saying her name over and over, his voice bleak.
She managed to speak, finally. "I'm here. I'm okay."
"It's you in there? Really?"
She cracked her eyes open. "How would you know if it wasn't? Honestly."
That got him looking sheepish, at least, and backing off her. "That wasn't just meditation."
"No," Rey said. The bodies. She felt sick. "No, it wasn't."
She explained the vision as best as she could. Luke started out looking drawn and concerned; by the time she was done, he looked completely hopeless. "That was Snoke," he said. "Almost certainly."
"I hope it was," Rey said. "If there's two of them like that, I don't want to think about it."
"Force users are still relatively scarce, for either side," Luke said. "The man you describe sounded like him."
She shuddered. "It was awful."
"Yes," Luke said. "And I think I know part of why."
The lines on his face seemed to deepen - and of course. This was the person his nephew had given loyalty to. If 'person' could even be used in that context.
"What was it?" Rey said.
"The saber." Luke sighed. "I'm going to tell Leia to stop it for now. His reach extends past what I thought. If he's drawn to this usage of power, it's best to wait until we're better hidden."
"And then we'll stop him," Rey said, trying to throttle her own disappointment. She'd get a saber eventually.
Luke's smile was awful to look at, bleak and sarcastic. "Snoke or Ren?"
"Both of them." Rey took a deep breath. "We should go back to training."
"Not today." Luke stood and offered her a hand. "Go for a walk, help Testor out with guarding Phasma. Spend time with Finn. Rest."
In spite of everything, Rey felt a tiny tweak of amusement. "Do what the kids do, is what you're saying?"
Luke's face relaxed into a slightly less bleak pose. "Exactly."
"You, too. Whatever it is tired Jedi do."
Luke waved her off, of course. He'd probably spend the rest of the day meditating - or sulking. Rey felt better about being stuck in a bunch of caves when she was busy, when the hiding felt purposeful, but she also felt like a droid left out in a sandstorm. Battered and exhausted wasn't the right mood for trying to train more; Luke had made her learn that lesson early on.
No one seemed to notice her mood. Everyone had things to do, either genuinely necessary chores or more or less invented duties to keep them busy. Testor and Phasma had taken to sparring in a corner of the main room, which was both terrifying and fascinating to watch: Testor, with her speed, and Phasma, with her reach, were an evenly matched pair.
Leia might have given her a few careful looks, but aside from that, no one spoke to her at all. She ate dinner in peace and went to bed early.
Then, of course, she had a nightmare.
She was screaming when she woke. It took her a few terrified, frantic moments to realize the person holding her - holding her up, in fact, half sitting up on her pallet - was Finn.
"Oh," she said. "Oh, I - I'm sorry. I had a bad dream."
"When I get indigestion and dream about being dumped by a Wookiee, that's a bad dream," someone said from the doorway. "This was a bit more than that."
She looked over Finn's shoulder to see Poe standing there, leaning against the stone, the curtain closed behind him. "How did you two hear?"
"Oh, you know," Finn said, which wasn't an answer at all. "Are you okay?" He pulled away from her enough to look at her face, his eyes searching hers. "I thought someone was hurting you."
"No. I'm fine. It was just a nightmare, like I said." Belatedly, she realized that both Finn and Poe were barely dressed: Poe wore tiny shorts, and Finn had only a long nightshirt. "I'm sorry I woke you both."
"No need to worry. We're not far away." Poe scratched his stomach and raised an eyebrow. "Finn was the one who heard you, though."
He was being weird in a way Rey didn't understand. She looked back at Finn, hoping he wouldn't be so opaque. He looked only at her, his face a picture of concern. His hands were still on her arms, moving up and down in a calming motion.
He was so warm. And his shoulders were broad, his legs - well-shaped, Rey thought, feeling half hysterical. Finn was attractive. She knew that, of course. Apparently he'd been off being attractive with Poe. That was fine.
"Finn," Poe said in a low voice. "Give her some space."
"It's fine," Rey said. But her breathing wasn't coming along as she wanted it to. She could only draw breaths in short gasps. "I'm fine."
Finn, though, obeyed Poe, scooting back on the pallet. Rey felt like a bug captured in holo, trapped for inspection. "Stop looking at me! Both of you!"
"You dreamed about Snoke," Poe said.
He couldn't possibly know. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"You're forgetting how long I've been around Force users. Talking about it can help."
"And sometimes talking about it makes it worse." She'd learned that the hard way when she was fifteen. A sympathetic ear had listened to her tales of Jakku, how much she wanted to leave, and how much she couldn't. She'd never seen that woman again, and for weeks after, the life she'd grown used to had seemed unbearable. "I don't want this," she said. "Go away."
She made the mistake of looking at Finn then. He looked crushed. And of course he would; he'd processed everything in a group when he was younger, and now he had Poe to make sure his cave room wouldn't get too chilly. She wasn't like that. She set her jaw and looked away.
But apparently he wasn't quite ready to give up. "Rey," he said, reaching out to catch hold of her fingers. "I just -"
If she held onto his hand she'd never let go. She was sure of that. So she snatched it away, turning away from them both. "You can go now," she said.
She was furious with herself for being disappointed when they left.
Poe found her after morning lessons with Luke the next day, during which she'd been so snappish and irritable that he'd nixed combat practice entirely in favor of handstands and flips. "Rey. I wanted to talk to you."
He wore normal civilian clothes, which meant his white shirt had been left carelessly open at the collar, revealing smooth skin and tight muscle. He looked like the hero from some syndicated entertainment. It was, Rey thought with considerable determination, extremely off-putting. "About what?"
Despite her misgivings, she did. He led them out of the cave, through a relatively tamed path in the forest, and towards...
A TIE fighter?
"The Resistance captured it shortly before we scattered," he said. "It was in the ship's storage. I figured I'd give it a whirl. You game?"
Being able to fly again sounded like heaven. Rey opened her mouth to assent, but somehow, what came out was, "Does Finn know about this?"
Poe's answer was one of those sarcastic looks, tempered with a tiny smile. Rey scowled against her own flush. "Is it safe?"
"Ehhh," Poe said, wiggling a hand.
So, not safe at all. Rey looked at him, then looked back at the fighter. They were tiny and fast - everyone on Jakku had seem them in action.
She wanted to. Oh, did she want to. "Let's go, then."
She expected him to take the pilot's seat, but instead he settled himself in the gunner's position. "We won't need this, if we're lucky," Poe said. "But I figured you'd want to be at the controls."
"Sure, thanks." She was barely listening. The control panel was complex, beyond anything she'd worked with before. For a moment, she felt utterly bewildered. But it was still a ship, and the various buttons still responded to her - and she'd be damned if she requested help from Poe. She let out a slow breath and let instinct guide her as she launched them into the air.
"Smooth takeoff," Poe said. "How's your maneuvering?"
"Good enough to lose a First Order fighter."
"Let's see it, then."
Rey took that as tacit permission. She drove them up in the air, higher and higher, until the atmosphere began to thin - and then she shot them down again, in a dead drop. Poe whooped as she pulled them out of it just above the tree line, looping wildly through the air.
Rey found herself smiling, too. This was what she loved, what she'd dreamed about: the freedom of flight, adrenaline soaring through her. For a moment she felt like her younger self again, absolutely sure that heroism was a matter of joy and ease.
Of course, the moment had to end. They kept flying for well over an hour, but eventually Poe said, "Let's go back. Finn will think I've kidnapped you."
There it was again, that odd spark of weirdness that made Rey feel like a stranger in her own skin. "As if anyone could kidnap me," she said. The joke fell regrettably flat.
Still, when she stepped out of the fighter, she felt so much lighter. Poe looked at her with obvious satisfaction. "Flying cures plenty of ills," he said.
"Oh, is that what the pilots say? I bet you're all terrible patients."
"I've never had any complaints." He smiled at her, easy and so charming.
If she hadn't just been flying, if she wasn't flushed with joy and still feeling like her feet couldn't quite touch the ground, she might not have done it. But in that moment, it seemed very simple and easy to step forward, to reach around Poe's neck and pull him close.
She meant it as a thank you. He seemed to enjoy contact, after all. But the moment stretched out, and suddenly she became aware of his body: his solid chest, his smell. His hands on her hips. She pulled away, feeling arousal starting, only to find her face inches from his.
"I'd like to do that again," she blurted out. She licked suddenly dry lips, and watched as his gaze flickered down. He was so close, and oh, she wanted.
She stayed still, at least as determined as she was conflicted. Poe, though, leaned forward, just slowly enough for her to know he meant to do it, and kissed her.
It felt like warmed honey moving through her veins. He spread his fingers against her lower back as his lips caught hers, gently, but returning over and over, caressing her until she was shivering with want.
When he pulled away, she could only stare. Her mind felt wiped clean.
Poe, for his part, looked as serious as she'd ever seen them. "I've got lookout duty," he said. "Let's go back."
Rey swallowed. "I - of course."
She wound up following him back, keeping a careful distance between the two of them. She slipped away before they encountered anyone else, though. Her room might be small, but it was all hers, and no one was likely to bother her there.
Several days passed with everyone moving uneasily around each other. Even Testor and Poe, who'd spent years around General Organa, eyed Luke and Leia with a certain wariness - especially when they were together. Rey couldn't blame them, because Leia's level-headedness failed most often around Luke. She clearly wanted to rake him over the coals for leaving, but just as clearly knew that they needed him. Phasma stayed in her corner and never spoke, but that was even more awkward than if she'd tried to be friends with everyone.
And Finn and Poe, when they spoke to Rey, did so carefully, like they were worried she'd knock them on the head with her staff if they misspoke. Sometimes, when they showed up for meals with mutually rumpled clothes, or when she had to look at Poe's flushed cheeks or Finn's very slightly sweaty chest, they were right to worry.
It was, therefore, almost a relief when Leia called a meeting and said, "No one is going to like what I have to say. I'll respectfully request that you let me finish anyway."
Leia's version of a respectful request came with a moderately terrifying, commanding expression. Rey nodded with the others.
"I've spoken extensively with Phasma. She's our best source of information right now for what the modern Republic looks like. As you all know, both myself and Luke have been removed from it for quite some time."
She looked so tired. When had she last been away from all this? Had she simply decamped for a nascent rebellion when Luke disappeared?
"The Republic has changed," Leia continued. "Stormtroopers are given some kind of booster before they go onto core worlds. The Hosnian system was destroyed, and remaining Senators are choosing capitulation to the First Order. The First Order's influence is in every political hall. Twenty years ago, the Senate would never pass any kind of mass surveillance law. Today, there's a bill requiring microchipping of citizens making its way through the reconstructed Senate. It's expected to pass with accolades."
"Do the citizens of the Republic support it?" Testor said.
"It depends," Leia said, "on how close they've been to the First Order lately."
"Jakku," Rey said before she could stop herself. "Ren. He -"
Leia held up a hand. "Until I've finished," she said again, more gently this time.
It was almost a physical struggle not to speak. But Rey nodded.
"Signs of subtle control are everywhere," Leia said. "Democracy has been eradicated in the galaxy before, as we know. But this time, it seems to have a base of stronger compulsion. The goal, Phasma says, is to prevent anyone from even thinking they should rebel. And at the center of it all is Snoke. We don't know where he is; we don't even really know who he is. But all indications point to the Core Planets as his hiding place, so it's the Core we need to infiltrate." She spread her hands. "Questions?"
"Where will we go first?" Poe said.
"We'll start in Chandrila," Leia said. "We have some evidence that power emanates from there."
"And if we don't find anything?"
"Then we keep searching, Dameron."
"If the citizens are truly loyal, if they're that close to the nexus of control, how will we hide? Snoke knows your face. He might know mine."
"And he knows mine." Rey said. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Finn gape at her. Explaining that later wasn't going to be fun. "So does Ren, for that matter."
"Snoke isn't our immediate concern," Leia said. "If he or Ren sees your face, Rey, you're likely already dead. Ren commands ships and rarely steps foot on the Core planets. Snoke's a ghost. As to the rest - I won't be going." She met Poe's gaze. "You will."
"Me? I'm a pilot."
"You are indeed," Leia said. "You're also a handsome, charming man who's going to Chandrila to open up the very first high-class, First Order-focused dining establishment in the capital city."
Poe's mouth dropped open. "What? I'm sorry, I must have misunderstood. What?"
"Your husband's an award-winning chef." Now Leia looked like she was enjoying herself. "And your security detail is a Wookiee and a young woman. The First Order won't like that detail, but they won't cause trouble, either. Chewie will join you at the building we've purchased. You'll fly in alone, but don't worry. By the end of the week, we'll be in place as well, on the outskirts of the city."
"No," Poe said. "Absolutely not. Husband? Who? Security?"
"That's me," Rey said faintly, "isn't it?"
"Security, yes. Ren's instability means the Republic and First Order already had precious few records of yours and Dameron's appearances. They're gone now; you're anonymous again."
"Who's my husband?" Poe said again. "I don't think I can live with Luke Skywalker, General. With all due respect."
"You need someone who can tell you how to behave around the First Order. What they value, how they behave." Leia looked directly at Finn.
"Oh, no." Finn said.
Leia was right: they didn't like it. But Testor was too involved in Core planet social life to be sure she wouldn't be recognized, Luke was a walking hazard, and Phasma was an unknown quantity as well as being, presumably, a wanted fugitive from the First Order. Finn's profile was only known by the First Order's top commanders - easy enough to avoid them in the kitchen.
So it made sense, in a way. Rey was still more than a little freaked out. They had the rest of the day to get used to the idea; Leia didn't plan to send them off-planet until the next morning. In theory that should have meant she had time to pack and meditate. In practice, she didn't own enough things to spend more than ten minutes packing, and there was no way she could attain the kind of calm she'd need to meditate.
Luke found her as she was making her way up to the planet's surface with her staff. "Good idea," he said. "You'll need to train alone on Chandrila."
"That wasn't really my concern," she said. Of course, then her cheeks lit up bright red. She didn't want to tell anyone her real concern. She couldn't even think of it in its entirety. The enormity of Poe and Finn, of wanting them both, of these stupid feelings - no. Her mind skittered away from it.
"No, it won't be," Luke said. "You're really being thrown into it."
"Was it always this terrifying? Was it - I just want to know what happens. What will happen." Rey huffed out a breath. "Having adventures is scarier than I'd thought."
"It is," Luke said. "We'd hoped it wouldn't be like this, to be honest. We wanted to build a galaxy our children would be safe in. But it's never a sure thing."
It wasn't exactly the pep talk she could have used. Rey nodded. "I'll be okay," she said. "I'm just tired."
"Sure." Luke reached out and clapped her on the shoulder. It was a heavy, comforting gesture. "We'll be close by in just a little while. You'll be safe in the end."
There was absolutely no way he could guarantee that, and Rey knew it. But still, she understood the gesture. "Thanks," she said, and brushed past him, heading back to the surface.
She saw no strange fauna that time, chicken-monsters or otherwise. The planet, in fact, felt oddly still, as though the weather itself was deferring to her mood. She spent some time in the open air, enjoying the green and the freedom of being unobserved. On her way back to the caves, she managed to stumble on a rock - or something that looked like a rock, anyway. It was dark red, smooth, and cool to the touch. Rey pocketed it without thinking much of it. She'd like to have a souvenir of this place, bizarre though it certainly was. And her saber would apparently be longer in coming.
Travel to Chandrila was overwhelmingly awkward. Rey hadn't spoken to Finn or Poe about the roles they were to assume at all. Autopilot did all the work getting them back to a semblances of civilization, and then - on Leia's orders - they traded in the Resistance ship to a shady Human dealer for a Republic-tagged commuting ship. From there, they went to Chandrila.
Their datapads were newly scrubbed of identifying information, courtesy of Luke. They'd left BB-8 behind, much to his dismay; he was too clearly marked by the First Order. They'd be relatively safe. But according to Rey's new ID card, her name was Rey Dameron, and she'd been in a three-person marriage with Finn and Poe for almost four years.
"I don't like this," she said for what she knew was at least the fifth time, as they circled Chandrila in a queue of planets waiting for Republic authorization to land.
"No one does," Finn said, his voice low and tense.
"I mean, I really don't like this. I think I'd rather be married to Chewie."
"Chewie's got a woman in every port," Poe said. "At least three of whom would have some serious problems with you if you even pretended to marry him."
At least Wookiee anonymity meant they could have someone with combat experience along with them. The First Order might be tyrants, but for once, their narrow-sightedness would be helpful. "That's not the point," Rey said. "Rooms above a restaurant, standing guard at the door - and for what?"
"To save the galaxy, actually," Finn said. "That's the purpose."
Rey had no rejoinder to that, which had likely been Finn's intention. She settled back into her seat grumpily.
"You're the one who wanted me to join the Resistance," Finn said. "And now you want to back out?"
"Only from this," Rey said. "It's not the kind of mission I thought I'd be given."
Poe turned to look at her, then, with the least pleasant expression she'd yet seen on his face. He was disappointed, she realized. Of course he was; he'd grown up as a true believer in the cause. "The General wants us to do this. She thinks we can get invaluable intel - a way to finally push the First Order back, maybe even to destroy them entirely. There's nothing more worthwhile than this."
"We're going to be living in a one-room apartment," Rey said. "I'm going to be a bouncer."
Poe didn't look away. "Like I said."
Rey gritted her teeth and looked away. There was no arguing with Poe about this kind of thing. He'd die before he'd gainsay Leia in a meaningful way.
They located their new restaurant easily enough. It stood at the center of the city, the top two floors of an enormous skyscraper. The sheer number of people and buildings, of lights and vehicles, had Rey dizzy before they even landed. She stood on the roof for a moment, transfixed by the sights below in spite of herself. "Those speeders," she said. "They're so advanced."
"The Western Reaches don't exactly get the best toys," Poe said. "Even the stolen ones. C'mon."
Whatever deal Leia had made to purchase the two floors of the building, it was a smart one. The restaurant space was decorated in icy white, with a single holovid screen in the corner showing video of the kitchen. Smart, for a restaurant meant to cater to the political elite. Each table had a datapad where the dining party might enter their order. Poe would serve as host, but no wait staff would circulate the room. Soundproof particle curtains could be discreetly activated, as well, transparently shutting one table off from the others, while maintaining the appearance of openness.
Yes, it would be a wonderful place for evil conspiracies to be planned. It would also be a terrible place to spend most of her time, but Rey wasn't going to complain more where Poe could hear.
The apartment was nicer, with decor in warm browns and dark blue. There was even a living room with a wide, deep couch, big and soft enough to sleep on as a bed. A tacit apology, Rey supposed, for the fact that the apartment had a single room with a lone - if large - bed.
It wasn't all a generic home, of course. The closet held a cloaked storage compartment that they used to store the surveillance equipment Leia had given them: bugs, trackers, and distress beacons. Rey, unaccustomed to subterfuge, felt the cloaked compartment like a sore in her mouth, even when they were in the living room.
"I've slept in worse places," Poe said, surveying the living room.
"We all have, flyboy," Finn said.
"You've been picking up on Leia's slang."
"Everyone calls you that." Finn grinned. "It fits, doesn't it?"
"Maybe a bit."
There they stood, smiling at each other like lovesick idiots. The now-familiar irritation bubbled in Rey's chest. "We open tomorrow, right?"
"With fanfare," Poe said. He managed to tear his gaze away from Finn to acknowledge the question. "You and Chewie will be positioned at the door - he's got his schedule, but of course a hired bodyguard, whom none of us know personally, won't be living with us. We've invited Senator Schell to the grand opening. He's one of the people most strongly suspected of a personal connection with the First Order."
"He's young, and a favorite of the First Order," Finn said. "He was top of his class in the Imperial Academy."
"You know this how?" Rey said.
"Like Poe said. Personal connection with the First Order."
Rey didn't like being the most ignorant person in the room. "Right."
The truth was that they had very little to do before the restaurant's grand opening day. Poe returned to the roof, saying he'd missed living in a cosmopolitan place, and Rey and Finn sparred for a bit in the apartment's small gym before Finn went to watch holovids in the living room. Rey kept working in the gym until her arms felt like noodles. Then she lay on the floor, telling herself she was meditating, but mostly letting her thoughts drift.
The rest of the day passed, and then it was time for bed. Rey encountered difficulties almost immediately.
Of course, she understood the terms of the subterfuge. She'd already made her peace with the necessity of lying in that enormous bed with Poe and Finn. But that was very different from changing into sleep clothes and having Poe lying on one side of the mattress, gesturing that she should sandwich herself between them. His stomach flexed as he moved, all smooth muscle that Rey wanted to run her hands over. It was torture, plain and simple - and made doubly worse by Finn lowering himself into bed, lying on his back, so that she couldn't sleep without touching one of them. They were both so warm, and both looked so relaxed. Rey had to be the only person who felt like she was on fire. That made it infinitely worse.
"I thought this bed was big," Finn said. "I didn't take your elbows into account." He smiled at Rey, tapping the elbows in question.
As though his shoulders weren't wide themselves. She had to be blushing. "Three people take up a lot of space."
"I bet Poe misses the luxury of the Resistance barracks."
"Sure he does." Rey forced a smile. "Right, Poe?"
A loud snore answered her.
Her smile was genuine then. And it was true that the bed was soft and warm, and she felt comfortable next to Finn. When he kept hold of her hand as his eyes slid shut and his breath leveled out into sleep, she didn't mind. Try as she might, though, she couldn't quite convince herself to sleep. Sleep itself had been a gamble lately, what with the nightmares.
The worst part might have been that part of her really wanted to relax. This was, after all, a very close replica of her dream - part of it, anyway. Her body wanted to tell her that she was safe here, and comfortable. Her body also wanted more hands on her, to be kissed and touched and held.
It was stupid. She kept her eyes screwed shut and did her best to ignore it, but the minutes slowly ticked by and still she couldn't relax enough to fall asleep. Finally, after the clock chimed four hours post-sunset, she crept out of the bed, leaping over Finn's body and landing silently on the floor.
The couch was blessedly cool and empty. She stretched out on it with a sigh, splaying her limbs so that one arm and leg dangled off the cushions. Let Poe and Finn have the bed, she thought; judging by their behavior in exile, they'd make good use of it.
Her exhausted mind followed that thought. She didn't know if they'd had sex; she knew there was no way she could accurately judge. She could imagine it, though. Finn was so easy with his affections, shockingly so considering how he'd been raised. And Poe...Poe looked at Finn like he'd discovered an entirely new planet. Finn was special, of course, Rey knew that as well, but when Poe grabbed Finn's shoulder and bit his lip as he looked at Finn, Rey could tell there was more there.
He'd probably suck Finn off. Finn would like that. And Poe would be good at it, Rey supposed, impulsive and willing to get messy as he was. He'd cling to Finn's hips and let Finn fuck his mouth, and Finn would babble endearments when he came on Poe's tongue.
She had a hand between her legs before she consciously realized it. After the stress of the last few weeks, it felt almost illicit, dipping a finger between her folds to feel the wetness there. Poe or Finn could wake up and catch her at any time - but that thought alone made her cunt clench around her fingers, and she arched her back into the feeling, dragging in a ragged breath.
So what if she imagined it? This wasn't about any emotions or attachment. It was purely practical, an animal need. If Poe found her, he'd look at her with that knowing glimmer in his eyes, and he'd stroke a hand down her thigh, just teasing her, until she told him to get busy.
Finn would be different. Finn would kiss her so gently, cradle her body with his. Finn would go down on her, then fuck her, bending her legs up and stroking her until she came.
Both of them - Rey gasped and moved her fingers faster. Both of them would be ideal. They'd surround her, they'd make her beg, make her laugh, make her fly out of her own skin. It would be like being in the pilot's seat, like wielding a lightsaber. It would be perfect.
She ensured the silence of her orgasm by biting her own hand. The pain sent her through another round of shuddering pleasure, until she lay on the couch, hand wet, utterly exhausted.
Eventually, she pulled her shirt down and snagged a blanket to wrap herself in. The air was quiet and cool, thanks to the environmental controls. No evidence of her activities would betray her in the morning.
She slept peacefully, and didn't dream of that tantalizing warmth.
Apparently, for all that Chandrila sported thousands of restaurants in the fashionable district of the capital alone, the opening of a not-so-subtly First Order restaurant was still big news. A few people showed up hours before the opening with protest signs; other sent holovid drones with footage of First Order abuses. Rey watched from her position at the door as a First Order officer approached them, one by one. He didn't hit or choke them; he only spoke to them. But after he spoke to each of him, they left, their expressions studiously blank.
It was uncanny, very literally so. If anything, Leia had underestimated the extent of the First Order's control.
The officer, after dispatching the protesters, came over to the restaurant. Chewie hadn't arrived for night duty yet, so Rey stood alone in front of the door. She stiffened to what she hoped was an approximation of attention when the guard stopped in front of her.
"And you are?" he said.
"Rey Dameron, sir," she said. "Guard for the Primo Ordine Lune. Our grand opening is tonight."
"So I heard." He looked over her shoulder at the restaurant. "Remarkable loyalty for newcomers to Chandrila."
"Loyalty is the prime function of citizenship, sir." Did that sound like something a First Order fan would say? This whole mission was overly complicated.
"Hmm." He looked past her again, but his suspicion had significantly faded. "I'll look forward to your review in the Hanna Quarterly."
She nodded stiffly, chest still puffed out. After that, thank the stars, he left.
She'd have liked to be inside for opening night, if only to look at the sort of people who would eagerly frequent a First Order restaurant. She'd never thought of herself as a loyal person, and in fact she was pretty sure she wasn't loyal at all. She'd left Jakku, after all, even after swearing she'd wait until she withered into the sand, if she had to. But even if she wasn't loyal, she'd loved the idea of the Rebellion, and she loved the reality of the Resistance. People shouldn't be forced into the sort of brutal life Finn had led. There should be freedom of choice, and liberty to speak out.
What was it like to hate all those things? Had these people always been like this? What did they think of the Resistance? Rey had met so few types of people in her life. She was burning with questions, even as she knew them to be horrible people. Aside from covert looks as she let the highest-ranking people enter, though, she didn't interact with any of their patrons at all.
No one tried to cause trouble. They'd have had to work hard to do so, since a First Order patrol went by every few minutes. Still, by the time the restaurant closed, Rey was bone-tired. It was almost seven hours after sunset by the time she managed to get to bed.
She realized the blessing as soon as Poe pulled the covers over all of them. Being too tired to worry about their mission also meant she was too tired to worry about sharing a bed with Finn and Poe. She fell asleep with her forehead against Finn's shoulder, and woke as the sun rose with Poe's arm around her waist. She'd only had a few hours of sleep, and Finn and Poe were both still dead to the world. Poe's hand lay just above her hip, and his lips were pressed against her neck. She'd managed to tangle her legs with Finn's, and he'd captured one of her arms, holding it close against his cheek.
She was sure they'd look ridiculous to an observer, but the luxury of the moment was that Rey was the only person who could see them. She fell back asleep easily as the first rays of sunlight began to creep across the floor.
As one of the most modern planets in the galaxy, Chandrila's typical kitchen minimized the need for a chef. The kitchen sported several specialized, non-sentient droids, as well as a top-of-the-line plasma cook range with over sixty thousand settings to produce perfect, particle-assembled meals. Most of this was kept secret, of course, as a part of marketing; Finn was the chef. What Rey didn't realize was that he possessed an aptitude for cooking, as well.
"What is this?" she said when he handed her a noon-breakfast plate of food.
"Seared meat, eggs, and vegetables," Finn said.
"It smells wonderful." Rey accepted the fork he handed her, balancing the plate on her knee as she paged through the news on her datapad. "I didn't know you could cook."
"Neither did I."
"It's an art, for some of us," Poe said, accepting the plate of food Finn handed him.
"I mostly just followed the recipe." Finn sat in the armchair across from them and began to eat. "I care what they say about the food, though. Weirdly."
"We've gotten rave reviews." Rey tapped her datapad, scrolling through another report. "These reporters are either really dedicated to not being arrested, or the First Order really does have control here."
"It's probably a little of both." Poe took a bite of his eggs. "Rebellion's messy like that."
"This is why I wanted to run." Finn shook his head. "There are a lot of normal people on this planet whose biggest concern is not being blown up like the Hosnian system."
"We'll help them," Poe said. "That's what we do."
"Do they want to be helped?" Rey said.
"There's a reason the Empire keeps gaining power, in one form or another," Finn said. "Poe's variety of idealism isn't popular."
"But it's worthwhile." Rey frowned at Finn. "You believe that now. Right?"
"I always believed it." Finn didn't look directly at her, though. "But worthwhile's not the same thing as popular, that's all."
He meant it. She knew he did, on a level deeper than just speech. But even as he meant it, he was also afraid, and no wonder. She was frightened, too, and she hadn't been raised with the full might of the First Order. Plus, the Resistance could use a strain of practicality. Being fearless only got you so far.
And thinking about fear just made her want to run away. To distract herself, she said, "Either way, Schell loved the food. And the service. He really enjoys being served by robots who aren't capable of disobeying."
"He would, the bastard," Poe said. "And it's my job to befriend him."
"You're the personable one," Finn agreed.
"And the only one whose face for sure isn't known to Snoke. The General knows what she's doing."
Rey didn't respond. Her time with Luke had opened her eyes to the humanity of those around her, even when she'd have preferred not to see it. Leia was powerful, great, wise, and brilliant, but she was still human. The same passions and weaknesses that ran through everyone lived in her. She wasn't infallible, and if she'd misjudged this situation, the three of them could very well die.
The only comfort in all that was that Rey was apparently not too valuable to be risked by the Resistance. She'd worried about that, with all the Jedi savior talk. Being thrown into the fray was refreshing by contrast.
When the silence had gone on long enough to be awkward, she stood. "Unfortunately, I still have to train."
"Skywalker's that harsh a taskmaster?" Poe said.
"He'll know if I slack off." Rey rolled her neck and jogged her arms. "You're welcome to join me. It's a big room."
"I'm going to nap," Poe said. "We've got a big night ahead of us: Schell told me he's coming back, and he's bringing friends."
"That must be exciting for you," Rey said.
"Oh, sure. Schmoozing with old, evil men is my truest calling." Poe waved her off with a laugh.
In truth, the spare room wasn't the best for training. It was small, for starters, and while the ceiling was higher than in the living room, it was still pretty low. One wall had been equipped with a holovid screen, so Rey could call up useful reference images, and correct her form when the trainer mirror across from her beeped at her. But overall, it was spare and lonely.
She wanted to get the work done quickly, so she threw herself into it. As a consequence, she didn't notice Finn watching her at first. It was only when he clapped after she landed a flip that she realized he'd been standing in the doorway.
She flushed with unexpected pleasure - which in turn made her impulsive. "I sparred with Luke quite a bit. How do you think you stack up?"
"Against Luke Skywalker?" Finn shook his head. "I'm not sure I want to find out."
"He's older," Rey said. "Slower. He's not too good at grappling."
She was baiting him, and his wide-eyed expression was both adorable and gratifying. "You fight Luke Skywalker hand-to-hand?"
"Part of the training." Rey stepped into the room. "Come on."
They circled one another on the soft mats. Rey had been right to guess Finn would have been trained. He moved lightly on his feet, tracking her movements with uncanny alertness.
Luke had already told Rey that she was impatient. Maybe it was true. She'd gotten so good at waiting, growing up, and now that she had the promise of change and adventure, she wasn't willing to waste any time. Of course, that was an abstract explanation for a simple truth: Rey would rather attack than stand back.
So she struck first, a swift kick to Finn's lower legs. He danced away as though he weighed nothing at all. She followed, striking with her right fist, then aiming her left hand, knifelike, at his midsection. He blocked both, but stumbled backwards on the last blow, nearly tripping himself up.
Then he advanced. Right hook, left kick, sweeping at her legs - he wasn't holding back, and Rey thrilled to the challenge. When he landed a glancing shoulder blow, she smiled. When she landed a chop to his wrist, she laughed. And all the while Finn watched her, with such attention and focus, so much intelligent knowing, that she felt it from head to toe.
What would he be like in bed? Would he bring the focus there? She wanted to know so badly that the need filled her, even as she circled him and tried to bring him down.
He knocked her down first. But he didn't follow in time; Rey reached out and kicked, and leaped on top of him when he hit the ground. She caught his wrists easily, and said, "Ha!" into his face, flush with victory.
His wrists flexed beneath her hold as he stared up at her. The intensity hadn't gone away, but now their bodies were pressed together, her legs straddling his waist. Her awareness of him suddenly expanded: the smell of sweat, the lines of his body, the breath she was just close enough to feel. And she wanted. It felt very simple and too complicated at the same time. He looked up at her with absolute trust, his fingers curled until he could touch the backs of her hands, and -
Too much. She wanted him too much. It felt like a foregone conclusion when she leaned in and kissed him.
He gasped into the kiss, his body tensing and arching against hers, then relaxing. It sent a shiver through her: yes, this. Him. Finn. She kissed him a little harder, nipping at his lip and pressing him down, down, until his wrists dug into the mat. He welcomed it, too, tightening his grip on her fingers, rocking against her, already hard and wanting.
He took her breath away. She kissed him over and over, then moved to drop kisses on his cheek, on his jaw - and then shifted so that their hips fit together just a bit more, so that he pressed against her clit just right, and kissed him again as they rocked against each other.
Something shifted. What had been slow and exploratory became urgent, knowing. She let go of his wrists, and he instantly grabbed her, tugging her hair, splaying a hand on her ass. That was good - better when he urged her forward, dizzyingly good when he dropped his head to catch a peaked nipple in his mouth.
She broke first, gasping and then saying, "Finn."
And it was a mistake; of course it was. He went very still, then moved away from her entirely. She scrambled off him, feeling her cheeks heat. "I'm sorry," she said.
"No need to apologize."
He was so earnest. It made her burn with questions: what was this? Why them? What were they doing? But when she tried to get one of them out, her throat closed up with half-formed panic. Kissing again would have been so much simpler.
The silence drew out, growing more and more uncomfortable. Finn looked so hopeful that it nearly broke Rey's heart. Finally, she said, "I should go."
"Oh, sure." Finn said. "Yeah. I'll - see you later. For work."
"Yes," Rey said, and made her mistake.
Chewie greeted her later by sniffing the air and informing her that she smelled of stormtrooper.
"Only one of the good ones," Rey said. "It's Finn, and you know it."
Chewie faked concern: was the apartment really that small? Was she not allowed the privacy to shower?
"You know full well that it's big enough!" Rey's face was burning. So much for looking like a cosmopolitan bouncer. "And anyway, it was hours ago."
That, of course, just made Chewie chortle at her expense. She stiffened her posture and glared into the distance.
She couldn't be sincerely angry, though. She knew teasing when she saw it, and it warmed her. It made her feel like perhaps beyond all this - the Resistance, subterfuge, training and fighting - there was some kind of conclusion that might have friendship and warmth.
Of course, things with Finn were still incredibly confusing. But that was a separate issue altogether.
The restaurant had been open for thirty minutes, and had accepted two Imperial admirals through its doors, when she heard a low, creaking voice, alien in composition and sinister in tone. "...don't have time for this. The food can wait. If the disturbance is real, it could ruin everything."
A more nervous sounding voice replied. "The Resistance -"
"Has no hold here," the sinister voice said. "But that doesn't mean we're free of danger. Come with me."
The owner of the voice swept past Rey, out the restaurant's door. She recognized him instantly: Schell.
He tapped a code into the datapad waiting at the edge of the walkway for just such a purpose, and a ship released itself from the concierge bay and flew down to meet him and his companion. Rey knew with painful certainty that she only had a split second to do something before she lost them.
So she grabbed a tracker from her pocket and ran forward. "Sir!"
Schell turned with a snarl on his face. "What?"
"Allow me," Rey said, bowing deeply and motioning towards the vehicle. She affected a stumble when the door didn't open, and as she fell to her knees, stuck the tiny tracker on the speeder's underside.
Schell looked down at her with absolute contempt. "This is why the Republic wants discipline," he told his companion. "This idiot thinks my speeder would open to anyone aside from myself." He placed a hand on the door and it silently slid inward. "Go back to your position," he snapped at Rey. "And never speak to me again if you want your little restaurant to succeed."
Head bowed, heart pounding, Rey obeyed.
Twenty minutes later, she and Poe stood in the back room, looking at a holoscreen showing that Schell's vehicle had been still for almost fifteen minutes at a location very close to the restaurant. "It makes sense," Poe said. His mouth was set in a grim, flat line. Likely this wasn't the kind of intrigue he enjoyed; Rey wasn't exactly having fun either. "This is a fashionable district, the General said, and right now fashion means whatever the First Order likes."
"He doesn't suspect us, and he mentioned others," Rey said.
"Unfortunately, I'll instantly become a suspect if I leave." Poe scrubbed at his hair. "We have to wait."
The first spark of an idea occurred to Rey. "He humiliated me. Dock my wages, send out a release apologizing."
Poe understood immediately, of course. "You're not going over there alone."
"Finn's got to keep out of sight, and you're the most visible part of the restaurant. It has to be me, and you know it."
"What will Skywalker say?"
"That I'm ready." A total lie. Rey set her jaw. "I'm going. Don't try to stop me. This is a lead and we need to follow it."
Poe's assent came with a groan, but he let her take their lone rented speeder.
Schell really was close. If he hadn't been one city level below the restaurant, Rey could have walked there. As it was, she maneuvered as quietly as possible, parking the speeder one building over and hopping on safety exits until she reached the building the tracker identified.
Buildings on Core planets appeared at first glance to lack security. The truth was more sobering: every camera, motion sensor, life-sign reader, and other security feature was perfectly hidden and integrated into the buildings' architecture. It took work, even with the Resistance's fancy tech, to disable each piece, to dodge cameras and make her way into the guts of the building. She was so absorbed with the job that she almost didn't notice when the pathway she was creeping down disappeared into darkness below.
For a moment she thought she was going to plunge to her death. She caught a gasp in her throat and froze, locking every muscle. All she saw in front of her was empty space, with people standing around a table well over twenty feet below.
Her own awareness didn't overtake her absolute terror, but Luke's training did. She wound her mind back reflexively, feeling the movement of life around her - even in the terrifyingly empty air. And so she found that her feet were on the last inch of horribly narrow platform, her toes hanging off it. Whether it was intended as a trap or some kind of maintenance entrance was unclear; no one seemed interested in looking up.
Unfortunately, that meant she couldn't hear anything. As she stared down at the gathered people, however, she came to realize she wouldn't need to.
One of them wasn't any sort of species she recognized; he looked Human but for dark purple skin and several - appendages - which appeared to be both organic and technological in nature. The other four were two Togruta and two Human women, all of whom looked ordinary. Schell stood with one hand on a blaster, separate from the group.
Even the enhanced man wasn't the most interesting part of the tableau, though. That distinction went to the sickening power Rey could see moving in eddies around the group.
She'd been frustrated the first several times Luke had tried to describe the Force. Sometimes he made it sound like magic, and sometimes he made it sound like an enormous, impossible burden. If the dark side was the evil of easy fixes and emotional hatred, well, she'd seen very little of it outside terrifying nightmares.
This went beyond anything she'd seen so far.
Ren's use of the Force bled pain into his surroundings and touched every Force user anywhere near him. This was more compact than that, better concealed. Inside the maelstrom lived so much pain and hatred that Rey felt it, the same way she'd feel the heat of an enormous bonfire from several yards away.
They were all clearly very powerful, and fully in control. As they stood, Schell spoke.
"Why can't you control the general populace?"
The man with the extra arms said, "Bring me sixteen more Force users of this power, and we'll be able to. Until then, our focus is the so-called Senate."
"Bah." Schell spit on the floor. "I could shove you into a composter if I wanted, and no one would know better. How am I to know you're following my edicts?"
"We serve the Supreme Leader with all of our souls," one of the women in the circle said. "Your opinion is irrelevant. You do not know the depth and terror of our works."
Right, Rey thought. Schell wasn't a Force user. Why hadn't they sent one to watch over these people, then? Did they simply not have enough? Ren had been valuable as a descendant of Vader, Luke had told her. How had Snoke found these people?
Were there light side users on the Core, too?
She wanted answers so desperately that she slipped. One second, she was watching the group; the next, she found herself leaning forward, entranced by the light at the center of the circle, the sparking sickening darkness that promised answers, abundance, a clear and easy route to peace.
"I'll get my vote during the next Quorum, or you'll all lose your heads." Schell's voice acted like a dart to the neck. Rey blinked and looked away from the swirling power, screwing her eyes shut for a moment and breathing as deeply as she could while still staying silent. What was happening down there had to be impossible.
But it wasn't. "You'll get it," the woman said. "Now leave us to our work."
Schell turned to leave, and Rey, overly conscious of how close she'd come to disaster, left out her own exit. She took a winding route back to the restaurant, terrified of being tracked.
She finally got to tell Finn and Poe about her discovery late at night - so late, in fact, that it was nearly morning. They both wore identically grim looks by the end of it.
"So they're not doing what Ren was, on Jakku," Rey concluded. "It's got to be something different."
Poe shook his head. "It's not exactly the same, but it's similar. This is the final stage for it. Ren was trying something, but this...this could be much worse."
"How big is the Senate?" Finn said.
Poe looked at Rey. Rey looked back.
"You really don't know?" Poe said.
"Why would I?" Rey said. She ignored the little lance of hurt at the question. She knew plenty of things.
"Hundreds of people," Poe told Finn. "Not as big as it should be, or would be if the First Order's control was finally shattered. But it should be too big for a small group to control so thoroughly."
"I could go back," Rey said. "There was something about their power. It was different from Ren's - stronger."
"You shouldn't go back." Poe's voice was low, his hands clenched into fists. "This is dangerous beyond what the General thought, and we won't have support even on the same planet for another three days."
Like she didn't know that. Like she'd bow to danger just because Poe pointed out its existence. "I signed up for this," she reminded him. "I'm not going to hang back when we might get vital information. When's the next Quorum?"
"That's not the point," Poe said. "You're not even - how old are you?"
"Old enough," Rey shot back. "What's gotten into you?"
"You're taking too many risks!"
"I'm taking as many as I think I need to in order to fix this."
"Guys," Finn said. "Poe. Tell her."
For a moment, she thought Poe was going to refuse. He tensed even further, which of course made Rey tense herself. Finn was the only person who didn't seem to feel that he was in a standoff. He only looked between them, worry plain on his face.
Finally, Poe said, "When Schell left the building you tracked him to, he came back here. He wanted to book a standing table. He mocked you for being clumsy. He mocked you even more when I told him you were my second spouse."
Oh. Oh no. The bottom dropped out of Rey's stomach.
"He's having a party," Poe said. Bitterness rang in his voice. "His residence is six floors of opulence, staffed by Chandrilan natives. He's gloating, Rey. He thinks he's already won."
"And we're the agents of that," Finn said. "Traitors. Or the perfectly loyal, according to him."
"He's invited us," Rey said. "All three of us?"
Finn and Poe's gazes both slid away from her as they nodded.
"Right." A party held by evil people, of which she was meant to pretend to be one. What could be more exciting? "Of course. I didn't bring a nice dress, you know. I'm supposed to be a bodyguard."
"We'll order one. We have to get Finn a disguise anyway," Poe said. He glanced out the window at the pre-dawn, already chasing wisps of clouds past their balcony. "I'm going to hit the fresher and try and get some sleep. The party's tomorrow. We're to go and let the restaurant handle itself."
It could literally handle itself, Rey knew; their four-person staff was mostly there for ambiance. But the implication still chilled her. Schell was asserting his power not just over them, but also over anyone who might want to frequent the restaurant.
And, however reluctantly, Snoke's acolytes obeyed him. Lovely.
Rey surprised herself by falling into an exhausted sleep as soon as she climbed into their shared bed. It didn't last, though. She woke to agonized, closed-mouth noises, and thrashing that jostled her.
She opened her eyes to Poe's face. He was barely moving, reaching over her to the source of the noise: Finn.
She didn't make a conscious decision to move. It took only a moment to stop Poe reaching out until she could move to Finn's other side, gently crowding him into the middle of the bed. She half expected him to wake up during the machinations, which involved a lot of wiggling and shoving. But he didn't. Poe's arms went around Finn's waist, and Rey hugged his shoulders from behind. She pressed her lips into the back of his neck, trying to ignore how it felt when Poe leaned forward, his chest touching her fingers, his hair briefly brushing against her.
Finn's breathing slowed; his movement stopped. His arms, after long moments of stillness, reached out for Poe. Rey tried not to feel jealous, curled around his back as she was; he was leaning into her, too, putting his weight on her a bit.
The sun had nearly cleared their window by the time Finn fell back into a deep sleep. Rey disengaged slowly, bit by bit, worried every second that she'd give herself away. She accidentally met Poe's gaze as she leaned back, and felt it from her chest to between her legs all the way down to her toes: fear, comfort, and need, all mixed up and as potent as she'd ever felt them.
But he blinked and looked away, and so she could lie back and look at the ceiling, and ignore the way Finn continued to cling to Poe beside her.
Rey worked hard not thinking about what First Order party might be like. She did a great job not worrying about it at all - at least, not until they were standing in the reception hall of General Schell's home, high in the clouds of Chandrila, waiting to be greeted.
Everyone around them stank of wealth - sometimes literally; perfumes were apparently in vogue. There were more Humans than Rey was used to, and everyone looked at each other out of the corners of their eyes, as though constantly assessing threats. Rey did her best to look bland; she was just muscle for a popular new restaurant, not remarkable in any way.
Right before they were due to step up and greet Schell, Finn grabbed her hand. She couldn't quite stop the noise of surprise from escaping her. "I'm fine," she muttered.
"Who says I am?" he replied, also sotto voce.
"Guys," Poe said. Then the people in front of them stepped away, and it was their turn to kiss the ring.
Literally, Rey discovered, as they each bowed over Schell's hand.
"The three of you make a pretty picture," Schell said. He eyed them each with the same lazy kind of lecherous look. "An interesting team. I look forward to your company." He waved them on.
Rey tightened her grip on Finn's hand as a shiver went down her spine. She'd never thought it would be simple, she reminded herself. And Schell was far from the worst part of the First Order. Probably.
The party was being held in several connected rooms. The decor was largely holographic, which Rey had learned was the style of the Core planets. Poe moved around the room with ease, glad-handing with various First Order members. Rey stuck with Finn; she had no idea what she'd say if a First Order operative managed to get her alone.
"He's almost too good at this," Finn said at one point, as they stood at the edge of a room.
Rey looked down at the drink she'd been holding for the better part of an hour. "It's his job. Or part of it, anyway."
"Do you think he enjoys it?"
She looked at him then, and saw what should have been obvious all along: he was jealous. "I think he likes being good at things." Then her mouth got ahead of her brain. "Are you in love with him?"
"It's fine if you are." She smiled, hoping it was convincing. "He's nice. And you know - you could do worse. He's a pilot."
"So he'll always be able to put food on my plate?" Finn shook his head. "I'm not even...that's not how it is."
"I don't want to talk about it."
She studied his profile. She shouldn't have pressed - wouldn't have, if it was almost anyone else. With Finn she wanted to kiss the side of his jaw, that tense muscle that betrayed his discomfort, and apologize for her curiosity. Her neutral curiosity, which didn't really need to be satisfied, of course.
It wasn't like she cared one way or another. Or could do anything about it.
She couldn't really say any of that to Finn while at this party, though, so instead she looped her hand around his elbow and sipped her drink. After a few minutes, he began to relax.
It wasn't a particularly relaxing night, but it didn't erupt in chaos, either. They got home safe and threw themselves back into their undercover work the next day.
Leia contacted them on their first off day. They'd landed well away from the capital, of course, and were lying as low as a ship full of the most-wanted Resistance leaders could. When Rey explained what she'd seen, Leia's expression grew grave.
"Luke will want a description of what you saw," she said. "Can you send one to us? We have an encrypted channel you can use."
"If you're sure it's safe." Rey still felt terror down to her bones, thinking about that small group of people.
"It's as safe as it can be, and this is desperately needed information. No Force user, even a very powerful one, should have that kind of control. The fact that Snoke's acolytes do is something we need to deal with sooner rather than later."
"I'll explain, then." And hopefully Luke wouldn't do anything stupid with the information. Rey wasn't up to trekking out to another island planet.
The end result of it all was that Leia wanted them to stay put and continue observing. She seemed to think the fact that Rey had gotten a lead so early meant that she was likely to find out more the longer they stayed. It struck Rey as an optimistic kind of assumption, but then, maybe leading two rebellions in 30 years required that kind of optimism.
After the call, she accepted the plate of food Poe handed her. It had come out of the generator downstairs, and had characteristically perfectly-cooked meat and rice. She tried to tell herself that perfectly cooked food was a perk of being off Jakku as she began to eat it.
Poe didn't notice anything wrong, but Finn said, "It's too perfect, right? Like you shouldn't be eating it."
Now would be a time to open up. Yet somehow Rey found herself saying, "It's fine. I like it."
"Stormtroopers are mostly fed gruel." Finn's crooked smile invited her to smile back. "The first time I got a full meal with the Resistance, I thought someone was messing with me."
"I had bread on Jakku. Not much else." Rey snorted. "Plutt tried to bribe me with portions for BB-8 and I almost gave in. Can you imagine? I'd probably be more comfortable than I am when Schell looks at me on the way in."
"Fewer people to answer to." Finn took a bite of his vegetables. "Well, for you, anyway."
Rey smiled at him. It felt, for a moment, like a current ran between them, warm and safe.
Poe abruptly stood. "I'm going out," he said, dumping his mostly-full plate in the sink and grabbing his jacket.
"Now?" Finn said. "Is everything okay?"
"Sure, buddy." His tone was so convincing, considering that his smile looked like the edge of a knife, and considering that his shoulders bore more tension than Rey had ever seen. "Why wouldn't it be?"
"Have a good time, then," Finn said, but everything - his tone, the set of his mouth, his gaze - betrayed that he didn't believe Poe.
Still, Poe left. And then Rey was alone with Finn, to whom she'd just been more honest than she was to almost anyone, ever.
Finn went back to eating, letting the silence swallow them both. Rey set herself to the task of clearing her plate as well. It wasn't until she settled on the couch with her datapad that Finn said, "Did you know he's famous?"
"I don't know much about him," Rey said. "I assumed he preferred it that way."
"He's been surprised by you," Finn said. "When we - ah, the night of the Resistance party. He couldn't stop talking about you."
When they'd walked in on her. Right. "Not after, I hope."
"No," Finn said. But for some reason, that was what finally made him embarrassed. He wrinkled his nose and looked away from her.
Instinct told her to leave it alone. But instinct also told her to dive right in. Instinct was a devil of a thing, and Rey was getting used to flinging herself into the unknown. "What do you think of him?"
"Great pilot. Good friend."
The answer came too quickly for it to be anything but rehearsed. "Do you like him?"
"Like I said, he's a good friend." Finn stood, fumbling with his plate. "Maybe I should go out, too."
"And leave me all alone?"
"You can read all about Poe Dameron on the 'net, if you want. Callsign Black Leader. I don't know why you're so curious. Like I said, he's famous."
"I'm not curious about that." Caution, Rey thought, then shoved it aside. "I'm curious about you."
"I'm not interesting," Finn said. Before Rey could object to that, he, too, had fled the apartment.
Alone. Well, it was her own fault, so there was no sense being upset about it. And they'd both come back, of course. They had to. Not for her, but for the mission.
They'd both come back, she told herself again. But she only halfheartedly believed it. She had dozens of things she could do, including training, but instead she wound up hovering on the couch, torn between decisions, with a low hum of anxiety making its home in the pit of her stomach. It wasn't like the fear she felt when doing something as clearly dangerous as trailing an acolyte of Snoke. This felt much closer to how she'd felt on Jakku: an unformed desperation that she wasn't quite convinced she'd survive.
It was awful. The minutes ticked by without anyone coming back.
She'd never know, later, if she hadn't heard the door slide open, or if it hadn't opened at all. Regardless, she turned when she felt another presence in the room, and jumped off the couch when she saw Maz standing a few feet behind her, watching her with enormous and unblinking eyes.
She ought to have said something, but found herself very incapable of doing so. Instead she just gaped until Maz said, "Pining, I see."
"I am not!"
"Lie to a different old woman. I'm not going to soothe your feelings by pretending it works on me." Maz put a hand on the couch and vaulted over it, landing neatly on the cushions. "Sit down, girl."
Absolutely at a loss for anything else to do, Rey sat. When Maz did nothing else aside from staring at her, she said, "How did you get to Chandrila?"
"The galaxy's latest bully-boys might be able to blow up my bar, but they'll have a great deal more trouble keeping me from traveling."
It wasn't a real answer at all. Rey couldn't help but smile a bit. "And you're here to help us?"
"I'm also not planning on joining a rebellion." Maz touched her glasses as she focused on Rey. "You, on the other hand, appear to have recognized your fate."
The fact that she was right didn't mean Rey felt less indignant about it. "How is it fate for me, but you're not required to get involved?"
"Who said anything about required? Live to my age and you'll learn to bargain with fate, too."
"Something tells me I'm unlikely to live to your age."
"Not with that attitude, you won't." Maz broke her gaze then, finally, looking around the apartment instead. "This whole planet is heavy with the dark side."
"Snoke's got people influencing things." Rey swallowed back her own desperation. "The Senate will vote the First Order into power, if they haven't already, all because Snoke wants them to."
Maz hummed. "And Ren was controlling people on Jakku."
"You heard about that?"
"Half the galaxy heard about that. The less respectable half. Of course, it was just a stunt."
"A stunt? No. I saw him." It still terrified her even to think of it. "He had control of so many people, and he was killing stormtroopers to do it."
"The control was real enough. It was just also limited. No part of the Force, dark side or light, can be used to control people forever. Influence, sure. That's what your Snoke is doing. But the First Order has plenty of clear-headed people, too. They're just bastards, that's all." Maz patted Rey's knee. "And now I've delivered my message, and I'll be going on vacation for awhile. All this light-versus-dark stuff is unhealthy. That's why I stay out of it."
"What? But -" Rey turned to watch Maz as she walked towards the door. "You're right here! That's not staying out of it at all."
"I was doing a favor for an old friend." Maz stopped and turned back to look at her. "But trust me, you won't see me wearing a robe and waving a saber around any time soon. Be careful, child. You can't fix anything if you die too soon."
And with that, she was gone. Rey sat back against the couch, utterly flabbergasted. If she could have bargained with fate just then, she'd have done something - anything - to simplify her life.
So Ren's control wasn't absolute. That was good. But he'd still hurt people, and likely could continue to do so. And Snoke still had people influencing Senate votes, to disastrous effect.
It wasn't Rey's job to formulate a strategy. She could leave that to Leia, to the Resistance's admirals and generals and important people. She could leave it to Luke, even. But her head buzzed with possibility all the same. Maz might hate the First Order, but she clearly thought they could be beaten. The possibility seemed impossibly distant to Rey, but maybe - just maybe - a little less impossibly distant now than it had before.
She eagerly waited on Finn and Poe to return so she could tell them about the visit. But the afternoon turned into evening, and still they didn't come. She fought off exhaustion as best as she could, telling herself that they had to come back eventually. They were, after all, just as responsible for the restaurant ruse as Rey herself. They'd be back, and then she could tell them, and they'd formulate a plan. They could defeat the First Order and live in peace. It was perfectly possible, eminently achievable. They were, after all, her friends.
But no matter how much she told herself she had faith in them, no matter how many ways she reformulated her thinking, they didn't return. Eventually she lost the fight with herself and fell asleep, right on the wide, soft couch.
She woke when she felt herself being moved. For a moment panic clawed at her throat, and she held herself still, her eyes still shut. The person moving her - the person holding her - said in an undertone, "Shh, it's okay, Rey."
It was Finn. Rey's sleepy brain made the connection, and she relaxed again. When he settled her into the bed, his hands lingered on her back for just a second - long enough for her to reach out and grab him, pulling him down to the bed with her. He laughed a little, the barest exhalation, and settled in next to her.
The bed was warm and safe. So was Finn. Rey found it easy to fall asleep.
She woke with awareness of someone staring, like the first strike of a staff to her chest. She opened her eyes, tensing from head to toe, only to see Poe standing over herself and Finn, a muddled frown on his face.
But the expression disappeared even as she sleepily blinked at him. He nodded to her and left the room.
For a moment more, she lay in Finn's arms. She was so tired, head to toe. She'd long since learned to ignore her body's signals of hunger and exhaustion; if she didn't get out of bed because she was tired and hungry, then she'd only become more hungry, and eventually die from it. But now...
It wasn't the end of the road for her. She had so much more to learn, and had been drafted into a fight that she cared about and desperately wanted to win. This apartment, though, with its gauzy curtains, smooth-running holovid, and warm soft beds, tricked her. It made her think she was safe.
She wanted to hold onto that feeling with an intensity that frightened her - and that, in turn, pushed her out of bed.
Poe was in the kitchen, presiding over a stew of shredded meat and vegetables that filled the air with its scent. "I came back after Finn," he said. "You two seemed private. I took the couch."
"We're not," Rey said. When he looked at her, she clarified, "Private. We're not private."
Poe didn't answer, only turned back to his stew and spooned some out for himself. When he was done, he waved to the pot. "Help yourself."
Rey wanted to refuse, if only to disentangle herself from the strange, tense dynamic the three of them kept developing. But her stomach growling betrayed her, and so she obediently stood and got her own.
And it was good, too. So good that she closed her eyes as she ate, savoring the flavors. She had no guarantee that she'd never starve again, but for a moment the edge of worry dulled, and she let herself enjoy her food.
Poe watched her the whole time. She did her best to project indifference. When she reached the bottom of the bowl, though, she tilted it to drink the juices, and found herself stopped with a hand on her wrist.
"It's better like this," he said, and handed her bread.
It didn't look or smell like the self-coagulating loaves on Jakku. This bread smelled fresh and was soft to the touch. She copied Poe's movements, mopping up the peppery liquid until the bowl was clean.
He offered her a smile after. "Good?"
"The best," she said. "How...?
"Cooking was part of growing up for me." Poe shrugged. "Not having rations was one of our biggest luxuries, and my father knew I'd have a family to cook for someday."
Family. Rey's throat squeezed. She stood and turned her back on Poe, dropping her bowl in the washer. "I'm going to use the 'fresher. Can you wake Finn up?"
"Sure," Poe said. And just like that, the moment - whatever it had or could have been - was broken.
Rey felt the creeping sense of foreboding for hours after that, even as she put on her I-Love-the-First-Order clothes and went to stand sentry at the restaurant. The feeling was so strong that she thought about calling Luke, but reasoned herself out of it, on the grounds that he'd probably look at her with that vaguely spooked ironic expression and tell her to stop having tense moments with her fellow undercover Resistance fighters. Or, more likely, he'd make her meditate.
The feeling wasn't about anything that was going to happen, she told herself, right until she saw the four people in heavy black robes approaching the restaurant.
She looked completely different. They had no way of marking her. She looked away and stood stiffly, one hand tilted towards her blaster, the epitome of an efficient door guard.
A whisper snaked through her mind, and acting on instinct, she blocked it, lashing out and pushing the intrusion away.
"It's her," one of the acolytes said. "Go!"
Chewie roared a challenge as Rey dove into the restaurant. "We've been marked," she told a shocked Poe. "We have to leave!"
For all that panic seemed to own her limbs, Poe only became more carefully and deliberately calm. "I'll get Finn," he said. "They'll be looking for you. Run."
Like all the Core planets, Chandrila had grown vertically. Rey could disappear into the lower levels and be nearly impossible to find. But then she'd be alone. "No. Grab him. I'll wait in the back."
They both took off at a run. She had the speeder ready to go when Finn and Poe ran out of the building. They leaped in, and Rey sped off, just as shouts and a blast of lightning announced the acolytes' presence.
"Can you stop them?" Finn said as she aimed for the lower levels and shoved the accelerator.
"Not that many! Not now!"
But she could avoid them. They went down one level, then two, then five, and the lights and top-of-the-line speeders became scarcer and scarcer. She pushed them through a tunnel, then down another level, and her awareness of the acolytes faded into nothingness.
They weren't quite on the ground yet, but they were close. She pulled them into an alley and hopped out of the speeder. "However we get out of here, it can't be on that."
"Are you okay?" Poe said as he followed Finn out of the vehicle.
"I'm fine," Rey said. "We're a bit short on information, though. We failed."
"The restaurant's video goes straight to the Resistance," Poe said. "We didn't fail. Trust me."
But it wasn't enough. Rey wanted to dig into that, to argue with him. Unfortunately, time wasn't on their side. "We need to get out of the city and back to the Resistance," she said. "Backup won't be able to get to us down here."
They all had tech on them: datapads, beacons, weapons. But if they turned the distress beacons on, they'd be gambling that the First Order wouldn't find them first.
"How many informants are likely to be down here?" Finn said, scanning the area.
"Best not to make any bets," Poe said. "Most people will be informants if you starve them and then offer them coin for information."
And they were in the levels of the starving. Rey's chest twisted.
"Follow me," she said. "I can get any speeder working. We just have to find one."
It was easier said and done. This level of the city bustled with people, but nearly all of them moved on foot, keeping to the shadows. Those who had vehicles had lightweight speeders that likely wouldn't stay powered even to get out of the city.
But at least they hadn't been caught by the First Order. Rey took a deep breath as they walked past yet another broken-down storefront, its sign painted on archaic wood. As long as they could avoid the First Order, they had a chance.
She was still new to it. She looked around, breath catching, before realizing Luke's voice hadn't come from outside her head.
She couldn't answer, of course; if only anything having to do with the Force was that easy. But she could keep listening, and Luke's voice was so clear, far and beyond how Ren's had been.
Stay where you are. I can sense you. We're coming.
"Stop," she said aloud, and followed her own directions. "They're coming for us." She let out a slow breath. "We just have to stay here."
"I'm ready for the cavalry, personally," Poe said. "Let's try to look normal."
Easier said than done, of course. Finn put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the nearest wall - then jerked away from it, slime clinging to his clothes, and pulled off his chef's hat. Poe stared into the distance, looking more like a philosopher than a resident of the street they were on. Rey, for her part, kept one hand on her blaster and attempted to look unconcerned. Judging by the way everyone who would have passed them swerved to avoid them or took an air bridge to the other side of the walkway, she suspected they all failed.
She sensed Luke soon enough, a prickle on the back of her neck that, within moments, became the odd full mental awareness that she'd learned to associate with nearness of other people using the Force.
Later, she'd realize that she'd dropped all diligence at an important time. She'd pinpoint the moment when her panic became muzzy, when her alertness all fell away. But in the moment, she felt certain she was fully alert and aware, right up to the moment when the First Order's ships pulled in front of them and the acolytes stepped out.
"No," Finn said behind them. But he didn't move; none of them moved. The Force eddied around them unmistakably. Rey couldn't so much as twitch a muscle.
"You led us on an impressive chase," the lead acolyte said. They inclined their head to Rey. "But you forgot that we can track those strong in the Force. Almost anyone can, if the strong don't take care. And you, my child, have not taken care."
Terror overwhelmed her. It filled her ears and sneaked down her throat like toxic waste. And she felt herself reaching out, wanting power, help, anything that might get them out of this. She could access the Force and use it to strike, to hurt, to kill -
No. Luke had warned her about this. There had to be another way. She struggled to breathe and to keep her eyes open. The pressure on her body relaxed infinitesimally, allowing her to reply.
The acolytes weren't expecting a bargain, but that was exactly what she'd give each and every one of them. "I'm tired of fighting," she said. It was true, partially, just enough to give true weight to her words. "Will I be safe if I go with you?"
She ignored Finn and Poe's choked-off noises, and held the acolyte's gaze as they smiled. "We will teach you more than you dreamed possible. More than any Jedi could know."
"More than the old Emperor?" Rey glared. "We heard about him, you know. Even on Jakku. Messy way to die."
"I'm not dead," they said. "Nor are my siblings. Come with us, and we'll show you how to control the Force as an extension of yourself."
It was possibly - probably - monumentally stupid. But it was the only way for the three of them to make it out alive, at least for the time being. "Spare the other two. They'll be picked up soon. They've been kind to me, and they're of no use to you."
The acolyte didn't even look away from Rey. "They will have one more chance to escape." The acolyte held out their hand. "Now. Come with us."
She might never see them again. If she did see them again, she might not be herself anymore, in mind or in body. And if she looked back right now, the acolytes would all know her for a liar, and kill Finn and Poe anyway.
She kept her shoulders straight. She held her head high. And she took the acolyte's hand, following them onto the First Order ship, without so much as glancing back.