Chapter 1: One
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.
Chapter 2: Two
The ship put Resistance ships into context. The Resistance showily eschewed strict military ranks and polished decor. They wanted to be, and be seen as, creative and free, in contrast to the buttoned-down and harshly regulated First Order. Rey had already more or less known that, but seeing it illustrated from the First Order's point of view made it more real.
She wasn't restrained in any way. The acolytes made a show of not doing so. She didn't even have to buckle herself in; the ship, one of the acolytes explained, had top-of-the-line gravity stabilizers, and a two-shell construction. When they spun in space, they'd stay oriented with the floor beneath them inside.
She felt the twinge then, a pull of want. Of course part of it appealed to her. Here was a promise of danger, which she'd grown up with her entire life, and which didn't particularly disturb her. But here also was a promise of safety. Not the Resistance's safety, which lived in struggle and long, painstakingly democratic talks. This was the safety of power, of rule. This was the safety of staying within your role, or being killed.
The power whispered to her that her role would be great, indeed. Safety and bounty, control and domain. Her palms fairly itched with it. And, gallingly, she couldn't push the whisper away, even as the acolytes' knowing smirks indicated that her response was predictable.
But she was still not weak. She said, "Are we going, or not?"
"Where do you think we're going?" the one who'd brought her on board said.
"Some enormous station." Rey shrugged. "Why should I know?"
"You know nothing of us? After months in the Resistance's pocket? I doubt that."
"I spent months training." Maybe they didn't need to know that. Rey bit the inside of her cheek. "I'm from Jakku. What do I know of the First Order?"
"Enough to oppose us, apparently."
"That's just common sense," Rey shot back.
"Hmm," the acolyte said. "Common sense for a Jakku nobody, around whom the Force settles like planets rotate the sun."
The analogy struck Rey as more than slightly blasphemous, but she held her tongue. If she had one job in all this, it was to stay alive long enough to figure out a way to escape.
Stay alive, and stay herself. The latter might prove more challenging.
The journey to the First Order's base was short. The Core Planets crowded together, compared to the Western Reaches. As they docked, Rey watched ships drift past. This kind of space wasn't what she'd seen or heard about. This kind of space was populated and wealthy. Did the people in those ships love the First Order, or merely tolerate them?
Well. It hardly mattered. The First Order had destroyed an entire system. Everyone they permitted in their airspace now had to swear obedience.
She half expected to encounter Ren as the acolytes led her onto the base ship, but no other Force users were anywhere to be found. One of the acolytes led her to her room - or holding cell, more properly. They shut her in it, and she found that she couldn't open the door on her own.
She sat down on the bed. It was nicely appointed. There was a chest of drawers to store belongings she didn't own, and a datapad, and two holoscreens, and a 'fresher. Her own 'fresher. What luxury.
The lights shone down, bright and unabating. Alone and isolated, she let herself feel a fraction of the panic she'd frantically kept at bay.
Her heart pounded in her ribs, and she took the deepest breaths she dared. Poe and Finn would have escaped by now, and found the Resistance. They'd be explaining the situation to them. Maybe, Rey thought, Poe would fly with a squadron to destroy this very base. She'd die - that wasn't great - but the acolytes would die, too. Snoke's hold on the Senate would weaken.
And the fighting would continue, for years and years. The weight of it pressed into her, turning the solitude into agony. After awhile, she curled up in a ball on the bed, screwing her eyes shut and trying to think of anything other than how utterly hopeless she felt.
She was left alone entirely until the next day, when a droid led her to a small room occupied only by a single acolyte.
"It hurts, doesn't it?" the acolyte said.
This one was human, and held out a hand after speaking. "Liren."
Rey wanted to spit at her. Instead she shook the proffered hand, a strange motion that sent prickles along her skin. "I don't know what you mean," she said, aware it was a transparent lie.
Liren's lips, blood-red and sharp-edged, curled. "Of course not. But it hurts all of us. When you are so close to the Force, the discord tears at you."
"I thought that's what the dark side lived for." Stupidly spoken. She schooled her expression as Liren laughed.
"We want order just as much as you," she said. "Why else would we do this? But we can't control everyone." Spoken with sadness. "We can nudge here and there, and perhaps hold a few people for a time...but humanity breaks free in the end. That's why there needs to be more of us. Why we have you." She patted Rey's hand.
"I'll help you control more people?" The idea felt repellent. But of course, it might have to this woman as well, in the early days.
"You'll help us bring order and peace to the galaxy."
Order. Peace. Right, Rey thought. Violence and slavery - people like Finn, brainwashed and hidden under masks. The darkness stirred in her, reminding her that she could kill these people and escape, exert her will on what she thought was right.
She smiled politely and ignored it. "I'd like some peace."
Liren didn't believe her, but she didn't strike Rey, either. She leaned away and watched Rey with half-closed eyes.
Rey, for lack of anything better to do, surveyed the room. It had the same oddly shaped panels as the other parts of the base. The panels could be hiding anything; no other furniture or implements existed to indicate what the purpose of the room was.
It occurred to her, somewhat belatedly, that they might have plans to torture her. She shivered.
"Cold?" Liren said.
"No." Yes. Rey cleared her throat. "Does the base grow things?"
"Or...things." Rey knew plenty about how to grow or create food for a long journey, but she didn't know if her knowledge was out of date, or what it might reveal about her. She didn't, she thought with a surge of frustration, know enough - even when she'd learned so much while waiting on Jakku.
"Oh, of course," Liren said, with so much understanding that for a moment Rey was afraid her mind had been read again. "You grew up on Jakku. I imagine a ship of this size would fascinate you."
She said it like she thought Rey was a child. "I've been places since then."
"With the Resistance. Hardly the cutting edge." The smile, this time, was markedly cruel. "I've lived longer than you - much longer, child, and seen much more. But some things can still surprise me." A finger pointed in Rey's direction, with a long, dark nail at the tip. "Like you."
"Nothing about me is surprising."
"No? Lord Vader thought he'd found all the Force sensitives of his time - and we've continued the search after his death. Hiding on a backwater planet isn't as effective as you might think. But no one sensed you. Not so much as a blip."
"The Western Reaches are remote."
"Not so remote. Not for a descendant of the Skywalkers - and we had one, you know."
She spoke without thinking. "Had?"
Liren's composure didn't change, but she pressed her lips together, just slightly. "The Supreme Leader feels he's best used elsewhere."
That could mean a thousand things. Rey did her best not to think about what Leia must be feeling. "Is this an interrogation, then?"
"Do you think we'd do that to you?"
"Ren is young." Older than Rey. She looked in Liren's eyes, then, impulsively seeking truth, trying to discover where this woman had come from, and why she now believed in Snoke. But of course, she found nothing. "Come with me," Liren said, and stood.
Rey felt the compulsion. It was so subtle that even as she considered it, her mind tried to skitter away from the truth. A nudge here, a push there. She couldn't possibly catch all of them. She followed Liren out, knowing that her decision to do so wasn't completely hers.
She had to escape. She had to. She'd lose herself here, she knew, and become one of them, murderers and thieves even as they claimed to be part of a supreme and just law.
Liren brought her to a vast network of terraced gardens. They stood at one edge of the enormous ship; to get to the gardens, they'd had to take two separate intra-ship transport pods. The terraces, made of some sort of translucent polymer, held up twining vines, explosive flowers, heavy fruits, and a dozen plants Rey had no reference or name for. They walked through the gardens and came to an enormous observation deck, three times as big as the entire Millennium Falcon. At the end of it was a perfectly clear, curving view of space.
"Doesn't it look tiny?" Liren waved at Chandrila. "And yet, it's infinitely complex - as everything to do with the Force is."
"But it's not just to do with the Force. It's people."
"And the Force runs through them, and in us," Liren said. "Turn around."
Rey obeyed. Together, they gazed at the plants. Rey allowed herself to relax just enough to see the Force in them.
"We've tamed them," Liren said. "These plants represent the ecosystems of dozens of planets. Half of them would kill the other half, if given the chance. Some of them are poisonous, some of them refuse to produce even the smallest edible fruit or leaf. But here they are, next to one another. The First Order has groomed thousands of them to work together - and to provide this base with oxygen, and with food."
It didn't mean anything, Rey told herself. But of course she couldn't believe that. This grotesque beauty was of the same sort that had led the First Order to destroy five planets in one terrible blow.
"I'd like to -" Rey's throat closed up. What could she ask for here that wouldn't get her killed? "I'd like to be trained," she forced herself to say.
"What do you imagine our training will be like?"
Liren spoke absently, but the image flashed in Rey's mind anyway: Finn, shaking and terrified after being captured by Ren.
Liren laughed. "It won't be like that," she said. "Don't be silly, child."
"I'm not -"
"He's valuable to you. Oh, don't lie to me. We know who your associates are. But to us, he's nothing. One of millions. You'll come to understand that."
She couldn't act on her horror. And that wasn't even itself inhumane; hadn't Luke told her she needed to learn restraint, even in the face of terrible things? But Luke was down on Chandrila and she was stuck up here, fighting against the ebbing current of darkness that she felt even here, among life.
"Teach me," she said again. "I didn't come up here for horticulture."
"Impatience can kill, you know," Liren said.
But she said it like a teacher might praise a young pupil. She smiled, and looked at Rey with new consideration. Rey gritted her teeth. "Almost anything can kill," she managed to say. "So teach me."
Liren gestured a hand. It was a lazy movement, her fingers just barely curled, and Rey didn't expect the result: her own body flying across the room and landing, hard, against the observation wall, falling face-first to the floor. She was used to pain, but it still took her a long moment to get her arms under her and push herself upright.
Liren stood over her, looking unimpressed. "Where's your anger?"
Liren sighed. "This is the problem with a tragic childhood. All that anger, all that pain - but you're used to it, too." She kicked Rey with a sharp-toed boot. Rey cried out in spite of herself.
"Feel it," Liren said. "Stop me. Or it will surely become worse."
For a too-long and bleak moment, she welcomed it. Let it get worse, she thought. Let her die. There was no one who could help her.
No. She lashed out with everything in her, instinctively - and Liren reeled back.
It wasn't a throw. It wasn't even really a proper blow. But it was a beginning. Rey leaped to her feet and backed away from Liren, circling around so that she had space. Her hands itched for her old staff, but of course she had nothing. Only her hands, her feet, and...
The Force. It roused within her. She felt the palms of her hand grow hot, and rushed Liren with all the fury inside her.
Liren laughed, parried, and said, "Can you feel it? That's not the light side, child. That's not the Force that those weak would-be Jedi want you to feel."
Rey didn't care. She rushed Liren again, and again, until it was Liren who had her back to the observation wall, Liren who couldn't move against Rey's power.
She stood in front of her, gasping for breath. She had Liren's arms pinned to the wall, her legs held immobile with ankles pressed together. Rey burned with the desire to kill her, to crack the base ship like a nut and let everything in it burn.
Liren said, "Good. Hold onto the feeling. Control it. This is your first lesson."
But Rey found that she was tired of lessons. She reached out with her hand - only her hand, open-palmed and stiff-fingered - and slapped Liren. Her head flew back, cracking on the wall. Rey pulled her power back from Liren's limbs, and Liren fell, unconscious, to the floor.
Rey had learned when to make an exit. She left, booted feet silent on the floor, heart pounding in horrified panic.
She made it to her room without being waylaid, and so concluded that Liren had gotten what she'd wanted out of her. At least, then, she wouldn't be imprisoned for -
Using the Force to hurt. For using the dark side. For very nearly murdering someone, and being stopped only by qualms she wasn't sure she'd have again.
She was a monster. She sat down on her bed and put her head in her hands.
Eventually, she'd undoubtedly have thrown the pain off. She'd never had the luxury to wallow in sadness before, and habit would have reasserted itself. Before that could happen, though, a soldier of the First Order - not a stormtrooper, but an officer she didn't recognize - opened her door.
"You'll come with me now," he said.
Anger crept into her again. "And what if I don't?"
"You'll come with me now," he said again, and despite the fact that he was no more Force sensitive than a normal person - despite the fact that she could have killed him, the same way she nearly killed Liren - she felt compulsion wash over her.
"I'll come with you now," she said, and stood.
He led her down a hallway, down stairs, then down another hallway, farther than she'd gone with Liren yet all on foot. He didn't offer her any explanation, or in fact any conversation at all. Panic welled in the corners of her mind, but her heartbeat stayed steady, and her mind skittered away from any possibility that it might be wise to try to run.
The base was spherical, like their planet-killing planet, like the Death Stars had been. They went to the center, trading wide steps full of people for narrow steps, still meticulously clean, but clearly rarely traveled. He led her to a large, pitch black room, and she stood completely still as he left.
Darkness. No stars, no distant pinprick of ship's light. Only Rey, and her breathing, and that artificial calm that squeezed her heart into beating slowly.
Then a voice came, barely more than a hiss on nonexistent wind. "Are you afraid?"
The Force, Luke had told her, had its limits. But it felt limitless right now. Rey found herself compelled to admit, "Yes. I am afraid."
"What do you wish?"
"Freedom," Rey said.
She couldn't answer. What did she know of democracy? The General was passionate about it; Finn spoke about it as a loose agreement, practiced only when alone and when the collective decisions didn't really matter, among his former platoon members. But she herself was ignorant. Democracy required more than one person, and she'd been alone nearly all her life.
"Power," the voice said.
She didn't want to admit it. She'd felt the fear of the Force's power, not just in Luke but in everyone around her. It was a fact of life, but many of the people she'd met would have preferred if it wasn't.
Not her, though. "Yes," she said, feeling it dragged out of her throat.
Wind whistled then - real wind, impossible, yet carrying with it the rank stink of carrion. "I can give you power."
Her mind was still caught by the compulsion, softened and stifled as though it had been packed in cotton. But even so, she remembered the dream. Rather than answering directly, she said, "Snoke."
"Power beyond what you can imagine. The power to die. The power to live. Power to never be alone again."
She ought to say no. That awareness was all she had left, really; she didn't know why, not just then. But she knew she should say no. She tried to, and of course and her throat closed up.
"Maybe," she managed to say, "later. Maybe later. I have things to do right now." Open space, she thought - or tried to think. Her thoughts fled from it.
The wind roared. It was unhappy, Rey distantly noted. But a blaster or lightsaber wouldn't have helped just then. You couldn't shoot at the wind. "Begone," the voice said.
It wasn't pleased, and it expressed its displeasure by releasing her from the compulsion as suddenly as it had overcome her. Fear, held unnaturally at bay, came rushing back to her. And so she ran.
Up stairs, down hallways - this base was a labyrinth, and all she really knew was that she needed to get out. By the time she located her room again, through the help of a droid and her own panic, she understood that she'd only escaped because Snoke had allowed her to.
Maybe that was the point of it all, she thought. She stood in the center of her room, the unnaturally bright lights shining on her, her sweat seeping into her clothes. Snoke meant to terrorize her, after all. What could be scarier than knowing she only survived on his goodwill? Liren was bad enough; she wanted Snoke's attention even less.
And then there was the loneliness. She could feel her spirit weakening. Even after she managed to fall asleep, moving restlessly under the still-shining lights, she felt the despair in her dreams.
Until, swimming in darkness and half-aware, she sensed a strange warmth.
She'd spent so much time around Finn that it was easy to identify him. He exuded determined comfort and strength in the Force, not like Rey's shaky-but-too-powerful grasp. He'd found her, she realized with some surprise. In this kind of sleep she had no sight or hearing, but she still felt him reach out to her, warming her and pulling her in.
Safety. Only for a moment, and only in a dream. But she felt it and let it envelop her, even as it faded away.
Eventually the dream faded, only to be replaced by a fancy, the kind of dream a person had when they were desperate. In the dream, Luke appeared, looking like he had on the island: somewhat poorly groomed and deeply sad. She couldn't speak - she was, in fact, not entirely sure her dream-self even had a face. But she knew he felt her pain and her fright as he said, "Rey. Hold on."
She couldn't. Of that she was quite sure. If Snoke wanted to test her until she broke, then she would break. In the dream she thought about it for a moment: the same screaming pain she'd felt before, even more despair, and a total inability to push back.
"No," Luke said. Shadows passed over his face. "You can't give in to the darkness."
It wasn't exactly like she was doing it for fun. For a moment, Rey felt a very distinct kind of pique: he didn't know what she could and couldn't do!
"Better," Luke said. "We're coming for you. Try to stay safe."
Now she knew it was just a dream. No one had ever come for her. She let go, falling deeper into sleep, Luke's face fading into darkness.
Waking brought both pain and sympathy.
She still felt bruised from her interactions with Snoke. She had no idea where the First Order kept their cafeteria, and had no real desire to find out, so she ordered food with her datapad and ate the somewhat tasteless glop the ship produced. Absent stimulation, the room struck her as deliberately terrifying. How long, she wondered, could she be left alone, before she lost her mind entirely? Even Jakku hadn't prepared her for this.
She'd begun some pathetic attempts at exercise, push-ups and jumping jacks, when Liren entered the room. She evinced no surprise to see Rey sweaty-faced and upset, saying only, "It seems the insurrectionists have spoiled you."
"A lack of discipline creates impatience. A rebellious spirit, nurtured, becomes a poisonous one." She angled a brow at Rey. "Do you not agree?"
Rey couldn't make herself cooperate. "I'm your prisoner, not your student. You know I don't agree."
"So he hasn't finished with you. Naturally." Liren looked her up and down with an air of lazy disdain. "Well, I can keep training you. Come with me."
Rey, all too aware of her lack of real choices, followed.
She regretted her not-really-a-choice as soon as Liren brought her into the training room, because waiting in the training room were the other acolytes, radiating malice so strongly that she recoiled into Liren's waiting hands. Liren's nails sank into her arms and she said, "It will hurt more if you try to run."
They called it training. In reality, it was torture.
The Force had already tempted her and repudiated her. Luke had worked to shape her training so that both were guaranteed to happen. Even with Luke's guidance, though, she'd never come anything close to this.
Five acolytes surrounded her. They used her own will against her, perverting her mind until she saw beasts from her nightmares, violence, death, and starvation. She couldn't move even to run, but she could scream, and she did so until her throat was ragged. They drove what little joy she'd kept out of her mind with ease, and replaced it with pure despair. And then they left her alone in absolute darkness, sobbing.
Before she became aware of her body again, before she registered her bleeding lip and aching hands, she felt the whisper of temptation.
This, then, was their trap.
It reeked of Snoke. She'd been sought out by her destiny, the Force, whatever it was, more than once: it might be evil, parts of it, but it never had this much personality. And it made sense. Beat her, hurt her, and the Dark side would become more tempting. It was tempting even now, as she fought to breathe on her hands and knees, blood dripping down from where she'd clawed at her own arms.
It was more than tempting. She couldn't die here. Even as she thought it, she felt the futility of it all. She'd either die, or Snoke would get her, and then she might as well be dead. She thought of Ren's face, his empty eyes and childish expression. Better to die resisting than become like that.
She might have died right there, if they hadn't come for her. Four stormtroopers, standing outside the pitch black room. Four sparks of life, glowing in four human bodies. Human, despite what the First Order had done to them.
Tools, for now. She reached out with the power she could still only barely control, and she pulled them to her.
The acolytes returned too late. Rey had the power of the stormtroopers feeding her, and two of their blasters. The blasters removed arms from two of them; her will kept them frozen in place as she advanced on them.
Liren led the acolytes, and so it was Liren she made eye contact with. "You will tell Snoke what I've done here," she said.
"He'll see it as a declaration of war."
"Yes," Rey said. And then, on terrifying impulse, she said, "Give me this ship's schematics."
Liren transferred them to her proffered datapad instantly.
"Touch your toes."
Liren bent down to do so. Her hands shook.
A horrible feeling, like oil in the pit of her stomach, curled in Rey. "Leave me," she said.
The other acolytes marched out, stiff-limbed. Liren didn't move.
"I said leave!" Rey shouted.
Liren smiled, a small, horrible grimace. "Skywalkers," she said. "I wonder, could we leave one of you at the end of the galaxy and have you come out just like this?" She looked Rey up and down, very deliberately. "Oh, I forgot. That's what they did with you."
Numbness stole through her. "No. That's impossible."
"Is it? Hm."
Rey thought of Leia. Strong Leia, who'd embraced Rey like she already knew her.
"You're right about that," Liren said. Her voice was still quiet, but steely, wending its way through Rey's mind with unerring accuracy. "It's not the General who failed you."
Luke. Rey shook her head, like just doing that could dislodge the image - but of course, it wasn't that simple. Liren's power whispered in her that she should listen, because Liren knew the truth. "You're lying." And then she realized why she might be lying: because here Rey was, losing her grip on the force, as Liren struggled against her restraints. "Leave me!" she screamed again, and lashed out at Liren with all she had.
Liren stumbled back, and for a moment her facade slipped. She stared at Rey with horror - and then, as they locked eyes, Liren ran.
Rey waited for just long enough to ensure she was alone. Then she released the stormtroopers and fled, clutching the datapad.
Of course, she had nowhere to go, really. The ship might be unimaginably huge, but it was still only a ship. No matter how well she hid, they'd find her eventually. Still, she ran, slipping into an unoccupied maintenance duct and then climbing down until her arms ached, into the belly of the ship.
She found herself in a control room that her datapad informed her had been made redundant by new growth. The controls themselves were an older style, embedded in the walls and grimy with disuse. She sat on the floor and rested her head on her knees, gasping for breath and fighting not to sob.
Luke, her father. The thought didn't make any sense. She told herself she remembered her parents, but at this point it was the weakest of recollections. She often wondered, on the bad nights, if what she thought were memories were really just the helpless and ignorant longings of a long-since orphan.
If Luke was her father, she wouldn't be an orphan. But she wouldn't - couldn't - imagine it, because if Luke was her father, then he was also a liar, and he was also someone who'd abandoned his child.
You carry his lightsaber, the dissenting part of her whispered. You dreamed of him. You knew him immediately.
All true, all undeniable. But it couldn't be true. It just couldn't.
She took a deep breath, and then another, until she sank into a meditative trance.
The trance, she thought, was probably why she didn't hear the noise until someone began pounding on the control room door.
When she came back to herself, she opened her eyes to find the lights were on. Her - the First Order's - datapad was blinking wildly with news of attack, and the pounding on the door was almost loud enough to drown out the not-so-distant sounds of fighting.
"Rey!" the would-be intruder yelled. "Rey! Are you in there?"
It sounded like Finn, but it couldn't be. "Snoke," she said. "You won't trick me again." She felt proud for having gotten that much out without his power stopping her.
"Oh, for -" said the person behind the door. Belatedly, she realized that she couldn't feel Snoke's influence anywhere. Impulse guiding her, she slapped her hand on the room's controls, allowing the door to open to reveal Finn's face.
Everything in her froze. It was him - or a brilliant facsimile. But she didn't feel Snoke, and she didn't feel Liren or any of the others. Instinct insisted it was Finn and only Finn, and her vision agreed.
"Rey." Finn looked relieved, which Rey thought inappropriate, given the circumstances. Surely he'd die here now, too.
"Finn. I don't - how -"
"We're here to rescue you." Finn held out a hand. "But, uh, some stuff went wrong, so we need to get going. Now."
She let herself be pulled to her feet, and followed Finn out into the hallway. He kept hold of her hand, but didn't look back at her. It was a kindness, she knew: if he looked at her and really saw her, she'd fall apart.
She'd done terrible things. She shoved it out of her mind, viciously, as they walked into the melee.
The Resistance had arrived in force. Several bodies lay on the floor, mostly stormtroopers. Rey averted her eyes, even as Finn handed her a blaster and said, "Don't miss. We're waiting here for evac."
"Here?" Rey couldn't cover up her incredulity. When she looked around, all she saw was a site for an ambush.
"Like, I said, things went a little wrong." He aimed and fired at two stormtroopers running into the bay. "Let's find cover."
He had been tasked with protecting her. She wished he wouldn't do it by putting himself in front of her; all she could think of was him being shot, losing control and dying. They held off the stormtroopers for several minutes, crouched together behind a fighter, keeping alert eyes on the hangar entrances.
Then several things happened at once.
Rey felt Snoke's influence and staggered away from Finn. Finn said, "What's wrong?", and the lights went out in the hangar. The vacuum shield slammed down as an X-Wing roared into the bay, and the lights came back on as Luke exited the ship.
For a moment the hangar was so empty and quiet that Rey could hear her own terrified breathing. But then, as Rey and Finn both watched, a youth entered the hangar.
It wasn't Ren, though for a moment Rey thought it must be. Luke stiffened as the youth drew closer. He threw back his hood, revealing Human features: pale skin, light eyes, and an expression twisted by hatred.
"There are dozens of me," the youth said. "You can't stop us now."
Luke reached forward with his mechanical hand. His lightsaber glowed as he touched the youth's temple. The boy crumpled to the ground, and Luke turned to lock eyes with Rey.
She felt no sudden jolt of recognition, but in a way that made it worse. She had, somehow, known for awhile - and now she couldn't ignore the truth.
"You came," she said.
Luke nodded. His eyes darted back and forth, surveying the hangar. "We've done some damage. We're retreating."
"I'm -" She struggled to get the words out: I hurt someone. I hurt several someones. Snoke nearly got me. You're my father. But her throat closed up.
"It's okay," Finn said. "Rey, it's okay. Let's go."
In the end, it was he who guided her to the ship. Luke followed - her father followed - but he went up front with the pilot, and Rey stayed in the tiny passenger room, strapped into a seat that smelled vaguely of wet moss, her eyes screwed shut.
They landed several hours later. Rey had managed to sleep most of the way, but she startled awake as they entered the atmosphere. Her chest eased a bit when she heard Poe say, "Hang on, everyone."
"We needed someone who could dodge the First Order when we had their most important hostage," Finn said.
He meant her. Maybe he even meant it as a compliment. Rey looked away.
"Hey," Finn said. "I was on one of their ships too, remember?"
Of course she did. She'd been so damn afraid for him. And she'd never really asked him, she realized. She'd only assumed that he'd bury the fear and memories, like she'd tried to do with her own troublesome past.
"I'm sorry," she managed to say.
"No. Nope. That's not what I meant. I just mean that I'm here for you."
"I hurt people."
"I was a stormtrooper," Finn said. "I know how that goes."
"Not before I did some damage."
But not in battle. Of course, Rey's damage hadn't exactly been in battle, either. "Thank you," she finally managed to say.
He said it lightly, but she knew he meant it. She kept hold of that feeling, that tiny comfort, as they descended into the Resistance base. Leia would want to debrief her, and Luke - her mind skittered away from Luke. One thing at a time, she thought, fumbling with the buckles on on her seat.
Finn, thankfully, stood by while she got herself together. She stepped off the ship into humid air; the Resistance camp was surrounded by green, without a fortress in sight.
"We're laying lower this time," Poe said from behind her. "You okay?"
"I'll need to report." She had seen others do it before. "To the General."
"The General's not back yet," Poe said. "And your report's going to be pretty long, I bet, and need-to-know only."
He was trying to imply something. Rey didn't know what. She turned around to see him standing next to Finn, both of them with deliberately easy posture, and both of them watching her carefully.
She finally managed to say, "I'd like to sleep." Safely. Without worrying about Snoke clawing his way into her dreams.
"Follow me," Poe said.
The barracks on this planet were much like they'd been elsewhere, with a few notable exceptions. The room Poe led her to had two narrow beds, rather than one, and from the belongings in it, she could tell it was both Finn and Poe's room. A strange kind of anger rose in her, then: two beds? They were lying to everyone. What they did in here didn't require two beds.
"Rey," Finn said quietly.
As soon as she looked at him, the anger died. She let herself be guided over to one of the neatly made beds. It was far too warm for a blanket, but Finn tucked a sheet around her; the material felt soft and slippery and cold to the touch, and it soothed her instantly.
"They won't want to keep me after this," she said.
"Rey. You were captured by the enemy. Get some rest first."
She was glad he didn't tell her she was wrong or being silly; she'd have seen through the lie. Still, when he reached out to her and brushed her hair back, trailing his fingers down her neck and rubbing his thumb against her collarbone, she sighed.
"You should have been more careful. They took you before. They could again."
"I was just a good opportunity," Finn said. "I'm not the one Snoke wants."
"He wants both of us." It was a sobering thought.
Finn stayed quiet for a long moment. Finally, he said, "We'll deal with that after you've had some rest." He leaned forward and kissed her, a gentle press of lips that she barely had to move to return.
It felt so good. She couldn't remember a time when she'd felt like she'd been touched enough, had gotten enough chances to be close to someone. The short time with the First Order had left a horrible kind of eternal loneliness - Snoke's creation, terribly effective when it nested in her brain.
This was the opposite of that. She pulled Finn down onto her, kissing him back with increasing enthusiasm. This felt like standing in the warm sun.
Distantly, she heard a throat clear. Finn jerked away like someone had yanked his collar, which in turn brought Rey back to herself - whereupon she immediately remembered Poe's presence.
He stood as far away from them as was possible in the tiny room, and stared into the distance. Rey felt her cheeks color. "I'm sorry."
"No need to apologize." But his smile looked forced. "You're traumatized. We've all been there. I slept through half the Resistance after my first kill mission."
The words weren't themselves hostile, but his tone made Rey flinch, which in turn made Finn say, "Poe!"
"I'm sorry." He sounded it. "I'm tired. It's nothing."
But it wasn't nothing, Rey thought. There was hurt in him - hurt she could fix, perhaps, by letting go of Finn.
So she let go. She turned away. She said, "I need sleep."
Finn didn't reply. Rey hadn't been lying: she was so tired that she fell asleep before she heard any more movement.
She dreamed true.
For a moment she was a man holding a baby, a man in robes who looked down at the baby with worry. Then her perspective shifted, and she saw that the man was Luke. Beside him stood a woman who carried a blaster and looked coolly confident. Rey watched, the dream affording her detachment, as a group of men surrounded them, sent out a pulse of something that knocked both the adults unconscious, and took the baby.
She understood then, as she watched the people she'd seen as her parents leave her on Jakku. Snoke's influence had been there all along. The people who'd treated her kindly, kept her fed and brushed her hair, had given her away without realizing that the same fearful power that chased them to Jakku had given them the baby girl to begin with. Snoke.
He'd hidden her from everyone, even Luke. Rey watched her young self sob, then be pulled away by Plutt. Anger rose in her, even as the dream faded and changed.
She slept, and then dreamed again.
This time she had a body - her own. She stood in an old house, rustic by any Core planet standards: wood floors, wood walls, and a warm solar-absorbing ceiling. Rey stood over the sink, rinsing some kind of vegetable, as Poe worked over a stove. The stove, Rey noted, had real flame.
Poe caught her looking and smiled. "Don't worry. It doesn't emit much of anything. Special polymer fuel - my parents' top choice."
His parents, dream-Rey knew, lived in a nicer house now, a fully automated home by the water. Poe had taken the old house, and now it fit all three of them.
All three. She turned to look out the window. Down a rolling hill, right before the trees began, Finn sat reading a book. His blaster sat next to him, but it hadn't been used in months. Rey knew with quiet certainty that whatever scars they carried, they'd found peace.
The dream faded. Rey remembered nothing else. When she woke, the room was dark, and her heart was racing. As soon as she moved, a low light came on. Finn slept in a chair inches from her bed; Poe lay in the other bed, sprawled across it. Neither of them so much as twitched when she slipped away.
The trees on this planet leaned into one another. They had vines and twisting branches, and swayed in the breeze. Rey had seen the signs posted indicating that the red-barked trees were classified as quasi-sentient; she didn't give them much thought until, deep in the woods, two trees moved in front of her to block her path.
"I'm sorry." It came out almost automatically. She'd done a lot of apologizing to strangers before; trees were easy compared to semi-enraged scavengers. "I'm only looking for a place to rest."
The trees rustled, then bowed aside. Rey found a path worn into the dirt, and followed it to a beautiful, sun-filled clearing.
A clearing which held Luke in the middle of it, his robe cast aside for drab canvas clothing.
She wasn't lucky enough that he didn't see her. He said, "I'd appreciate it if you didn't leave."
It would have been easier to ignore the request if he'd delivered it as an order. As it was, yelling 'you're not my father' and stomping off would have been a clear overreaction.
But that didn't mean she didn't want to. "You suspected, and you didn't tell me."
Luke nodded. "It was my hope that you'd realize on your own."
"And it was my hope that my parents would come back and get me. But that didn't happen." Even months after leaving Jakku, it hurt to say it. She'd held that hope so long, sheltered it against a thousand disappointments. Even knowing what a lie it was, it still hurt to let it go.
"You saw." It wasn't a question. "You know what it was for me. We didn't know there was anyone to look for."
And thus, she couldn't blame him, which in turn only fueled her helpless anger. "Yes. I know."
Luke didn't say anything else. He only watched her. And Rey knew what she had to say. "I can't keep doing this. Not right now. I can't be trained by my father after for all of this."
He nodded, like he'd expected it. "Leia has training."
"Or my aunt."
Luke grimaced. His I've-been-tired-for-decades expression got just a little more exhausted. "Snoke will try to find you. We can't leave you half-trained."
"You can for a few weeks." Rey wasn't sure of that at all, actually, but she forced herself to adopt a neutral expression. "I can't do it right now. Don't try to make me."
She couldn't really give a threat there, couldn't say 'or I'll rebel' or anything similar. But Luke backed down anyway, nodding and averting his gaze from her. "I'll do my best to respect your wishes."
Lacking anything else to say, Rey said, "Good," and fled from the forest.
Finn and Poe were nowhere to be found when Rey returned to the Resistance base. A military person she didn't recognize arrived to tell Rey she needed to be debriefed. The knots in her stomach at the prospect of seeing Leia lasted until Admiral Statura came in; then she had to hide her relief as she explained what she'd seen and done on the First Order ship. The admiral took notes, but he also recorded it all. Rey's crimes would be immortalized, then - though he assured her they weren't truly crimes, committed as they had been by an illegally tortured prisoner of war.
The reasoning didn't resonate with Rey. When she finally got to leave, she felt like she had lead in her stomach, and her schedule held no events to distract her.
She made her way back to the room the admiral had assigned her. It was small, much smaller than Finn and Poe's, and empty but for the pack Rey had left behind at the old base. Maybe, she thought as she sat down on the bed, it would always be like this: fighting and running and hiding, with no real rest or sense of belonging.
She'd thought, for a little while, that it would be different. More the fool her.
After a day spent mostly resting in her room, Rey found herself in one of the Resistance's many common areas. She'd meant to sit quietly and eat her portion of fish, but she'd scarcely begun when an enormous group of Resistance fighters and techs walked in, with Finn at their center.
She'd picked an unobtrusive corner to sit in, and it paid off just then: no one in the group saw her, not even Finn. Poe sat at the center of the revelry, pressing drinks on everyone and keeping an arm possessively wrapped around Finn's shoulders.
The third time they all toasted Finn, Rey found herself tapping one of the revelers on the arm and asking, "What's going on?"
"He's going offworld," the tech said. "Big mission. Plus, there's free swill."
The swill apparently was the alcohol. "Oh," Rey said. The tech wandered off, thankfully - she didn't see Rey's pained expression.
It was stupid. Finn didn't need to tell her everything. Stop being ridiculous, she told herself.
She was put off her food, at any rate. She binned the rest, then made her way out of the room.
She almost made it, in fact stood inches from the door when Finn yelled, "Rey!"
"Oh," she said, turning around and forcing herself to smile. "Hi."
"I'm going offworld. I sent you a message. We sent Phasma off in deep cover, so I get to go get info from her, do a little snooping of my own."
"Wow. I've been -" Pathetic. "Busy," Rey finished lamely. "I'm sorry."
"No problem." He smiled at her, welcoming, motioning back to Poe. "We're all having a drink. I'm reporting at dawn tomorrow, so it's kind of a last hurrah."
"You'll be back," Rey said, too sharply.
Finn winced a little. "I hope so," he said. "But either way...it's a pretty big job."
Of course it was. Rey tried and failed not to grit her teeth. "I'm tired," she said finally. "I had - I'm still adjusting."
"Of course. Yeah. I know how that feels."
Being captured by the First Order. Right. He was every inch a hero, and unlike Rey, not a lonely one. "I hope - good luck."
He got a weird look on his face, half distress and half frustration. Rey didn't know how to fix it, and didn't feel capable of even beginning to do so. She blurted out, "Right, okay, goodbye," and scurried out of the room.
She expected to be very alone that next day, with herself and Luke still mutually avoiding each other. Poe surprised her. When she left her room, he was standing there, leaning against the opposite wall of the barracks like he planned on spending the whole day there.
"Don't run," he said when she opened her mouth to object.
She scowled in spite of herself. "I hadn't planned to."
"Or tell me to fuck off." His smile was half self-effacing, half inappropriately suggestive. "Well, you could tell me that if you wanted."
"Why are you here?" Probably because Finn was gone. He was bored, and she was an idle target.
"I thought you could use some company."
"And Finn's gone."
"Believe it or not, I have other friends." Poe looked at her with a disarming frankness. "You don't, though."
"But you don't."
And she couldn't. He didn't know that, which made Rey profoundly grateful. But how someone like her made friends on a rebellion's base - what would she do? Sit down next to some ship's mechanic and discuss the weather? "I'm fine on my own."
"Sure. I, on the other hand, am having a persistent issue with my cruiser that I need help resolving. And all the mechanics are busy on the fighters."
Rey had no resistance to a promised mechanical problem. To an expectant Poe, she said, "Lead me to it, then."
Poe's cruiser sat in a lot near the woods. He'd clearly taken care with it; the paint shone, and the controls were free of even specks of dust. He even sounded chagrined when he said, "It was functioning just fine until we got here. Now it's acting up."
"Acting up how?" Rey had never seen a model like this before, but no matter; circuits all worked the same, and she'd worked with similar ships before. She eased the control panel's cover off and began rummaging around.
"The anti-grav stabilizers are off. They - jitter, I guess. And sometimes it stalls for no reason. Oh, and the receiver cuts in and out, so sometimes I have nav and sometimes I don't."
"I've had those symptoms." The wires directly behind the panel all looked fine, so she replaced the panel itself. "Mine was sand."
"There's not a lot of sand around here."
"Obviously." She circled the vehicle twice, noticing the slight bulge in side coverage on her second go-round. "This is the energy tank?"
"Straight solar, converted to proton energy," Poe said. "It's state of the art."
Rey nearly smiled at how defensive he sounded. "I know you take care of your things."
"And my allies."
"Those too." Though this cruiser wasn't an AI like BB-8; it couldn't tell him what was wrong. She reached out and separated the chassis from the belly of the vehicle. At first, it all looked very ordinary. There were coils and wires and compressors and quad-ion chips. But on closer inspection, everything was slightly off, and as Rey studied the contraption, she came to understand why.
"They're moving away from something," she said. "You said this started when you got to this planet?"
"Trust me, it ran great before then."
"Mm," Rey said, and reached out, brushing the wired-together chips aside.
At the center of the cruiser's energy tank lay a thick, glistening vine.
"There we are," she said, gesturing for Poe to look.
"I - what?" He swore in a language Rey didn't know. "How?"
"A stray seed, maybe," Rey said. She wasn't a horticulturist. "It's definitely here, though. I'm not sure I want to touch it."
"You think it might be poisonous?"
"Or it might bite," Rey said, thinking of the carnivorous plants Luke had made her dodge. It seemed like much longer ago than it really had been. "Hand me a wrench?"
Poe did so, and Rey set to work trying to disentangle the plant from the cruiser's guts. It was easier work than she'd expected. When she touched the plant, it didn't really move; it certainly didn't try to bite her. She pried it out in quick order. "Okay. Now I just need to check and make sure it didn't break any -"
The plant sneezed. That was the only word for it. It reared back, and then the sticky goo that had been on the outside of the vine was instead on Rey and Poe's hands and face.
"Augh." Rey scrubbed at her face. "Are you okay?"
"Sure," Poe said. "Disgusted, but okay." He frowned as he scrubbed the goo off his face. His nose, Rey was amused to note, had gone bright red.
On the heel of that thought came the realization that she felt flushed, too. Almost overly warm, though this camp tended towards cool weather.
"It's all over my shirt," Poe said. "I only have so many of them."
"And then I'll be even more annoyed." Poe shook his head and pulled his shirt off.
Rey had always been aware of him. It would have been incredibly difficult, maybe impossible, not to be. He was beautiful from head to toe. But she'd never been incapable of looking away.
Never, at least, until right then. Her heart pounded, her breath came short. And she was suddenly, overwhelmingly, desperate to touch him.
She licked her lips - and then, looking up, realized that Poe was also looking at her.
"Ah," he said.
He didn't manage to continue. "Yes?" Rey said. Her skin was beginning to itch. Barely thinking about it, she shrugged out of her top, stripping to the waist, rubbing the goo off her arms. Better, a bit. But looking over at Poe again, she saw that he was staring at her still. "Are you okay?"
Poe looked past Rey, into the belly of the cruiser, then back at Rey. He grimaced. "I don't think either of us is okay."
It took a moment for his words to make sense. Too long, of course. "Oh," Rey said. "Oh. You think that plant did this?"
"I'm almost certain," Poe said. "You know that Finn and I have been close."
"Close, is that what you're calling it?" Rey winced as soon as the words left her mouth. She sounded jealous, almost angry, and she wasn't really either of those things in reality. Was she?
"We were fucking. I told him I cared, I tried -" Poe groaned, dragging both hands through his hair. "This isn't natural. This isn't normal for me."
She felt, suddenly, a bit cold. "Is it me?"
"No. God. No." He laughed, bitterness edging his voice. "Trust me, if you weren't - if I wasn't -" He shook his head. "No, Rey, okay? It's not you."
"We could go find a doctor."
"You're ready to be that embarrassed?"
"Not particularly. But you don't look..." She lost the words, shaking her head instead.
He didn't look like he wanted her, was what she meant. She generally preferred to sleep with people who didn't look pained by the prospect.
Poe took a step forward - and then, when Rey didn't move, another step. They were of a height, so when he lifted his hands to curl his fingers around her elbows, when he pressed his forehead against hers, it barely took any movement at all.
They didn't discuss it. Rey didn't think they'd have been able to, even if they tried. Rey knew without even needing to reach out with the Force that Finn was on both their minds as they kissed.
The arousal was definitely unnatural, because kissing felt like diving into cool water after a day in the desert. She needed more immediately, and she got it, running her hands through Poe's maddening hair as he pulled her closer.
He kissed easily and with skill, even when addled. She dragged her nails over his back, down to his bare hip, and then back up again, and he half-carried them both down to the ground, barely stopping to make sure they didn't end up on the toolbox. She felt his dick then, pressed against her thigh, heavy and ready. When she moved against him, he groaned, then reached up to touch her breasts.
It felt better than it should feel, better than it had any right to feel. She gasped as he pinched her nipples and squeezed her, then laughed with disbelief as he leaned up to use his mouth. "Inside me," she managed to say. "I need - I need it. Please."
But he didn't go that quickly, even when she managed to get her pants off. Instead, he pulled her on top of him again, wrapping one hand around his own cock and beckoning her upwards with a finger.
In that moment, it seemed like the perfect idea. She straddled him, crying out when he slid his fingers into her, stretching her nearly to the point of pain, even as she pressed down on him, desperate for more. He flicked his tongue over her clit, hard and fast, curling his fingers inside her. Every movement spoke of practice, and somehow, that made it better; when he pressed down on her hip, encouraging her to fuck his face, she let herself go entirely.
The orgasm that crashed through her was simultaneously too much and not enough. Her thighs trembled as she came down from it - and then, without so much as a word, Poe rolled them, tumbling her on her back and kissing her.
She kissed back and reached down, guiding him inside her. His stuttered gasp broke against her mouth, and she bit his lip, just the right side of vicious, as she thrust against him.
"Please," he said, sounding broken. She kissed him again, then dug her nails into his shoulder, deliberately painful.
"Harder, Dameron," she said.
He obeyed. He fucked her until they were both shaking of it, and after he'd come, she pushed him onto his back again and rode his hand, rubbing her own clit until she flew apart one last time.
She didn't mean to collapse in his arms. It was too intimate, too heavy with implication. And he didn't want her, really - he'd said. As her heart rate slowed, as she finally stopped feeling like she might explode, the real guilt set in. Aphrodisiac or no, they'd both been thinking of Finn and they'd both slept together anyway.
Damn, Rey thought, closing her eyes.
"Hey," Poe said. He stroked Rey's arms. "It's okay."
"I'll talk to Finn. It's my responsibility."
Finn. Her heart twisted even then, treacherously. She wanted to do this with Poe again, and she wanted Finn there too. After a lifetime of deprivation, she'd become too greedy. Selfishly so.
"We should get dressed," she said, and climbed to her feet. "I'll get a droid to clear the cruiser out. It'll be fine by tomorrow. We should alert the medics about this, too. For their records."
For a moment, Poe lay still on the ground, looking up at her. She couldn't have guessed his thoughts just then, not for all the glory and peace the Resistance had to offer.
"Right," he said finally, and followed her example, straightening his clothes and making himself decent again. Rey finished first, efficient as she was. She left Poe alone without a backward glance.
They didn't talk after that. Rey threw herself into work, yet again.
News that the recon crew had returned spread quickly. Rey wanted to meet Finn on the tarmac, but she was acutely unwilling to risk Poe being there, too. Her instinct proved to be correct: she saw them barely half an hour later, Poe hanging all over Finn, the both of them laughing together.
Anger and jealousy twined together in her stomach. She did her best to press it down, but as seemed to be happening all too regularly, it didn't work. She didn't even realize she was staring until Finn said, "Rey!" and untangled himself from Poe to run over to her.
He looked so happy, Rey thought as she forced a smile. "It's good to see you. How was the mission?"
"Useful," Finn said. "I don't know if I can say more than that right now."
"Rey's got higher clearance than I do." Poe laughed, but his discomfort was obvious to Rey. Finn didn't seem to notice anything - but then, Rey thought with more than a little bitterness, Finn had no idea what they'd done.
"We were going to drink with the pilots," Finn said. "Rey, you should come."
Rey's better judgment told her not to - but she'd been ignoring her better judgment a lot lately. "Sure."
That was how she wound up three drinks in, leaning into Poe as he told the story of his first Resistance mission. Finn sat on Poe's other side, tucked even closer than Rey, and Rey kept swinging between picturing a young and fearless Poe, and wondering what they looked like to all the other pilots.
"And then," Poe said, "they found me. Four TIE fighters behind the mountains."
"Bullshit!" Jess yelled. "Come on, Dameron. I've talked to Hutts with more believable stories."
"Check the logs," Poe shot back. "Or better yet, ask this guy. Finn, I can fly my way out of that kind of trouble, right?"
"You've been buying me drinks," Finn said. "I have to agree with you."
"How about the Jedi?" a pilot Rey didn't know said. "Aren't they supposed to be master pilots?"
"That's only Skywalker," Poe said, but of course he turned to Rey anyway. "But Rey'll know. Tell them."
Everyone looked at her and Rey, her head spinning, could only hear: Skywalker. Master pilots. Skywalkers.
But she wasn't the only drunk one. Jess said, "If she's keeping quiet, it's settled! You're a liar, Dameron."
"Betrayal," Poe said, clutching his chest with a laugh. His eyes stayed on Rey, uncomfortably speculative.
Rey stuck to water after that. People faded away, one by one, clapping Poe on the shoulder and telling Finn goodnight. No one really spoke to Rey, but Jess waved.
Then she was alone with Poe and Finn. Realizing too late that she'd missed her window to leave with the others, Rey sipped her water.
"I thought Finn would be more like you," Poe said.
It was wrong, Rey knew, to take advantage of drunken honesty. "Oh?"
"You know." Poe waved a hand. "Awkward."
"Poe," Finn said.
"Turns out he's the one who had friends," Poe said.
"Poe!" Finn clapped his shoulder. "Not now. You're drunk. I'm drunk."
"Rey's not drunk." Poe caught her gaze. For someone who'd been drinking half the night, he looked much too alert. "And she knows what I mean. She's the one I can't figure out."
"You're making her uncomfortable." For the first time, Rey heard a note of warning in Finn's voice. "Stop it."
"No," Rey said. "It's fine. I mean, he's right."
"Am I right that you're a Skywalker?"
"Poe! Sorry, Rey. He's normally better than this."
The apology didn't really fix things, because Finn apologizing for Poe just reminded Rey how close they'd grown, and what a liar she was. She said, "Maybe I'll have more to drink."
"Ah," Poe said. "I'm sorry."
He was so disarming just then. His hair had long since been mussed, and he was flushed from drink. He looked so earnest and so, so much like he had when they'd -
Rey stood and went over to the keg. "It's nothing," she said. It was only after she'd filled her glass and taken a long drink that she got up the courage to say, "And the answer's yes."
Finn spat his beer out. "What?"
She couldn't look at him. "I found out just recently. I didn't want to tell anyone."
"You're a Skywalker? What? I don't - how? When?"
"Since she was born, I'd assume." Poe smirked at Finn, Finn looked down with obvious embarrassment, and Rey -
Rey felt like she was eight again and watching a feast she'd be given scraps of. "When Snoke had me. He was using me - the information. He wanted to hurt me."
"And he succeeded," Poe said. "That's obvious."
He pointed to her drink. "Keep going and you'll admit I'm right."
She already half wanted to. "It's late."
"All the more reason to keep drinking."
"No." If she kept drinking she'd tell them she didn't want to sleep alone. Their brief time on Chandrila had been, for the most part, painfully nerve-wracking, miserable, and just plain painful. But sharing a bed, having even false togetherness - she hadn't realized how much she'd wanted it, and how much she'd miss it once it was gone. "I have to go to bed."
Poe looked ready to say something persuasive and maybe suggestive. Finn, thankfully, was ready. "We'll walk you back."
It was the right thing to do. Rey dumped her mostly-full drink, and the three of them walked out together. Finn and Poe both stumbled much more than Rey did. Rey tried to act like she didn't notice, until they got to her room, at the far end of the stretch of barracks. Then, Poe said, "You've got the Skywalker grace."
He caught her off guard, and so she turned to look at him without thinking better of it. He was holding Finn's hand, she saw, and staring at her with that same alarming intensity.
"Goodnight," she said, her mind presenting her with a paucity of alternatives.
"Goodnight." He smiled at her, wide and open, warming her down to her toes.
Then Finn stepped forward, crowding into her space - and kissed her.
He didn't move so quickly that she couldn't have pushed him away. That would have been easier, actually; it would have seemed simpler. But in reality, he swayed into her, and she reached up to him, returning his kiss, pressing herself against him.
Poe was still there when Finn pulled away. And he was still, Rey saw, holding Finn's hand.
"Sleep well," Finn said.
She knew she wouldn't. "You too," she said, and escaped into her room.
The next morning brought claustrophobic regret. She escaped her room as soon as possible and was nursing a glass of juice in the cafeteria long before anyone but a few harried-looking technicians passed through. After her third glass of juice and fourth slice of toast, she was starting to feel like she might not run away if she saw Poe and Finn. Naturally, that was when Testor plopped down across from her with an expectant look.
"We're friends, right?" she said.
"Um," Rey said.
"Great," Jessika said. "So, as a friend of mine, you are obligated to tell me what in the world was going on with you last night."
Rey had made it all the way to adulthood without realizing how much she blushed. Now, she could hardly avoid the knowledge. Her cheeks were on fire as she said, "Me and Finn and Poe, we're just friends."
"That's not what I meant, though that's a fascinating tidbit of information that I'm sure is totally true. I meant, what's the deal with you and Skywalker?"
The name made her flinch. "Nothing."
"He was just a name to us for the longest time, you know. Some people remembered him, but it's not like the General was gathering us all around a campfire to hear Jedi legends."
"He's a good person." Even if he'd lied to her. Even if he'd never found her.
"He lit up when you two came back. Now he's back to being a ghost." Jessika raised her eyebrows. "Spill. What's the deal?"
"I told him I can't train with him right now." That had to be safe information, much less specific than her newly discovered parentage. "I was taken hostage by the First Order. I'm told trauma is normal."
"Plus you're his kid."
Rey nearly spat her food out.
Jessika's shrug was unapologetic. "That's what everyone's saying."
"The pilots, at least."
Of course that was Jessika's 'everyone'. And by that definition, someone must have overheard Poe's speculation and then immediately gossiped - as pilots always did. It all made a horrible kind of sense, and at the center of it was Rey's inability to deny the truth for as long as she'd have liked.
Which, to be fair, was more or less forever.
"That's what Snoke told me," she said.
"Huh." Jessika made a show of looking her up and down. "Well. It makes sense, I guess. Everyone knows you're super-powerful."
Part of Rey - the mean part, the selfish part, the part that had been getting more and more unavoidable lately - thought that maybe Jessika was feeling pleased with herself. Maybe she'd connected the dots and realized she'd slept with the last Jedi's last apprentice.
Jessika wasn't like that, though. And she had her own claims to fame, even if she was. She forced the speculation away. "It didn't make sense to me."
Sympathy immediately overwhelmed Jess's expression. "That must be hard. I'm sorry."
"Plenty of things are hard," Rey said. "Do you know what kind of intel Finn brought back?"
Jess shook her head. "The General's not even telling anyone why she sent him. Even Poe doesn't know, and he's Teacher's Pet. We'll find out soon, though." She took a bite of fruit. "Hopefully."
Rey told herself not to ask. The resolution lasted as long as it took for Jessika to blink. "Do you ever see it ending? This whole thing?"
"The Resistance? It was supposed to end before I was even born." She shrugged. "It will or it won't. It's not like democracy's simple."
"But it's worth fighting for?"
"Having some doubts, Skywalker?"
"Don't - no!"
"Uh-huh. Well, anyway, it's not about the iffy ideology to me. I just want to be on the team that's not blowing planets up all the time. The only other option's the Outer Rim - and no offense, but that's not my first choice."
"None taken." Rey had always known people saw places like Jakku as minor stopping points at best. That must have been why Snoke found it so easy to hide her there.
Snoke. Damn him.
"We have to win." As soon as she said it, it became more important. "We can't just let the First Order take over everything. Stuff like freedom, it matters."
"And not being murdered for saying you don't like the military, sure." If Jessika was put off by the sudden display of zealotry, she gave no sign. "Has anyone given you a job to do when you're not off Jedi-ing?"
Pilots were apparently pros at making a person feel self-conscious. "No."
"Great. You can help me out with a thing, then. Hurry up and finish up."
Filled with an entirely new kind of alarm, Rey obeyed. Jessika led her out to the Resistance's fleet of x-wings. "I have a mechanic," she said, "and he means well, I'm sure. But what I really need is someone who's a little less by-the-books, you know?" They stopped in front of a ship, and Jessika said, "This is mine. And I need you to help her learn how to lie."
"What do you mean?"
Jessika launched into an explanation. The First Order had wised up to even most of Poe's favorite maneuvers. The Resistance's military tech was out of date - as could be expected from a rebellion, sure, but the mechanics were uncreative when it came to dreaming up ways to surprise the enemy. "I asked my guy to rig the guns to look broken without actually, you know, breaking them. She looked at me like I'd been drinking all day."
"I'm not surprised. That's a time-consuming request." Jess's mechanic was likely several other pilots' mechanic too. If she got multiple good nights of sleep in a row, ever, Rey would be surprised.
"But it's possible. Am I right?"
She was, of course, and Rey already felt drawn into the problem. Broken guns - visibly broken, broken enough to fool the First Order - would need to show differently on radar, and would need to look broken from the outside. But, of course, the guns had been designed for maximum dynamism, which meant they were only as large as they absolutely needed to be. There was no cosmetic shell she could ding a bit to make them look useless.
But that didn't mean it couldn't be done. When Jessika asked her if she had any ideas, Rey waved her off. Having a mechanical problem to focus on was like being given full portions for lunch and dinner. Making the weapons appear offline on the First Order's scanners would be comparatively simple; the controls would need to be insulated and wired internally, but that would just make them ugly and useless on a scanner, not truly broken. The scanner, though, was the lesser half of the story. Jess wanted the ship to pass an eye test, too - presumably for some kind of stealth or recon mission.
It wasn't a make-or-break feature. That was why the mechanic had declined the work: a nice trick wouldn't win the war. But it was a challenge, and an entertaining one. Rey set about making something of it.
First she insulated. Then she obfuscated. If the guns couldn't be damaged to make them smaller, she'd make them seem ruined in some other way. She disassembled one gun chassis entirely, then rebuilt it with scraps from the nearest toolbox. A plasma node here, a tangle of wire there, and by the time she was done, she had a gun that looked like it had taken some kind of heavy impact; it tilted at a right angle instead of pointing straight ahead. She took her time after, too, to make sure all the systems were working, to confirm the ship was still singing despite its modifications.
She didn't realize how much time the changes had taken until she looked up to find herself alone among the ships. Jess had left, she vaguely remembered, but she'd been so absorbed in her work that she hadn't taken the time to really notice.
But it worked now. Oh yes, it worked. Rey ran through as many tests as she reasonably could while on the ground, and laughed with pride when she got the green light from the x-wing's systems.
She'd done it. And in just - well - several hours.
Her stomach grumbling cut off her gloating. She wiped herself down, getting as much of the grease off as she could, before making her way back to the cafeteria. It wasn't until she stood in front of the sideboard and put her food order in that she realized she hadn't thought of Snoke, Luke, or Finn and Poe in hours.
Finn, having terrible timing, broke her streak by coming up behind her and saying, "Everyone's talking about you. That soup looks good."
"Everyone's what?" She pulled her tray with soup and sandwich off the sideboard. "I didn't do anything."
Her chest clenched when she looked at Finn. So much for not thinking about him.
"You did, though," Finn said. "You took Testor's plane apart and put it back together in a morning. Did you really not see people watching?"
The fact that she hadn't didn't sit particularly well with her, so she just shrugged.
Finn still looked incredulous, but he at least stopped staring. "You hit peak lunch hour, so good job there. Come sit with us. Poe's telling us about BB-8 charming some Hutts."
"Not according to him. Come on."
He smiled at her. She still, always, had no defense against his smile. She followed him back to the pilots' table, doing her best to ignore the many sidelong glances she collected as she sat down.
Poe was on his best behavior. He didn't mention Rey's newfound heritage or even Testor's plane. Instead, he caught her up on his story - which didn't sound any less impossible in person - and continued to tell it.
"Now, Hutts, they don't tend to value machinery just for the hell of it, but even this one could tell BB-8 is special. She offered me three very pretty Sarkhai for him."
"You didn't," said a pilot Rey didn't know.
"Debtor slaves aren't really my thing," Poe said. "I did get them out, though. BB-8 met us on the bluffs. They live a very peaceful life together on Plexis now."
"That's a whopper," Jess said. "Rey, you're practically a Jedi. He's lying, right?"
She couldn't possibly know what Ren had done to Poe. Rey only knew because she'd seen it in Ren's own fears. But Poe met her gaze for a moment with a pain she could sense more than see, and it was obvious he knew she'd found out.
"I'm not a Jedi yet," she said. "Poe's impregnable, if you know what I mean."
That got a round of laughs and the subject dropped. Rey's heart pounded with relief.
Something changed between the three of them after that. It didn't become any easier for Rey, personally, to be around them. They still had the strangely charged moments, and she still felt guilt, overwhelming and sharp, when she thought about what she and Poe had done - and what they'd kept from Finn. Despite all that, they worked together more easily. Rey became an on-call mechanic, and spent three weeks making planes fly and giving suggestions for future weapons purchases. It felt nice.
Then, on a cool morning where the tiniest amount of frost blanketed the ground, the base alarm sounded.
Rey ran out of her room to find that everyone else had done the same. No one looked particularly panicked, though. Her neighbor, a net-tech named Jilon, said, "This is the severe threat alarm. It's probably a test. Follow me," and began walking briskly down the hall.
Rey obeyed him, right until she got to the clearing at the edge of the barracks. Then she saw the source of the alarm and froze.
Snoke's acolyte Liren stood in a circle of staring people, all of them captured and held with Liren's power.
For a moment, she heard nothing but the rush of blood in her ears. Panic wound its way through her limbs, and Luke's training disappeared.
She screamed, and she attacked Liren.
Liren's power couldn't hold her, not while keeping a dozen other Resistance fighters away. She got in blows to Liren's face, hard hits that split her lip, before Poe pulled her away.
"Settle!" he shouted. "Settle, damn it! She came here with a truce signal."
"She's lying! She's Snoke's!"
"Not anymore," Liren managed to say. She spat out blood. "If you'd like proof, I have it."
"Rey." A different voice now: General Leia's. "Let us handle this."
It wasn't for nothing that Leia was a Skywalker. Rey felt the pressure to back down, the looming almost-threat of Leia's power. Her aunt's power, she reminded herself.
Every nerve was still screaming at her to destroy the threat Liren represented. But she couldn't prove herself out of control. She let out several low, deep breaths, and stepped away.
"Get her somewhere safe," Leia said. She met Rey's gaze. "Take some time."
It wasn't an offer so much as an order. Rey nodded and let herself be led away.
She spent hours pacing, alone, long after Poe left her. Liren's presence on the base felt like sharp nails raking against her skin. She hated her, and even if it was unfair - even if some tiny part of her conscience whispered that Snoke could influence anyone, and had likely influenced and hurt Liren - no matter what her mind or heart said, she wanted Liren off the same planet as her, by way of death if necessary. The hatred was sharp and visceral and burned in her heart.
She didn't realize how much she was indulging it at first. She'd never been particularly angry, even when things got really bad - the first time she bled and had had no one to discuss it with, or the first time she'd been injured while scavenging and worried that she'd die alone in the desert. Then, anger was an indulgence she couldn't really afford. To be angry in that way was to risk her life.
Now, she was relatively safe. And so the anger grew.
Desert snakes could burrow under whole cities undetected until, on some fateful day, the right combination of storm circumstances caused the city to collapse the tunnels and be swallowed by the elements. So her anger burrowed into her heart and stretched down her veins, curling her hands and causing her stomach to churn.
She barely refrained from lashing out when someone knocked on her door. She managed a tense, "What?"
It was Finn. Of course it was. She let him in because she knew she didn't really have a choice; he was probably acting as Leia's emissary in this, and Rey didn't want to give the impression that she was really losing her mind in a dangerous way.
Even if part of her worried that she was.
As soon as the door closed behind Finn, Rey let him have it. "How can anyone think this is a good idea? How can General Leia, of all people?"
"Maybe the General understands that giving people a second chance is important."
"Maybe she's deluded by wanting her son back."
It was the kind of thing, Rey knew, that was very carefully Not Said in the Resistance camp - and with good reason. General Leia had devoted her life to freeing the galaxy from the First Order, or the Empire, or whatever they'd decided to call themselves at the moment. But Leia - her aunt, though the thought felt like nettles ripping over her heart - was a legend, not some kind of infallible god. And Leia had never spoken with Liren, had never felt the power of Snoke's acolytes.
It had to be a trick. Rey didn't know why no one else could see it. "No one else is saying it, but plenty of people must be thinking it."
"Sure. But they're not not saying it because of fear or intimidation." Finn shook his head, sitting down on the small crate that contained most of Rey's belongings. "That's how it was with the First Order, you know. Plenty of us knew we were people - we had friends in the squadron. But they didn't want us to think that way. Any stray idea, any suspicion that maybe things weren't the way they told us, got stamped out."
Rey waited for his conclusion. At first it didn't come; then he said, "The Resistance isn't like that. People want to believe her because the point of the whole movement is supposed to be greater kindness and understanding."
Greater kindness and understanding sounded, to Rey, like a gateway to death. She wasn't far gone enough to actually tell Finn that, though. "I know. But she's dangerous, Finn. I'm the only one who knows what she's like."
"The General wants to talk with you about it," Finn said. "We're not just accepting her into the fold. But we can't turn her away, either. If you know what she's like, you also know what Snoke's like."
Meaning, they couldn't send her back into the arms of an enemy that would torture and kill her. Right. "I know that," she said. "I do, I swear I do. But part of me - doesn't."
Even in her mind, it sounded like a pitiful excuse. But Finn said, "Sure," and held out a hand.
His palm was broader than Rey's and had callouses where, she assumed, his stormtrooper's gloves had rubbed. His skin was warmer than Rey's, and her fingers felt tingly when he curled his hand around them.
"I'm not going to make you do anything, say anything, that's not honest," he said. "Neither will the General. But we think it would be helpful if you were present when we took Liren's testimony."
Testimony. What were they planning? But of course Finn wouldn't know. Poe probably didn't, either. "Okay," she said. "Let's go." She tried for, and failed at, a smile.
Finn led her to a room she hadn't been in before, one that was equipped with several holoscreens and, at the center, a plasma-bound prison.
Liren stood in the prison, otherwise unrestrained. Rey didn't ask if that was smart. She didn't lash out at Leia,who stood just a few feet away, or at Luke, who glowered in a corner. She didn't, in fact, say anything at all.
But her heart thudded in her chest in what felt like double-time. Even like this, Liren was still dangerous.
"Rey," Leia said. "Thank you for coming."
Rey didn't point out that she hadn't been given a choice. She nodded.
"I've been asking Liren how she escaped Snoke's influence." Leia's expression was drawn - and of course it would be, Rey realized, guilt curling in her uncomfortably. Liren had done exactly what Leia's own son couldn't manage. "We've encountered a complication."
"She says you're the reason."
Rey blinked. She'd had no expectations for this meeting, really. Yet somehow, this was like being hit by asteroid shards in open space. "What?"
"You reek of the Force," Liren said.
The barrier wasn't soundproof, then.
"Reek seems a little rude," Rey said.
"And yet." Liren waved a hand. "It's all over you. Snoke's powers of persuasion are unmatched; even thinking about contradicting him is like trying to break light speed on a speeder bike. Your thoughts slide away from it. It's not force you even notice; you're loyal down to the bone." She narrowed her eyes as she looked at Rey. "Or I was, anyway."
She looked, impossibly, angry about it, like Rey had stolen something valuable from her. "I didn't do anything."
"No. But here we are. And here you are, and I can feel my mind getting clearer by the minute."
"You should be happy about that!"
"Don't tell me how to feel, Skywalker."
Rey didn't react - not because she didn't feel anything, but because she was too tired for the pain in her mind to make it out to her physical expressions. "Fine. Then be sad. But you're here either way. Why did you want me?" She directed the last query at Leia.
"For this kind of information," Leia said. "She's been taciturn up until now."
Liren turned in a circle inside her cage, moving slowly, her eyes passing over every occupant in the room. Leia avoided her gaze - to avoid compulsion, Rey assumed, though she couldn't imagine how much power it would take to compel Leia to do anything.
Liren's eyes narrowed when she got to Luke. "Were you ever planning on training him?"
For all that Luke enjoyed the Old Man On Top Of A Mountain aesthetic, he wasn't exactly hard to read. Liren's question surprised him. "Who?"
"That one." Liren pointed at Finn.
Finn was the only "him" in the vicinity, but he still looked around like he expected someone to be standing behind him. "What?"
"He has clear potential. Not as much as your daughter, of course." Liren laid contempt on your daughter. "But enough to benefit from training, unless you really plan to embrace the Jedi way of doing things."
"And what way would that be?"
"Letting him wander off until he kills himself or falls into the wrong hands."
"Excuse me," Finn said. "I'm right here. Hey!"
Liren turned to look at him. Luke looked at him, too. Rey personally would have been intimated by the twin glares, but Finn stood steady. "I already fell into the wrong hands, remember? I'm an ex-stormtrooper."
"And you didn't think to test him."
Finn pointed at Liren. "No snide asides."
"I only want what's best for you."
She said it in that way Rey was too familiar with - treacly and threatening, with a note of avarice. Regardless of whether or not she'd truly defected from Snoke, she was clearly still one of his. She wanted Finn's power to use for herself.
The realization send a wave of anger through Rey. It was strong enough that she finally managed to speak again, stepping forward and putting an arm out in front of Finn. "Whether or not he gets training isn't your business. You're here to answer our questions, unless you'd like us to feed you to the nearest wild animal."
"The Resistance would never."
"Maybe," Rey said. "Maybe the Resistance wouldn't. We'll see if anyone asks questions once I've done it."
"Rey," Finn said.
Rey didn't answer; she also didn't look away from Liren. Finn could protest all he wanted after she'd dealt with this, after he was safe.
Liren smiled. Something about Rey's response satisfied her. The violence, probably. But she didn't say anything; she held up her hands in a universal gesture of surrender and stayed well within her plasma cage.
Luke walked forward. "Rey broke Snoke's hold on you."
"With all due respect, it doesn't seem like his hold was the one thing keeping you from being a rebel." Leia's tone strongly implied no respect was due. "So what are you trying to sell us on? That you have nowhere else to go?"
"You mean you don't think I truly believe in the Resistance."
"I mean you could not convince me of that if you brought to bear all the power in the galaxy."
"Aren't you tired?" Liren looked Leia up and down. "You look tired. Snoke had no love for Vader, but he still mentions you. You're on training tapes for stormtroopers and acolytes alike."
"Charming," Leia said. "My mental state is none of your business. Tell me what you want from us."
She made it sound more like a threat than a suggestion. Liren said, "Safety. And in return, information. If the Resistance wins, I go free, and my presence is erased from history."
"You want to be a ghost."
"A very informative one."
It was obvious Leia didn't approve, and even Rey understood why. Leia wasn't the type of person who'd be okay with serving as an informant for a cause she disagreed with, but even beyond that, she couldn't imagine not leading in some capacity. Liren was a coward, and a morally bankrupt one besides. Of course Leia hated her.
Rey hated Liren, too, but a fearful part of her whispered that she'd hated nearly everyone since the whole mess with Snoke began.
"I'd like you to stay," Leia said to Rey, "and verify what she tells us. Can you do that?"
'Can you do that without going crazy and attempting murder' was clearly implied. "Yes."
"This interrogation session is being recorded," Leia told Liren. "Please vocalize your full consent for the records of the New Galactic Republic."
Liren only sneered slightly when she said, "I consent to interrogation."
And so they began. Leia asked Liren questions for well over three hours, and Liren answered in painful, graphic detail. Rey's role wasn't to talk, for which she was grateful, but listening and then confirming Liren's reports of death and control and overpowering evil was hard enough. When Leia finally concluded the interrogation session, Rey let Finn lead her out of the room without protest. She felt overwhelmed, exhausted, like she'd been running for those three hours.
"Sorry?" She blinked and focused on Finn - who, she realized too late, had been calling her name for some time now.
"Luke wants to talk to us."
She tried to focus on him. It almost worked. "Luke." Her father. Ha. "About what?"
"My training, probably the fact that you look ready for the hospital."
"I don't like hospitals." She'd never been. Even basic med centers on Jakku were for people with more money than she'd ever seen.
"He told me to meet him in the training room." Finn frowned. "If I need to go alone, I will."
Of course he would, Rey thought. Finn had the makings of a true hero, unlike herself. "Let's go. I have to deal with it sooner or later."
But when they found Luke, he zeroed in on Finn immediately. "Liren was right about you."
"Then why didn't you tell me?"
Luke winced, getting that selfsame chagrined look he'd sported when Rey confronted him. "I'm sorry."
"That's not an answer."
"Training in the Force is difficult," Luke said. "It's challenging and it's painful. I wasn't sure you were -"
"Capable? I am!"
"Ready," Luke said. "Beginning training from a place of pain and anger can end - badly."
There was some history there that Rey didn't - couldn't - know. She bit back frustration. "You have to train him now, then. He needs to be able to protect himself."
"It's not just about protection."
"You can tell him all the mystical stuff too, I'm sure," Rey said. "But now, before -"
Before Snoke could find him. She choked the words off, but of course Luke knew what she'd meant to say anyway. "I can't stop Snoke. I don't think anyone can right now."
"For starters, we don't know who he is. Where he is. What he wants - aside from Force users."
The answer was reasonable and comprehensive, and so of course Rey found herself infuriated by it. "It's still important that Finn be trained!"
"I'm not really angry," Finn cut in. "So we can probably leave that assumption to the side."
"You ran from your entire life," Luke said.
"The pain started before then. I made my choices. I'm fine with them."
Rey believed him, looking at him just then. He didn't look like someone who was uncertain or afraid. On the contrary: he looked steady and strong, not calm, but certainly not panicked. Ready.
Jealously slithered through her. She did her best to push it aside.
"I can train you," Luke said slowly. He looked between them with no change to expression, nothing to let on what he was looking for. "I'd need to train you both."
And so Rey saw the trap. "Or, what? It's dangerous?"
"Yes," Luke said. Then he grimaced. "If you're uncomfortable - Leia could teach you. She knows enough. For now."
"But not forever." Again, always, anger, a ball in the pit of her stomach. "Because you're the only real Jedi. She can't teach me everything."
"No, she could. But you'll learn faster with me. She's a general; she still has to lead."
Finn looked between the two of them. "Is this about you being Rey's father? What?" He dodged Rey's elbow. "It's a fair question."
"Rey's angry with me," Luke said. "Reasonably so."
"I don't want to talk about it." Talking about it, or really even thinking about it, made her feel like a petulant child. "If we're going to train, let's just train."
"I'm not sure I want to train when there's a, what." Finn waved a hand. "Poe's favorite holonovela going on in the background all the time."
Luke ignored the jab to focus on Rey. "I regret what happened. I do. I never realized you were being hidden from us."
Rey wanted to ask a thousand questions, starting with the most obvious and most painful. Who is my mother? caught in her throat. She couldn't express it. Luke would tell her, she knew; she wasn't worried about his honesty. She was, however, worried that her mother was dead, or evil, or hadn't wanted a daughter after all. It was that fear that kept her silent.
"I'd like to make it up to you now," Luke said. "I want to help you."
Help. Right. Everyone in the Resistance, apparently, wanted to help. But Rey knew when she was beaten. "We can both train," she said. "It'll be better that way."
Luke nodded, like he'd known she would give in all along. She swallowed back fury at the implication.
If he noticed, he didn't let on. "Finn. Leia's been kind enough to share some of your intel on stormtrooper training with me. You're familiar with stick fighting?"
"Not like the Jedi do. Or did."
"You'd be surprised," Luke said. "From what we got from you, and from what our spies have told us, it's pretty similar, even if there's no Force training involved."
"You have First Order spies?"
"More to the point," Luke said, "we might as well start with something both you and Rey are familiar with."
"You're not going to make him meditate?" Rey said.
Yes. "Of course not."
Luke just barely smiled. "Get moving," he said, waving at them. "Call me if you need me." He left without specifying if they should use a datapad or try to use the Force.
Finn, at least, was optimistic enough to try using the Force. He got staffs for both himself and Rey, and said, "Winner buys the other dinner?"
"It's free here. And we're in a jungle." There were no nice restaurants in their immediate future.
"Winner gives the other...something. I'm trying to create stakes."
"Were there stakes with the First Order?" Rey asked, then immediately regretted it.
But Finn didn't wince, or even really react at all. He said, "Punishment, mostly. That's why I left," and lifted his staff.
"A kiss," Rey blurted out.
"A - what?"
It was a stupid idea, based on a love of drama streams and the pulpy books Rey had managed to snag from abandoned datapads. But having said it, she knew she'd be even more embarrassed if she backed down. "A kiss. Don't tell me you don't know what that is."
"Of course I know what a kiss is." He was blinking rapidly, clearly shocked. Good. "Whoever wins gets one?"
"Whoever wins gets to pick." Rey spun the staff in her hands. "Agreed?"
For a moment, she thought Finn would back out. He looked away from her, and swallowed hard. She found herself hoping that he'd say no, so that they could both escape the trap she'd set for them.
But he didn't. He said, "Agreed," and they began sparring.
Rey had only fought with people who meant to hurt her, and Luke. Even before she'd known Luke was her father, she'd only known him to be a dedicated teacher. Finn was very different. He attacked her with grace and skill, not visibly holding back. She felt safe - he'd never hurt her - but also more challenged than usual, and on edge from it.
For a moment, she forgot that they were playing for stakes. Then Finn said, "I didn't think you'd done much kissing on Jakku. You told me you didn't have a boyfriend."
It took her a minute to remember. "Why'd you ask?"
"I hadn't met many people at that point. Non-First Order people, anyway." Finn leaned forward, moving faster, the staff spinning in his hands. "And you were memorable. You still are." He struck at her ankles.
Rey felt his intention to move; by the time his staff reached its target, she'd danced away. "My reputation's bigger than me at this point." The pilots gave her sidelong looks more than they spoke to her, Poe and Jess aside.
"Not for me." Finn darted in, and too late, Rey realized she'd been distracted. He landed a tap on her shoulder before backing away. "One," he said with a brilliant smile.
Her heart wanted to flutter. She forced the feeling down, using Luke's training to isolate her mind, to make everything around her seem crystalline and detached. He probably hadn't meant his training to be used in order to repress how badly she wanted to kiss someone, but even Snoke's influence paled in the face of Finn, laughing as he deflected her blows.
"Ha," she said when she broke through and brushed his ribs. "We're even."
"I'd think you'd be trying harder," Finn said, "given the reward you suggested. I know what I'm going to pick."
Surprise made her stumble, and his staff rapped her boots. "Two."
"Stakes," she said. "They're stakes. Not a reward."
"Same thing." He moved to trip her.
She jumped, rolled and got his legs on the way up. Two to her - and then desperation took hold of her. It had been her suggestion, true, and she felt stupid for thinking of it, much less saying it. But now Finn had the better of her. He seemed perfectly confident, and Rey felt like a stumbling fool trying to lose her virginity at the nearest cantina. making too much of every touch and every look.
She fought back with renewed urgency, determined to control the outcome. Finn looked surprised at first, but as she advanced, forcing him to defend, his expression faded to concentration. He was good, better than nearly anyone Rey had fought before. But she could read his intentions easily, and that gave her the advantage in an otherwise even fight. She reached out with the Force, a quick strike at Finn's awareness, and he stumbled.
She swept his feet out from under him, then knelt, placing the rounded end of her staff on his shoulder. "Three," she said, breathing hard.
He could have pushed the staff away, but he didn't. He also didn't say anything. He just looked at her with an undefinable expression as he raised a hand and, slowly, gently, touched her cheek.
"What do you want?" he said. "It's your choice. You won."
She didn't feel like it. She felt torn, trapped. He must have realized, because he stroked her hair as he said, "Poe told me about you and him."
She couldn't stop herself from jerking back. "What?"
"Hey. It's okay. I wasn't exactly mad." He half-smiled. "I told him I'd have done the same thing. It's true, you know."
He'd do the same thing. Meaning - "You'd - with me?"
Finn looked away. "I mean, you had to, right? Weird alien biology stuff was happening. It's not like - you're pretty. Obviously! You're very pretty. And Poe and I both like you, and you're already halfway to being a Skywalker-style hero, so I mean, sure, I would, if there was some kind of plant or pollen or -"
She kissed him, right there on the practice mat. It turned out to be very simple. Her lips slid over his, and as a shiver went down her spine, she fell forward, leaning into his touch, until he pressed her against him.
They were clumsy. Rey had experience, and she supposed Finn did too, but somehow it felt very different, kissing someone she knew so well. He kissed, she realized after a long moment, like Poe - or maybe Poe had kissed like Finn. The thought sent a shiver through her, and she kissed him that much harder, hoping to crowd out any hesitation.
It didn't work. He pulled back first, but the moment he did, she felt like a cold bucket of water had been tossed over her. She pulled away, then stood, avoiding his gaze.
"Luke will probably talk to you tomorrow," she said.
"I have to go." Blunt and stupid-sounding. She followed it up with out and out running away.
Rey didn't know how old she'd been when she freed herself from Plutt. Ten, maybe - and it wasn't really freedom, of course, but at least then she'd been able to live alone and rule herself, even if her food was held hostage for old ship parts. The first few nights after she'd found shelter, she had lain awake, practically trembling with excitement. But then the days came again, and with them, the same drudgery of scavenging. The nights became long, and then they became frightening. Animals scuffed outside her door, and the wind howled too loudly to ignore, even with a ship's thick walls to insulate her.
Then she had curled up on her side, shaking with fear and loneliness, keeping her eyes screwed shut for terror of what she might see. She'd clutched a blanket around her, as much to pretend her mother still held her as for warmth. And she repeated to herself, over and over, that she must be brave. She must be strong. They'd come back someday, and in the meantime, she must be brave.
It had never really worked.
Now, comparatively, she had very little to fear. The Resistance base was as safe as any place in the galaxy could be for her. If she had things to fear, anyway, they'd be Snoke's influence, or Liren, trapped in the center of their camp like a time bomb. Being afraid of Finn was ridiculous.
And she wasn't afraid of him, exactly. Finn, kind and determined and competent, didn't scare her. But the memory of what she'd felt, lying over him - the strength of it, the sheer mind-altering force - did. It had been ten years since she'd survived those first few nights alone, but lying in her room in the Resistance barracks, she felt that same fear-filled loneliness.
If she went to them, they might accept her. Or, well, they probably would accept her. Multi-person relationships weren't so uncommon, and Finn had said Poe liked her, just as he did. But that was all it was: they liked her. Maybe they wanted her, physically. And none of that was bad or wrong; it was nice to be wanted, wonderful to be liked. But Rey had lived with herself long enough to recognize what she was feeling. She'd been in danger even before she'd kissed Finn on the practice mat. Now, the danger had clarified itself, and it terrified her.
She could love them both, and it would be easy. She couldn't imagine anything more likely to hurt her.
The night seemed heavy. She tossed and turned, and neither the room's white noise nor complete darkness helped. When she woke up the next morning - forced to, more or less, by automated lighting and the room's roof fading to transparency - she felt like she was moving through healing gel. Every limb took more effort to move than it should have done.
Her mood was already in jeopardy, then, when she entered the cafeteria to see Finn and Poe all over each other. They were hardly the center of anyone's attention - the cafeteria was large and, when the pilots ate, incredibly noisy - but she became aware of Finn instantly, and with him, Poe. They were the center of her attention, and she hated it.
She hid from everyone with great success, until well into twilight. She'd have been in the clear to spend the rest of the night blissfully alone, but Luke found her hiding place in the woods as it began to get dark.
"It's not that safe out here," he said by way of greeting.
"I can take care of myself." It came out more aggressively than she'd intended, but she felt absolutely no desire to make amends.
"Even against Liren?"
Luke sighed and sat down in the grass across from her. He looked, she thought, like an exhausted frog. His robes crinkled beneath him, billowing at the sides. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
"Aren't Jedi supposed to be immune to -"
"Pettiness?" he suggested when she struggled to find a word. At her nod, he said, "Maybe. I wouldn't know. People call me the last Jedi, but the truth is a lot more complicated than that."
"The pilots think they know all kinds of things about you."
Luke's lips quirked. "Pilots usually do."
Luke had already worked on teaching her how to manage her emotions. A lot of the advice had to do with introspection: understanding your own motives and thoughts, and ensuring those didn't frame your speech without your permission. She tried to follow his teachings just then, to sort through the morass of emotions that seethed inside her. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't make them all make sense, couldn't reconcile herself to feeling so awful. Not to mention that she'd rather die than tell Luke about her Finn- and Poe-related troubles.
Finally, she settled on saying, "I don't like it. This idea that I'm part of something so huge."
He didn't need to speak for her to register the irony in what she'd said. "Not the Force. I meant the rumors. The whole Skywalker thing."
"The whole Skywalker thing isn't really a portent of good luck, so that makes sense."
"It's not even that," Rey lied. "Oh, okay. It's not entirely that. I know about Vader."
"And my nephew."
"And Ren. But -"
"You think you can avoid that?"
"I stayed hidden for years," Rey said. "I don't want to go back to that."
"I would never force you to." He spoke with vehemence, just then. Almost protectiveness. Maybe this was what it would have been like if he'd raised her. "You won't be left somewhere like Jakku again."
"Still," Rey said. "I'm not really worried about going evil, or - whatever. But there's just so much. Expectations, speculation." She shook her head. "I was no one on Jakku. And now I'm part of some legacy."
She felt so oddly defensive just then. After all, Luke may have wanted a daughter, but she hadn't known she was a Skywalker until a few weeks ago. It was reasonable to worry, normal to fear, absolutely fine to wish she could have just been a Force-skilled person from some family no one had ever heard of.
But of course, Luke didn't say anything remotely critical. Instead, he nodded. "I know it's difficult."
"You were happy about it." She'd already been given the Story of Luke Skywalker from various Resistance members, and she'd read about him before. "About having a legacy, I mean."
"I also didn't know about my father for awhile."
His father. Vader. Her grandfather, she thought, repressing a shudder. "Okay, but -"
He held up a hand, and when she quieted, said, "I understand that you're afraid, and that you're frustrated. I understand that you'd like to avoid the Resistance's scrutiny. Unfortunately, Snoke will continue trying to reach us. I can't stop that, or put it on pause. I wish I could."
She knew all that already. Hearing it again only caused a slow, depressing variety of frustration to course through her. She opened her mouth to say something - 'I know', maybe, or 'leave me alone' - and found her throat closing up.
A moment later, she realized what was happening: she had begun to cry.
Sobs wracked her body, and her eyes teared up. She curled in on herself, avoiding Luke's gaze, trying not to think about what this proved. She was weak after all, weak and doomed by Snoke's own power. It seemed very likely just then that she wouldn't last the week.
Luke's tentative hand on her back was such a shock that she jumped. But she didn't move away. He patted her back like he'd never been around a crying person before, and said, "There there," the way you might try to comfort an unclassified alien. When that only made her burst into harder sobs, he said, "I won't let anything happen to you, Rey. I promise."
He'd probably promised the children, too, the ones Ren had killed. It comforted her anyway, as did the fact that she could feel both his power and his certainty. It was easier to reach out to him with the Force than it had been with anyone else; Rey now knew enough to understand that that should have been a sign.
They stayed like that, on the ground, her crying and him patting her back, until her sobs eased and her breathing slowed. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hands and scuttled away as soon as she was able, saying, "I should probably get back. I have things to do." A complete lie, but one she hoped Luke would accept.
"One thing," Luke said. "I doubt you want anyone to see you like this."
She didn't bother contradicting him.
"You can't stay invisible forever, but you've used the Force to deflect attention before. Try using it consciously this time."
A lesson, sneaked in as advice. But it was useful advice all the same, so Rey nodded and said, "I'll do that."
No one even glanced at her on the way back.
The person who knocked on her barracks room door later was not Finn or Poe, Rey discovered upon letting them in. It was Jess.
"You weren't at dinner," Jess said, sitting down on Rey's bed uninvited.
"I wasn't feeling well." Sitting next to Jess would mean they were almost touching, so Rey stood in front of her, fully cognizant of how awkward she was being. Anger, too - her constant companion, it felt like - rose in her. Jess hadn't even asked if she could sit.
"Uh-huh. Well, forgive me, but you look fine."
"I was training," Rey ground out.
"Finn said you were going through a rough time, post-capture."
Finn had been gossiping about her? "Out," Rey said. "I'm fine, but I - you need to leave." Irritation, anger, jealousy - they all clawed at her, trying to rise and take over. "Now!"
She didn't yell it. She had, in fact, barely raised her voice. But Jess obeyed instantly, hopping off the bed with eyes wide and leaving before Rey even got the door.
As it slid shut behind Jess, Rey sat down in the spot she'd vacated, breathing hard. What was wrong with her? Stress, she thought. It had to be stress. Trauma, perhaps, from her imprisonment with the First Order.
Dread crept through her. Or maybe, she thought, it was Liren. Maybe Liren, and Snoke through her, were poisoning her. Maybe she was becoming like Ren.
Ren had killed a Jedi school and sent Luke on a painful journey. But he hadn't been at the center of a Resistance camp. What damage could Snoke do if he controlled someone here?
She closed her eyes, then opened them, then closed them again. No. She was her own person, and that person had gone through a lot, and was struggling to manager her issues. That was all. Sleep would help, she thought. She tapped her bedside panel and took the tea it produced, then kicked off her shoes, lying back on the pallet.
The tea contained sleep regulators. Against those, she didn't stand a chance. She wasn't even aware of falling asleep, but she woke almost eight hours later with a much clearer head. If she'd dreamed, she didn't remember it - and thank the heavens for that.
Luke had sent a schedule to her datapad late the previous night. It called for training in the morning with Finn, and individual training for two hours in the afternoon. Compared to a grueling work-for-rations schedule, her day would be relaxed, but it marked a return to daily lessons all the same. She arrived at the first one feeling a marked lack of enthusiasm.
But she got through the day, and managed to keep her head, even as Luke had her and Finn trying to move objects using the Force. He watched Finn more closely than he did Rey, which made sense; his was the newly discovered power, after all. But Rey found herself pushing harder, struggling with jealousy, as he explained the same principles to Finn that he'd explained to Rey back on the island.
She was being ridiculous, and she knew it, but that didn't make her feel less annoyed. Finn could go back to the barracks after being coddled by Luke, and be kissed by Poe. Who cared? Not Rey. She didn't care enough that when Finn avoided her gaze once they were done, and departed for lunch without even looking at her, she didn't say a word.
Luke hung back as he always did, watching her. "Are you okay?"
"Fine," Rey snapped, and stomped off.
She wasn't fine, of course. Well - physically, she'd never been better. But she felt like a cornered animal. She wanted to know more about her family; right now, she didn't even know who her mother was, much less what had truly happened back on Jakku. But she couldn't ask Luke. Even the thought of doing so was laughable. It wasn't until she was back on her bed, curled up around her datapad and feeling sorry for herself, that she realized she could use the datapad for things other than watching holodramas and looking up her schedule.
"Tell me about Luke Skywalker," she whispered, half convinced that even asking would cause some kind of embarrassing notice to be sent to Luke.
The datapad obliged, without any obvious violations of privacy. The network had, unsurprisingly, thousands of articles on him, dozens of videos just on the first page, and interviews with people who'd known him. Altogether, it was more information on him than she'd ever seen in one place. It more or less stopped years ago. When he'd lost the school, Rey thought, and become the person she knew now: sad and withdrawn and impossible to really know.
Her father. It seemed impossible.
She found no hint of her own existence in those files. She took a shaky breath when her schedule alert popped up, reminding her she had more work to do that day. The cause of the Resistance, she tried to remind herself, was more important than her own checkered past.
It didn't really work. She was relieved when, before she even made it to her afternoon private lesson, a droid waylaid her in the hall. "General Leia requests that you report to the East Building to guard the prisoner known as Liren while others are on an off-world expedition."
"Of course," she said, and whirled in the opposite direction with relief ballooning in her chest.
"It's a sad world when I'm easier to spend time with than your own father, isn't it?" Liren said by way of greeting.
Rey trained her eyes on the opposite wall and didn't respond.
"I'm not a hostile, you know. Look at this prison cell. Compared to how Snoke punishes nonbelievers, it's practically a palace."
Rey glanced over in spite of herself. Liren wasn't lying; the cell looked more or less like every barracks room did, only with plasma bars instead of walls. An effective demotivator to escape, Rey thought, even if the effect was Liren's face glowing, unsettlingly confident, just a few paces away from her.
"I know why you don't want to talk to me," Liren said. "Snoke hurt me, too."
"And you might still be his agent." Rey did her best to sound bored. "So the world turns."
"He makes you stop caring, you know."
Rey didn't respond, but she felt her mind catch on terror anyway. Liren had to be using some form of compulsion; her words were impossible to ignore. Rey could tell Liren was staring at her even without looking at the prison cell, and part of her wanted to bow to Liren again, to get that very specific safety she'd felt subsuming her will to that of someone much more powerful than she.
No, she thought. She hadn't felt that at all. She'd felt terrified and sick in her days with Snoke's acolytes.
And yet, the desire persisted, and with it the false memories.
"Stop it," she finally managed to say.
"Stop what?" Liren said. Then, when Rey didn't answer: "Oh. Oh, my."
Tension saturated her spine. "What?"
"Nothing," Liren said.
A flash of anger. For a moment, Rey was back on Jakku, watching scavengers bigger and stronger than herself taking her portions. No. "No," she snarled. "You'll tell me now."
Liren touched a corner of her robe to the plasma prison bars. It went up in smoke. "I came to the Resistance in peace. Unless you think your General approves of brutalizing prisoners, I'd watch my tone, were I you."
The words cut through the rage, a bit, enough for Rey to back down. She turned away from Liren and stared at the far wall, trying to get the rest of her calm to return.
She met with mixed success. The world still felt like it was about to fly apart around her when Poe, Finn, Leia, and Luke entered the room.
"She's fine," Rey said. "I haven't let her do anything."
But none of them were looking at Liren.
"He's in her mind," Liren said. "I can sense him. If you leave her like this, he'll catch me, too. And you." She pointed to Leia.
For a moment Rey couldn't understand. Then she did, and horror suffused her. "Liar! She's lying," she said, turning to Leia. "I wouldn't - I'm not -"
"Snoke," Luke said, in a tone neither threatening nor violent, but deeply and profoundly weary.
A moment of terror. A moment of pain. And then, Rey's mind quite simply broke.
Later, she'd watch the video that showed what happened. She screamed, first off, and then raced at Leia with her hands in grotesque claws. Finn and Poe wrestled her to the ground, painfully, scratching her arms in an effort to keep her still. Both of them looked down at her with fright in their faces, and concern. Concern for her.
But at the moment, she registered none of them. The seed of anger and pain that had been in her mind since before she'd gone with the First Order blossomed into a vine, embedded in every part of her mind, sending her whirling into the Dark.
And this was the Dark, there could be no doubt about that. Her body convulsed and she retreated into her mind, past the oases of Luke's invention, into the most honest part of her: the part that Snoke had owned for weeks now. That he'd found her long ago.
"Rey," he said.
She stood, in her mind, on hard-packed earth. Darkness and cold surrounded her. Snoke himself, the Lord of the First Order, was all around her, and yet nowhere. She couldn't see his face.
"You did this," she said. Even panicked, she could see the connections. The rage that had welled up in her at the merest slights. The frustration. The jealousy and avarice every time she looked at Finn and Poe.
He chuckled, a sick and slimy noise. "That wasn't me," he said.
"Not that last. That sort of affection -" He spoke the word with contempt - "belongs only to you."
"Then why? Why are you doing this?"
It was a weak question. She felt his contempt towards her, a mirror of her own. Or maybe it was her own, she thought, desperation welling inside her.
"Control," he said. "Not that I'd expect a desert rat to understand."
"You're joking." He had to be, because if he'd been in Rey's mind, then he knew. She feared everything, it sometimes felt like. People, events - the First Order, certainly. If she could control it all...
"Ah." He sighed. Cold wind whipped past her face. "You do understand."
She was; of course she was. She couldn't escape agreeing with him, which surely was his design. He needed her, she thought, because he burned through the Force sensitive, and he was losing acolytes every day. Acolytes like Liren.
Being aware of it didn't help. Every second that she spent here, she was losing herself. "I'll never be what you want. I'm too old."
"Luke has worked to disabuse you of that notion."
"Luke's an optimist."
"He is, isn't he? Ben has shown me."
Ben. Kylo Ren. Rey gritted her teeth. "Let me go."
"He tried to fight me, too. It didn't end well for him."
Snoke showed her: Ren, crying. Ren, killing children. Full of anger and pain.
"No," she said again. If she just kept saying it, maybe Luke could pull her back. If she resisted long enough, someone would save her.
"Rey Skywalker," Snoke whispered inside her. "No one is coming to save you."
Then he began to hurt her.
The physical pain was oddly specific. He gave her the pain of a sunburn, a vicious relic of her first scavenging trip. She'd been only eight and had no protective gear at all, and so the sun had blistered her, made her feverish and raving. Plutt had turned her out into the cold desert night in disgust, and there she'd almost died, shivering and crying for her mother.
If she'd had power, it would have been different. With the right power she could tear Plutt apart and -
She lashed out, but only for a moment. The Force wanted nothing to do with her here. She could barely push Snoke away, and he was immediately back, nudging another memory into existence.
Fifteen years old. Four years ago, now, but the memory was still fresh. A traveler named Joksta who'd stayed for three months. Rey had fallen in love and then watched Joksta leave; two months later, her ship's signature blipped out of existence. Shot down or simply fudged to drop a law enforcement hunt, Rey would never know. She had lain alone in bed, wondering if hearts stayed broken forever. Joksta hadn't wanted her, not really; she'd been convenient, for a short time only.
"Do you have a boyfriend back on Jakku?"
Poe didn't want her either. Nor did Finn. If she'd practiced more, perhaps she could keep them, convince them that some power was worth staying close to.
That thought was harder to push away. When she did, she lost all awareness for a moment, her mind spinning beneath the weight of Snoke's power.
And still he pressed on. Loneliness. Hurt. Anger. Pain. Every rejection, every indignity, every robbery and beating and petty cruelty Jakku and Plutt had seen fit to bestow upon her. And the promise of freedom, of control, so seductive that she could hardly breathe for wanting it.
Here, then, was the secret. When she finally gave in, she'd think she was going willingly. She'd kill everyone in the Resistance with a smile.
Whose voice was that? Maybe it was her own. Maybe this was the end.
"Rey Skywalker. I need you to come out of there now."
No, that wasn't her voice. This one was older, firm and more than a little annoyed.
"You've almost defeated him. He doesn't want you to know. One last try, Rey."
A blatant lie. He'd almost defeated her, not the other way around.
"Come with me," the voice said, and suddenly the Force blossomed all around her.
It was green and warm and beautiful, and she felt vigor rise in her. Snoke was weak and afraid. Only a shadow of him had managed to lodge in her, and now she'd rejected him twice. Once more, one last push.
"I love you," the voice said. "Now. Finish it."
With everything she had, with every power she could lay claim to, she attacked, feeling the sickening darkness all around her and pushing it, burning it, away.
She woke screaming, cutting it off with a gasp when she realized. The first person she saw wasn't Luke or Finn; it was Leia.
Warm eyes. Comfort. "You," she said.
"Me," Leia agreed. "Welcome back."
"Is he -"
"Gone, for now," Finn said. "Luke told us."
He still held her, though his hands were gentle now. She turned to him. "I'm sorry."
"You're safe," he said. "That's enough."
Rey opened her mouth to reply, to say anything that wasn't twisted by the Dark. Before she could get a word out, though, a new voice spoke from the door.
"No one here is safe."
Rey tried to turn and look, succeeding in hitting her nose on Poe's bicep. Luke, on the other hand, appeared and disappeared in her range of vision. When he spoke, he sounded more exhausted than Rey had ever heard him - an achievement on its own. "Mara. You shouldn't be here."
"Luke, darling," the voice said. It was feminine in tone, as well as tense in a way Rey was almost certain denoted fury. "You've been busy."
Leia didn't move from Rey's side, but she did nod at Finn and Poe, who released Rey immediately - Poe with a lingering hand at the small of her back, supporting her as she scrambled to her feet.
"Mara," Leia said. "It's good to see you."
She didn't sound particularly happy about it, nor did the woman sound friendly when she said, "It's good to see you, too."
Then, finally, Rey could turn on shaking legs and get a look at her: a tall woman, with dark hair.
Rey gasped. Her own eyes stared back at her, down the long barrel of the blaster.
"Hello, daughter," Mara said.
"Ah, hell. Shit. Damn," Poe said.
Rey very, very much agreed. "Who are you?"
"Isn't it obvious?"
"My mother." Rey shook her head. Her hands, she noted, were shaking. "Luke's -"
"Your father's partner. Yes." Mara's eyes didn't waver from Rey, even as Rey wished, acutely, that they would. "We lost you very early on."
"He's told me."
"How did you know to find us here?" Luke said.
Rey turned to look at him, and found herself unable to look away. He was looking between Mara and herself with tears in his eyes. The sight made Rey want to hide; it hadn't occurred to her that Luke even could be moved like that.
"Of course he can be," Mara said. "He's human."
"You're perceptive," Finn said.
"She's my daughter." That, Rey thought, explained nothing. "I felt her presence as soon as you began training. I hadn't expected things to be this dangerous for her."
"You should have," Leia said tightly. "This is a Resistance base."
Mara nodded. "And the enemy isn't a Skywalker, this time."
"It wasn't last time, either," Luke said. "The Empire was always bigger than that. As you well know."
"Who are you?" Rey burst out. "What is this?"
Mara reached out. It was an innocuous gesture, meant to touch her shoulder, but Rey instinctively recoiled.
A shadow passed over Mara's face. "It occurred to me that the Resistance might need some...wider-ranging contacts. After you lost Han." That last was directed at Leia. "And I wanted to meet my daughter. He didn't tell you about me, did he?"
"I wasn't sure you were alive," Luke said quietly, before Rey could respond. "Rey. I wanted to."
"Now is not the time for protestations of responsibility," Leia said. "Snoke nearly broke her, and none of us noticed."
"Except me," Liren said. They all turned to look at her, standing behind the bars with a carefully bored expression on her face. "I knew. It only took me a moment."
"And you'll be at the table," Leia said. She nodded to Luke, who went over to the prison's control panel and disabled the plasma bars. "But right now..." She looked around at the group. Mara still held the gun; Rey still shook. "You," Leia said to Rey. "Get some sleep. You two, take care of her." That was directed at Finn and Poe, who both nodded. "Liren, you'll be debriefed. Find Admiral Statura, it's his shift at the shield deck. And you." Leia stabbed her fingers at Luke and Mara. "Come with me."
It was in that moment that she really looked like Luke's sister. Luke's shoulders slumped and he grimaced with guilt as he and Mara obeyed Leia's directions.
Liren, thank the Force, left with them, so that Rey was alone with Finn and Poe.
"Seeing him crying," Finn said, "was weird. Really, really weird."
"They're both people," Poe said. "Everyone fighting this war is."
"Snoke's not." She could almost feel him still, a reflection of her own fear.
"He was, once," Poe said. "Or at least, that's the popular theory. Human, even."
"Really?" Finn said. "I'd have assumed he was like Maz."
"No one knows who Maz is," Poe said. "Or what she was. That's beside the point." He placed a hand on Rey's shoulder. She forced herself not to flinch away again. "You're okay?"
She had no way of evaluating an answer. "I'm alive," she said finally.
"Do you want to be alone?"
She looked at him. He was older than her or Finn, but she hardly noticed most of the time; they were none of them short on life experience or naive about pain. But right now it seemed painfully obvious. His expression was too knowing, his eyes too perceptive.
"I'm fine," she said. She didn't even sound convincing to herself.
He took a step forward, and then another one when she didn't move away. His arms came around her, and his hand rested on the back of her neck. She exhaled in a rush and leaned into him, tears pricking the corners of her eyes.
"It'll be okay," he said quietly. "You're safe now."
"For now," she said.
"You're safe," he said again, more firmly. "We're not gonna let anything happen to you."
Another hand patted her back, awkwardly at first, but then with more confidence. Finn. She wiggled a hand out of the embrace, grabbing his wrist.
It was one of those moments that would have been easy to disentangle herself from. All she had to do was step away and tell them to leave. But she couldn't. They were both so damn warm, and more familiar than they should have been. They were alive. They were of the light, and she couldn't bring herself to step away again.
"Stay," she said. She knew she was tipping the scales; in that moment, she didn't care. "Stay with me. Please."
Finn's lips brushed against her neck for the space of a breath. A shudder raced through her. Poe's grip tightened, his thighs tensing against her legs.
"Anything you want," Poe said.
He didn't mean it; that was why it hurt worse than anything else could. Maybe he meant comfort, physical or otherwise, but he didn't mean love. He didn't mean permanence. Rey hadn't needed Snoke's taunts to know that.
But for the time being, at least, he did mean that they'd do as she asked. "I'd like to go out to the woods," she said. "Where Finn and I train."
"Not your room?" Finn said. His voice sounded oddly hoarse. She must not have been the only one screaming as she battled Snoke.
"It'll be - please," she said. "I need to be outside."
They took her there as she asked, Poe keeping her hand in his. She stretched out in the grass and tilted her face to the sky. This planet had generally predictable weather, and today was as all the other sunny days had been: clear and cold, but beautiful, and nothing like Jakku. It was what she needed, just as much as she needed to not be alone.
"Tell me about your training," Poe said.
Rey didn't need to respond. Finn, new to the practice, was more than ready to launch into discussion. It occurred to her midway through his recounting of Luke's training that Poe had probably heard it all before - in bed, maybe. The talk was for her benefit. She laughed when Finn cracked a joke, though, and his resulting smile made it worth it.
"We were all afraid of him," Poe said. "Back in the day, you know."
Before Snoke had gotten Ren. Rey winced. "Sure."
"He was so powerful, ridiculously so. Testor had a bit of a crush. I might've too."
"Poe! That's my father!"
Poe was laughing too hard to continue - a blessing, Rey thought, for both of them. She smacked at him anyway, out of the principle of it all.
Finn looked between them with a tiny smile on his face. He plucked at the grass and wove it as Poe talked about Testor's crush, about his mother, about the early Republic.
It was almost too nice a story, Rey thought. "And now we're all here, fighting the First Order."
"Sure," Poe said. "It's not that bad, though."
"Luke's not exactly cheerful these days," Finn said. "Not that I've seen from him, anyway."
Poe lay back against the grass. His shirt rode up, exposing the smallest slit of stomach. Of course it was beautiful; Rey looked away. "That's life," Poe said. "You'll understand when you're older."
Finn smacked his shoulder lightly. "Come on. Be serious."
"Oh, trust me, I am," Poe said.
"No, seriously." Poe propped himself up on an elbow. "It's terrible now, I'll grant you, but we're fighting for freedom. There's nothing more important than that."
"If only it'd stuck the first time," Rey muttered.
"That would have been ideal." He looked directly at her then, expression serious. His eyes, Rey was disconcerted to note, were bright and interested, painfully charismatic. And practiced, of course. he probably gave this mini-speech a dozen times a day. "But we're here now. We'll do what we have to."
"Because it's the right thing to do," Finn said.
Poe sent a smile his way, then, like it had been a joke. But of course Finn had been serious - even if Rey didn't know what he really wanted, why he'd stayed with the Resistance. Her ignorance sent a bolt of guilt through her. She'd had months to become closer to him, and she hadn't done it. She'd avoided them after the undercover disaster, too - and meanwhile, they'd both become closer. Her mistake.
"Tell me what you know about Mara," Rey said.
"Your mother?" Poe said. "She's a little out of my league. In uh - more ways than one."
"I know," Rey said. "I - that's not what I meant!"
"We had a file on her, actually," Finn said.
"Oh, really." Poe raised his eyebrows. "The First Order has a file on Mara Jade? I guess that's not a surprise."
"What does that mean?" Rey said. "Who is she?"
"It's more like, who was she," Finn said. "A legend, in some circles."
"And a bit of an outlaw in others," Poe said.
"She worked for the Emperor," Finn said. "She was an assassin."
"Then a smuggler," Finn said. "And, well, our file ended then. But I guess at some point, she...with Luke."
Poe tilted his head, like he was thinking about it. "Stop that," Rey said, unable to help herself.
"Sorry," Poe said. "It just seems kind of poetic, right? Given - ah. Damn."
Han. Silence settled over the group.
"Anyway," Poe said after a long moment. "She's a character. Handy with a blaster, too."
"The parents I remember were no one," Rey said. "No one important, I mean." And they'd hurt her. Stolen her under Snoke's influence, apparently. But her mother had cried. Surely Rey hadn't misremembered that in the intervening decade. Any scared little girl would want to believe her parents missed her. But she hadn't invented that detail. They'd both screamed. Her mother - the woman she'd remembered as her mother - had cried.
"Did Luke tell you what happened?"
She avoided Poe's concerned gaze, shaking her head.
Finn moved just a bit closer to her, until she could feel the warmth of his body. She wanted desperately to lean into it, but a glance at Poe put an end to that idea. The way he was stretched out on the grass, comfortable and practically glowing from the sunshine, served as a horribly guilt-inducing reminder of exactly what had happened between the two of them. Finn might be okay with it, but somehow, that didn't make Rey feel anything but horribly lonely.
"I'm sure there's an explanation," Poe said.
He managed to make it sound believable, even. Or mostly believable. "She said she could feel me."
"Um, well," Finn said, then stared at the ground.
Rey narrowed her eyes. "What?"
He sighed. "Most people could," he said. "Force-sensitive people, that is. The First Order tracks this kind of thing, but Maz knew, too. Whatever happened with you, it wasn't exactly subtle. I've heard people talking about it still, even now."
Rey could think of nothing more to say than, "Oh."
"Either way," Poe said. "It's good that she's here. She wasn't wrong back there. We're low on parties who can move between our space, Republic space, and First Order space. Especially now that those latter two are so cozy."
"Have we heard anything from the Senate?" Rey said. "Has Snoke's control faltered at all?"
"It's not just his control," Poe said. "And that's the problem."
"They can't possibly want to go back!"
"To the Empire?" Poe shrugged. "Freedom's hard. I wouldn't bet on it, personally."
Rey had no rejoinder to that, so she settled for scowling.
"On the bright side," Finn said, "there's two of us now. Young Force users, I mean. So - maybe we can defeat Snoke."
"Two whole Force users." Rey shook her head. "I'm not surprised people are capitulating to Snoke."
They sat in silence after that, more than a little depressingly. It was only after the suns descended below the trees that Finn said, "We should get back."
"Think the dust has settled?" Poe climbed to his feet.
Finn followed, and offered a hand to Rey. It was only a hand, Rey told herself, and took it.
"Here's hoping." Finn started back towards the camp. He didn't let go of Rey's hand, and she couldn't bring herself to ask him to.
They heard nothing from the main command for days. Rey felt jumpy all the while. Having Snoke out of her mind made it obvious just how thoroughly rooted in there he'd been. She found herself infinitely more relaxed, but also keyed up every time she thought about how much more relaxed she was. On top of that, the one time she tried to meditate - Luke's cure-all! - she found herself so aware of Mara that she had to stop.
Yet despite all that, she saw absolutely nothing of Mara herself. Leia was still around in the way she always was, giving orders and overseeing debriefings. Luke occasionally lurked in a corner, disappearing before Rey could track him down. Her and Finn's schedules had been put on hold, though, and Mara and Liren were both nowhere to be found.
A side effect of the disruption was that Rey found herself suddenly spending most of her time with Poe and Finn. And neither of them, apparently, shared her consternation.
"This kind of thing happens," Poe said. "When they're done with whatever they're doing, they'll let us know."
"My mother, Poe. My mother!"
"My mother was in the Resistance. I know it's not the same, but - just. The General has everyone's best interests in mind."
"I'm going to climb out of my skin," Rey said.
"It'll be okay," Poe said, for the fourth time that day at least.
She knew what it meant. It meant that she should calm down. But if she stopped talking about it, she'd become the girl who kept her mouth shut and panicked about everything privately, and then...
Snoke. Always lurking. Was this what it had been like for Ren? She could almost feel sorry for him.
But only almost.
Finn touched her hand. "Hey. Want to spar?" They'd been keeping Poe company as he and BB-8 worked on diagnostics for the Resistance's captured TIE fighter, but since the diagnostics had to be formal and no parts could be pulled out or fiddled with, Rey's own usefulness was limited.
"With staffs?" Rey tried a hopeful smile.
"Oh, so you want an assured victory today?"
"Of course not! I'm just trying to help you get better. They're an important weapon, you know, for form and speed - augh!" She dodged Finn's jab to her ribs.
"Get going, both of you." Poe laughed as he nudged Finn's boots with his foot. "You're distracting my droid."
"Fine, fine." Finn sighed. "Let's go. You'll be sorry when I come back with bruises," he told Poe.
"Oh, I think I'll enjoy it," Poe said.
"Joker," Finn said, laughing as they left.
If Rey fought harder given evidence of Finn and Poe's attachment, so what? She had to survive. This was as good a way as any. Perhaps feeling the loneliness would even temper her against future pain, and future invasion from Snoke.
Right. And perhaps Jakku would be next year's hottest new resort planet.
In the next few days, she came to understand what the Resistance looked like when actively preparing for expected battle. People were more serious, of course, but it went beyond that. The pilots drilled longer and with higher stakes. No raucous cafeteria parties even started, much less went till dawn. She hardly saw Leia at all, and when Luke gave her lessons, he was serious and withdrawn.
She didn't see Liren or Mara at all. Perhaps that was for the best. Part of Rey wasn't sure what the point of a mother was, really, after she'd spent so much time alone, and after the parents she'd fought to remember were revealed as frauds.
Of course, part of her was just lonely. No sense in ignoring that. But if things stayed the same, more or less, then she could navigate the loneliness. It was bearable.
As a direct consequence of such thoughts, her first reaction to being asked to report to the command room was sheer panic. Fear that she had done something wrong or that Mara or Leia or even Luke would reject her trampled all common sense. It was only after she'd spent several minutes breathing deeply and fighting to remember that she wanted to be in the Resistance, and that the Resistance wanted her, that she could comply with the request and leave her room.
Snoke's influence was gone - his Force-powered influence, at least. But clearly some of the lessons he'd tried to teach her, of her own lowliness and worthlessness, remained.
Self-awareness didn't make seeing Mara for the first time in two weeks any easier. She stood in front of the Resistance's commanders and said, "Reporting, as requested, General."
"Rey, thank you for coming." Leia walked over to her and hugged her. She clearly meant to be comforting, but she stepped back more quickly than she had before. "Luke says you're progressing quickly."
"I'm trying," she said. She heard someone clear their throat behind her, and turned to see Finn and Poe standing in the entryway.
"Come on in," Leia said. "I've got news for you all."
After they'd come to stand by Rey, Leia said, "Bring up the display, please, Mara."
The holovid flicked to life, filling the air with a map. Rey didn't recognize it; none of the quadrants were labeled.
"The Resistance became necessary due to Dark side influence," Leia said. When Poe opened his mouth, she held up a hand. "I know it's a history you all know. Bear with me.
"We all thought, and hoped, that the Rebellion would end Sith control over our galaxy, and over the Senate particularly. For awhile, it seemed as thought we'd succeeded. The Sith were never set up for long-term rule; they relied too heavily on operatives who weren't entirely loyal, and their use of the Dark side was only potent with comparatively few people. Snoke has proven to be different - and has, in fact, always been different." She turned to Liren. "You'd better explain."
"To put it bluntly, we don't know where he is," Liren said. "The galaxy is vast, but Force users have always been easier to track, if you have the right power. Not so with Snoke. He's hidden somewhere. Even his closest allies don't know exactly where that is. He uses the Force, kyber crystals, and other tools, to allow himself to project anything he wants over long distances."
Including taking control of other people. Rey said, "If it were possible to find him, wouldn't you have done it already? When Ren was taken?"
She hadn't meant to be gentle, but when Leia flinched, guilt still welled in her. "I'm sorry. I meant -"
"I know what you meant," Leia said. For a moment, she looked much older, her face shadowed, her pain radiating through the room. "It's true that we haven't been able to find him before. It's also true that we haven't had an asset that might allow us to find him."
An asset. "Liren? You can't be serious. She just said no one knows where he is! And she was dark side until five minutes ago!"
"I told you," Liren murmured.
"Hey," Poe said. His voice was mild, but he looked at Liren with a hard expression. "She's not wrong. Why shouldn't we be wary of you?"
"I'm outnumbered, for one."
Finn said, "So were you when you took Rey."
Rey looked over at Finn. They hadn't talked about it because there wasn't much to talk about - but if Poe was a bit annoyed, Finn was ready to fight. She'd hardly ever seen him this genuinely angry.
"I've dealt with traitors and scumbags before," Leia said. "Traitors on both sides, actually. She's useful, and we aren't the Resistance if we treat Galactic citizens like the First Order does. For now, we trust her."
"So what does she know?" Poe said.
Liren took a deep breath. "I think I can find Snoke."
"Seriously?" Poe said. He looked from Liren to Leia. "How do we know she's credible? Next she'll tell us she'll lead us right to him, as long as only Rey comes."
"Dameron, I understand you're feeling protective, but believe me when I say the potential for a double-cross has already crossed my mind." Leia spoke in the kind of firm voice that meant she was delivering, however kindly, a firm setdown. "Now, for the last time, let her finish."
"I'm not going," Liren said.
"Coward," Mara muttered.
"No. More. Commentary," Leia said.
Liren moved slightly, placing her back more directly to Mara. Then she said, "The reason it's difficult to find him is that only his acolytes, those in his trust, have enough of a connection to him to follow the Force as far as you'd need to. If I took a ship with all of you, the same power that let me find him would convince me to kill all of you on the way."
The hair on Rey's neck rose. "What are you saying?"
"Simple." Liren looked her dead in the eye. "You're the only one who's managed to push him out like that. You're the only one who's related to three other powerful Force users - and connected with another, besides."
Out of the corner of her eye, Rey saw Finn flinch. She'd deal with that later, or she wouldn't; it barely signified in the face of what Liren was telling her. "You're saying you want me to...give in."
"No, that would almost certainly kill you. I want you to lie."
Rey could do nothing but gape.
"If you travel with others who are strong, if you keep your edge and draw on others' power, you have a better chance than anyone of finding Snoke. And killing him."
She'd never killed anyone before. Even under Snoke's influence, she'd only barely considered it. She shook her head. "This is crazy."
She looked over at Luke. He was a calm presence, always, but she could tell he was projecting it harder right now. He said, "Let's talk for a minute."
She let him lead her over to the far corner of the command room, out of earshot of everyone else.
"Please don't try to convince me I can trust her," Rey said.
"Trust doesn't tend to define whether or not someone's dangerous," Luke said. "As we both know."
"Probably," Luke said. "Or maybe she's just weak. But her information is legitimate. We've tested her in as many ways as possible, and we're confident about that."
She could hear what he wasn't saying. She had no reason to mistrust Leia and Luke's judgment in this. It had to be obvious to everyone that such mistrust wasn't the only, or the real, reason she was afraid.
Finally, she said, "I'm scared. If Snoke gets in my head again, he could destroy me."
"He could," Luke said. "If he keeps gaining power, he could destroy us all. We want to travel with you and prevent that."
She didn't scream or hurl accusations. Luke clearly didn't want her to have to do this, but that didn't change the fact that it was necessary. Still, she took a shaky breath and said, "Why can't someone else do it? Why can't you?"
"I can't push Snoke out. I tried, long ago, and failed - dangerously. I tried again more recently. I'd like to be the person to solve this. And I can't be."
She heard the failure in his words, the heavy awareness of his own limitations. It was almost enough; she almost didn't feel like a human sacrifice.
"We're not going to force you," Luke said. "The Resistance is asking this of you, but if you don't want to, we'll try to find another way."
Try to. Because this was the only avenue of action they thought they had, and it was one they hadn't managed to get for years and years.
She hated it, with the kind of strong and visceral feeling she'd always tried to avoid. Was this what she'd wanted, back in the desert, daydreaming about being a member of the old Rebellion? Had part of her known it might end like this when Finn had told her he was with the Resistance? She'd always wanted to be a hero; it hadn't occurred to her that it would be so terrifying. "I tried to run away, before. At Maz's."
"Chewie told me. It was a normal reaction."
Normal. Right. "What if I do that again? What if I get halfway there and just decide I can't do it?"
"It won't be the first time someone's run away."
Heavy irony in that, and self-awareness besides. Rey still found herself saying, "You were looking for something on that island."
"A reason to keep going," Luke said. "And maybe some obscurity."
"You didn't get that."
There was nothing to be done. They both knew it. "I'll do it," she said, swallowing past the lump of ferrocrete that felt permanently lodged in her chest.
He placed a hand on her shoulder for just a moment. Maybe he was proud, she thought. But he didn't say anything, just walked with her back to the group.
"Rey's agreed to try," he said.
"Rey?" Poe said.
"He's right." Rey looked over at Leia. "The chance to destroy Snoke is a big deal. I'll go."
Poe swore softly.
"Enough," Mara said. "Everyone needs to get packing. There aren't maps of where we're going, and we need to leave as soon as possible."
"General?" Poe said.
"Oh, I'm coming," Leia said. "Admiral Statura will direct the troops while I'm gone." She swept her gaze across the small group. "Tell no one of our goal, or of who's coming with us. Report back here in six hours. We'll be taking Mara's ship."
"Pray to whatever gods you worship and say goodbye to your loved ones," Mara said. "We might not come back from this."
"Seriously?" Finn said. "You're not going to try to be motivating?"
Mara regarded him with a bland expression. "That was my motivation."
"Six hours," Leia said again. "Bring only what you can carry."
Rey didn't want to watch Finn and Poe walk out together. She turned her back on the group and left.
Rey wasn't sure what to expect from Mara's ship. She'd devoured every schematic she could find when she was a scavenger, and had always dreamed of ships whose pilots matched them, in temperament and construction. But imagining Mara's ship was hardly an easy proposition; she wasn't just trying to picture some Resistance fighter's ship. She'd be trying to guess what kind of ship, and personality, her mother had.
Some private part of her could admit that she hoped it was good, though. Slick. Powerful. She wanted Mara to understand ships the way she did; she wanted to feel like she'd gotten something from her.
But even with those hopes, she hadn't quite imagined the Jade Shadow.
It loomed in the hangar, rounded and conspicuously large, perfectly clean but so matte it looked dusty. "That's a luxury cruiser," she said. "What in the world?"
"Don't judge a book by its cover," Poe said from behind her. She turned. He stood with BB-8, carrying a small pack, looking up at the Jade Shadow with clear admiration.
She said the first thing that occurred to her: "Where's Finn?"
A mistake. He quirked his eyebrows at her, then said, "He went to his room to get his things."
He was all but daring her to say something about them. Why? She pressed her lips together, then said, "It'll be close quarters, I imagine?"
"On that thing? No way." He smiled at her. "But you're always welcome to hang out with us. Finn says he gets tired of all the talk of the Force."
She didn't know what to say, or do, or think. His smile alone was more compelling than she wanted his entire - everything - to be. So instead of responding in kind, she turned and half-ran towards the ship.
Mara greeted her as soon as she got on. "Welcome aboard."
Rey surveyed the hangar. It was surprisingly spare for a luxury cruiser, and - "Is that a droid station?"
"Yes," Mara said. "You didn't think I'd outfitted my ship so everyone could sip tihaar and watch dancing girls, did you?"
"I - didn't know," Rey said, even though she'd expected that as soon as she saw the ship. "How much have you modified it?"
"Enough to get us where we need to go." Mara's expression softened, as though she'd just remembered Rey was her daughter. "I hope you like it. Luke tells me you're quite the expert in ship mechanics; feel free to make suggestions. I'm sure there's room for improvement."
She was trying. That much was obvious. But Rey wanted to snap back anyway. Her open generosity and calm was nothing like Han's annoyed accommodation had been, and the contrast tore at her.
"Sure," she said, and brushed past her, into the belly of the ship.
They hadn't been assigned rooms, so Rey picked one based on its proximity to the control room. Mara wouldn't need to man the pilot's seat unless they ran into unexpected trouble - though it seemed to Rey that they ought to be expecting trouble on this particular trip. Still, she wanted to be close to the action. She was feeling very satisfied with her choice when she left the bunk to explore, until she nearly tripped over Finn and Poe arranging themselves in the two cabins next to hers.
Finn looked at her and said, "You know, I have a - thing to check, shoes. Thing," letting the door slide closed behind him and leaving her alone in the hallway with Poe.
"Looks like she gutted the accommodations for technical enhancements," Poe said. He quirked his eyebrows at her. "Unless you just sniped the biggest room."
She told herself to sound normal. "If I'd gotten a big room, I'd give it to you two to share," she said coldly.
Not a success.
Poe bit his lip, his eyes dropping. "A room that can hold two usually works for three."
He was smiling. He couldn't be serious, of course. Not in the way Rey wanted him to be. He and Finn were practically ready for a wedding. But Rey took a step back all the same, heart thudding in her chest, warmth spreading through her. The way he looked just reminded her of having him between her thighs, feeling him inside of her. Would he look like that if he watched her and Finn?
It was a stupid thought. She looked away. "You've clearly not been inside many ships. If you can squish two into a berth, three would result in suffocation."
"You ever tried it?"
Rey opened her mouth to protest - or something; she hadn't worked out the details yet. Fortunately, the ship cut her off, an automated voice saying, "All crew please report to the observation deck."
"I've got to go," she said, and took off before Poe could offer to walk with her.
On the observation deck, Mara went over the basics of their mission and what responsibilities they'd all share. There weren't very many of them. It didn't sound like a suicide mission, exactly, but Rey was well aware that everyone's attention would be sunk into watching her, trying to control her, and otherwise dodging her potential deadliness via evil influence. It wasn't a particularly comfortable feeling.
Too, there was no one to talk to about it, really; Luke, Mara, and Leia were all out by virtue of being related to her, and the idea of trying to open up to Poe or Finn like that gave her hives. She didn't think Chewie would give appropriate advice, either. So she suffered in silence.
Or at least, she thought she did. As the ship cycled into artificial night, and she sat alone on a scrap of stairway overlooking the observation deck, BB-8 rolled up to her and asked about her health.
"You don't need to worry," she told it.
That was a mistake. BB-8 immediately ran a health scan, then bumped against her, telling her that Poe would be able to help.
"Thank you, but I'm okay, really," she said. She didn't add that Poe, for all his myriad robot-focused charms, wasn't a doctor or a - whatever kind of help Rey needed.
BB-8 told her that Poe hugged it sometimes when he was feeling down. The image, absurd as it was, at least made her smile. And when BB-8 nudged her, she leaned over and patted its chassis.
Then, satisfied with a job well done, it rolled away. And she was alone again.
Sure. No need to worry.
Even when feeling profoundly self-pitying, she eventually had to sleep. She imagined as she lay down that she could feel Finn and Poe's presences, mere inches away. It was only imagining, though, the wistful dreaming of a lonely person. She was familiar enough with that kind of thing.
In the silence of space, she dreamed.
First she dreamed of hands. Warm, big hands, stroking her neck and shoulders, traveling down her sides, touching her breasts. Hands on her thighs, sending sparks of sensation to her core. Hands nudging her knees aside, skimming over her hips, pressing into her cunt. She felt a muted kind of joy, a catch in her throat and a flutter in her heart.
Then the hands gained owners: Finn, curled around her from behind, caressing her breasts. Poe, kneeling in front of her, his tongue tracing paths his fingers had created. And the warmth just built, in her and around them. She felt Finn smile against her neck, and watched Poe laugh when a curl of his fingers made her jerk and almost cry out.
She felt so warm. So comfortable, too, and safe. Finn turned her head just enough to kiss, and Poe licked her clit, pressing into her with a steady power that made her gasp. "Please," she whispered.
But speech broke the spell. She woke with her heart pounding, gasping for air, every nerve on fire.
Of course she was alone. Mara's ship tactfully kept the lights off; the AI wasn't nearly as jumpy as on a Resistance ship. She screwed her eyes shut and fought to bring her breathing back to normal, her hands clenched into fists at her sides.
She could fix the problem, part of it anyway. She could reach between her own legs. But that wouldn't fully satisfy her, and she couldn't fool herself into thinking otherwise.
Eventually, she managed to sleep again. She had a nightmare or two, the mundane sort about starving on Jakku or being taken and sold to some other, worse planet. Waking up from those, with the ship's gentle light announcing the end of her sleep cycle, felt comparatively like relief.
They were staying sub-light-speed until they got a decent read on where Snoke might be, so they hadn't actually traveled very far when Rey woke up. She joined the others in the ship's kitchen, sipping caf and enjoying some of their soon-to-be-gone supply of fresh meat and vegetables. She'd only been sitting for fifteen minutes or so when Mara came and sat across from her, ignoring Rey congenially as she built her own plate of food. Rey couldn't help but steal glances at Mara as they ate; she'd dreamed of her mother so many times that the reality seemed wholly fabricated.
If Mara noticed the curious looks, she gave no sign. Rey longed for that kind of calm indifference. Her heart felt like it was racing.
Finn sat down next to her when he entered the kitchen. "Sleep well?"
"Better than normal." He smiled, though he avoided her eyes. "I'm still more used to sleeping in space than on the ground."
"I assume you enjoy having your own room."
His smile didn't disappear, but it did, maybe, get a little tenser, his skin tightening around his eyes. "I'm sorry," Rey said immediately.
"No, no, it's fine." He was silent for a moment before saying, "I don't know if I enjoy it. It can be lonely."
She tried to imagine that. He wasn't alone, after all; the ship was close to uncomfortably full. And he had friends here. But a room made him lonely? "I see."
"We're - they're - it's not like being family, when you're a stormtrooper." He took a bite of bread, chewing very slowly before elaborating. "A lot of us remember our families, for starters, at least a little bit. But it's better than nothing, you know? You get - bonds, I guess. Not quite like friends. You get used to having people around all the time."
She nodded and took a sip of her drink. The same horrible painful wanting had returned, spreading through her. If Finn spent his entire day telling her about his life, about what he thought and felt and how it affected him - she'd enjoy it, she thought.
Of course, that presupposed a different world, where - among other things - she didn't spend half her time furiously jealous of Finn and Poe. So it probably didn't matter either way.
"I hope we can stop the First Order," she said. "Maybe then..."
Finn didn't mock the supposition - maybe then things would be better, she'd been about to say. Maybe then he could meet his squadron on even terms. But he didn't agree, either. He just smiled a little, wistfully, and picked up his sandwich.
That day, Rey had the dubious privilege of spending most of her time on the observation deck with all of the others, trying to pretend that this particular mission wasn't fraught with both danger and social awkwardness. She tried to focus on other things - the ship, meditation, even Luke's instructions to look for Snoke - but her eyes kept returning to Finn, or Poe, or both of them.
Poe followed Leia around like a new recruit might. He clearly worshiped the ground she walked on, and she treated him with a kind of detached amusement that told Rey Poe'd been acting this way for a long time. Of course, Poe loved charming people, and so he also curried favor with Mara, showing off his knowledge of various star systems as they plotted out the beginning of a course. Finn was a bit more reserved, sitting back and talking with Luke, but he'd look at Poe with pride in his expression, and Rey felt her stomach clench every time.
She was happy for him, she told herself. It was profoundly unconvincing. Memories sneaked through her mind, of Finn's soft lips and Poe's warm skin. It was remarkable to discover she wasn't particularly generous.
Eventually, things had to change - and they did. Late in the day, close to the crew's sleep shift, BB-8 found Rey in a storage room. It beeped inquisitively, and when she said, "I'm fine," told her that the General wanted her on the observation deck.
She followed it back. Leia and Luke stood waiting; Mara was nowhere to be seen. When Rey asked about her, Leia said, "She didn't want to be present for what we're about to do."
"Mara's been tempted by the dark side," Luke added in a low voice.
It was on the tip of Rey's tongue to ask what had happened - if that was why they'd separated. But then the context took on a scarier meaning. "You want me to find Snoke."
"We're as far as Liren's direction takes us," Leia said. "We'll do our best to keep you safe, but it is imperative that we find Snoke."
"And destroy him?" Rey found herself asking.
Leia nodded, eyes hard. This was her aunt, Rey thought, willing to put Rey in danger to save the Republic. Rey had often dreamed of being a hero. Her own resolve wasn't weak. But she couldn't imagine being a general, spending her whole life fighting, and all that implied.
"I'll do it," she said.
She sat in the pilot's chair. The world hummed around her: the ship, yes, but also the Force, inside with them and out in the blackness of space. It never really went away, even in the vacuum. A place fundamentally hostile to humans still nurtured the power of the universe. The Force, she knew, wasn't hers, and didn't exist for anyone or anything but itself.
But she could manipulate it, and tonight, she would.
But she knew trying it alone would be dangerous. "What about Finn?"
"We're a hive of Force sensitives," Leia said, more than a little drily. "We didn't call Finn because we weren't sure he'd contribute to your stability."
They weren't wrong, yet she still snapped, "Please tell him to come. Snoke almost killed me last time. I need help."
"I've already called him," Luke said. He kept his voice steady, as always, persuasive in its calm.
Finn arrived moments later, with Poe right on his heels. His face fell when he saw Rey. "Now?" he said to Luke.
Finn's jaw tightened. Poe's hand, which had been on his elbow, moved just a tad, curling around the bones there. Rey didn't understand why he was angry - or determined, or whatever he was - until Finn looked Luke dead in the eye and said, "This had better be safe for her."
It was touching. But - "I'm sitting right here," Rey said.
"And I'll be fine!" Probably, anyway. Maybe.
"Of course you will," Finn said. "Because we're going to help you." He walked over and sat down across from her, taking her hands.
"Any instructions?" Rey asked, glancing to Luke. She told the sandstorm in her stomach to calm down. She had enough going on without noting how soft Finn's skin was, or how much better she felt just having him sitting near her, and Poe standing behind her.
"You know how he feels," Luke said. "Everyone's power, everyone's mind, has a shape. He's strong in the Force, but so are you. Anything you can get us helps."
"But what you need is a direction. A location."
"We can try again. It took Liren days." Luke closed his eyes briefly, a look of pain appearing for just a second. "But the more information, the better."
"This son of a bitch," Poe said.
Somehow, the profanity made Rey feel a little better. "He is." She leaned back into the chair. "I'm going to find him," she told Luke, and shut her eyes.
She began by letting her senses expand to feel the room. The ship hummed around them, not quite alive, but not inert, either. The Force didn't differentiate between mechanical and biological the way they did; it ran through the crystals at the heart of Mara's ship, and it flowed through BB-8's circuits as surely as it did through Poe's breath. They were all of them unique, but they all carried the Force.
Slowly, she expanded.
The dark was everywhere, as was the light. If she looked too closely, she'd drive herself mad. Examining the infinite wasn't her idea of a good time, so she searched for Snoke, reaching past both emptiness and life, hunting for anything that might feel like his presence had in her mind.
When she found it, she nearly cried out. It wasn't a person. It wasn't even a crystal. It was a tiny speck of dust, anchored to the edge of an asteroid belt that Mara's ship was skirting.
But it felt like him. And then she saw another speck, connected not through space, but through the Force itself - and another, and another. Her mind was gone now, following the trail even though she knew it wasn't wise. Snoke was dangerous, his methods arcane and possibly deadly, but -
She went spinning.
The feeling of being pulled into one of Snoke's dreamscapes hadn't changed, but she was more capable of keeping her head now. His world held a subtle control, pressing in on her and trying to shape her even as she resisted it.
You little fool, the voice chuckled. Why do you think you'll be able to resist? You, of all the Force users in the universe? You alone among Skywalkers?
She didn't want to be called that. She'd only seen Vader on holovids, yet his image flashed in her mind: a monster, more or less. She knew he'd been a person once. The Resistance's intel was very defensively clear on that point. But he'd killed and hurt thousands of people, lost to the Dark.
He was weak, Snoke hissed. Pathetic. He never freed himself from the Jedi way.
But of course, Snoke didn't mean to free her, either.
I can give you something better, little Skywalker. I can give you power.
Power alone wouldn't convince her. He had to know that, since he'd tried it before. She'd never wanted power, not really; her desires had been centered around family. A home. Not power.
The voice snickered, like rapid stings from a scorpion's tail. Let me show you yourself.
She didn't want it, but here, in this between-world, Snoke's will ruled. And so she saw the desert winds of Jakku and, nearly lost among the sand, a small figure.
She tried to stay impassive as her younger self cried. She knew the rhythm of those sobs, the kind that wracked your entire chest, making you rock back and forth in a futile attempt to contain them. Her wails were thin and so childish. Pathetic, she tried to think.
It didn't work. As she watched herself, her heart slowly broke.
What was this meant to teach her? She'd cried, yes. Children often did. And she could admit, even with Snoke trying to steal her mind, that she'd cried more than many. But that was because she'd been abandoned, and had known her share of hardship. Now she was on a ship with her parents and an aunt, and - friends. She had everything that she'd dreamed of.
Another laugh. Keep watching.
It wasn't like she could look away. She was a captive audience as her tiny self stood and, hands in fists, lifted her face to the sky and screamed.
Slowly, the sand rose.
She saw Plutt too late. The cyclone of sand emanating from her younger self had become impossibly tall and furious, and now it enveloped him and tore him apart.
Even in the between-world, she flinched. The vision faded. It wasn't a memory, or at least, the last bit wasn't. So there was no point in seeing it. She didn't need to kill Plutt, because she was free.
Ah, so you think you'll never encounter hardship again?
That wasn't the point. She couldn't control the future.
There are others, Skywalker. And the would-be Republic does nothing.
The Republic had their reasons, Rey knew. The forced-labor pocket on Jakku didn't cover the entire planet, but the Republic's resources had been stretched thin even before the Resistance broke from the Republic, even before the First Order got their compulsion over the Senate. There were reasons. Political reasons, reasons that Rey knew brought fire to Leia's eyes and sadness to Luke's.
There were reasons. But still, she felt a spark of rage, thinking of another child like herself alone among the skeleton ships.
No. The First Order hurt children, too; they'd stolen Finn. She had to remember that. She gritted her teeth and fought against the pressure she could suddenly feel, stronger and more poisonous than before.
Ah, said the voice. That's what you want, then?
Finn and Poe appeared in her vision.
No. No! She began to struggle, even as Finn smiled at Poe, and Poe looked deeply into Finn's eyes, and they leaned in to kiss one another.
She couldn't force that. She couldn't, she wouldn't...
The malicious voice faded, just for a moment. She became distantly aware of Finn's hands clutching hers, and also of Poe behind her, holding her up with solid fingers splayed against the small of her back.
Come back to me.
Another voice clashed with Snoke's. "Rey," this voice said, saturated with care and urgency. "Rey, come back."
You'll stay with me. I'll give you all the power you need. Everything you want.
"Rey." A brush of soft lips against her hands. "We have what we need."
She came to with a gasp. She saw Finn's eyes first, as warm and concerned as his voice had been. Then she felt Poe's hand, firm between her shoulder-blades, bracing her as she shook.
There'd be time to try and remember those feelings later. Right now, she turned to Luke and said, "Did you get it?"
He nodded, his expression impossible to read. "We're not sure how he's doing it."
"But we can find him?"
"We will find him," Leia said. Her restrained fury was obvious even to Rey. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." At everyone's skeptical looks, she said, "I'll be fine. I just - I'm tired."
"We can take you back," Poe said. "Mara's got the ship well in hand. We can hit light speed now."
No. No, no, no. Any second now she was going to object. She'd open her mouth and express a desire to be alone. It would be easy. Simple. She said, "Okay."
She couldn't take it back, though. Leia said, "We'll debrief you in the morning, but it should be pretty straightforward," and then Finn and Poe were ushering her out, both of them angling their bodies so that they shielded her from any other potential examination. She should have been touched. She might have been, even, if it hadn't all been overlaid with a horrible fear.
They only dropped her off at her room. She lay in bed, fearing the loneliness she was sure would creep over her; she fell asleep too quickly to really feel it. Her debriefing the next morning passed in a blur of Leia's attempted kindness and Mara's restrained anger, and then she could hide again.
Luke found her, as she'd been half expecting. He sat across from her on the wrought metal platform overlooking the docking bay. He'd taken off his robe, for once, replacing it with a rough-cloth gray tunic and pants that Rey couldn't help but notice resembled her own clothes.
"We didn't want to risk you," Luke said.
Right. "If this is an apology, there's no need." She did her best to keep her voice level. She could feel the urge to be cruel living in her; Snoke apparently didn't think he needed to hide his still-weak hold on her this time. "This fight is bigger than all of us. I know that."
"You're still human." Luke shrugged. "And it's still hard."
She had no good answer to that. Part of her desperately wanted to confide in him, the father she'd only just found. But most of her recognized just how foolhardy that would be. He might be her father - oh, fine, he was her father. But first and foremost, he was a Jedi.
"I just want it to be over," she said finally. Even if, she added to herself, she couldn't imagine what life would be like when it was.
"It will be. We'll see to that." Luke cleared his throat. "I actually came up here for something else, though."
Rey raised her eyebrows.
"If we're going to an actual physical location, Snoke will have reinforcements. There will be fighting."
"I can fight." Rey felt herself prickle. If Luke tried to keep her out of things, after all she'd fought to do -
"Of course," Luke said. "I know. Trust me, I know. I was going to say, if there's fighting, you'll need a weapon."
It was on the tip of her tongue to point out that she had a blaster, thanks, and she was very good with it besides. Then she realized what he was trying to say. "My saber? Now?"
"Not quite," Luke said. "We don't have time. It's not ideal - but Mara has an old saber. You'll be better attuned to it than a training one. And we have the tools for you to begin to build your own."
'Not ideal' was one way to put it; 'dangerous and reckless, given the circumstances' might have been more accurate. "Can I do that, with Snoke's hold? It was too dangerous before."
"It's risky. But it's better than going in without one. A saber will help stabilize you - it'll help you resist his hold. And beginning the process to build your own will give you something to look forward to, as well."
She got the feeling there was a lot he was holding back. It wouldn't be enough to change her decision, though. "I'll use it."
"Mara thought you'd say that. She brought the supplies we'll need; we can start today."
She smiled past the vaguely sick feeling in her stomach. "Can't wait."
Apparently, though, 'starting' mostly meant another very long lecture on the properties and rules around Force crystals, as though she might have forgotten since the first time they tried to do this. They were delicate, Luke told her, and not to be trifled with. She didn't bother pointing out that surely planning to meditate on one while flying towards the worst Dark user in the galaxies counted as 'trifling'. She did her best to listen, and then, when Luke handed her a crystal and left her alone, to meditate.
She finished the day profoundly uncertain regarding whether or not she'd succeeded. She didn't tell Luke that, though; he'd only tell her there was a lesson to be learned there.
It didn't occur to her, as she walked down the ship's halls towards her room, that she hadn't seen Finn and Poe all day. Moreover, it didn't occur to her to wonder about that - to worry, or to think something might be wrong. After a day spent focused on her work, she felt more in control of herself than she had in months, and more than ready to let everyone else's concerns fall to mere background noise.
So of course she rounded a corner and saw them kissing in the hallway, hard and desperate, hands all over each other.
She froze. They made a horribly perfect picture. Poe had Finn against the wall, his shirt pushed up above his hips, exposing a flat stomach that Finn caressed as he kissed Poe. One of Poe's legs pressed between Finn's thighs, and as Rey watched in helpless fascination, Finn threw his head back and moaned.
Right there! In the hallway!
She must have made a noise, though she didn't remember doing so. Finn and Poe froze at the same time, turning to look at her.
"Rey," Poe said.
He was clearly trying to sound normal. The way his breath came in little gasps through bright red lips put the lie to that.
She didn't say anything. She'd have liked to, but her throat felt completely frozen.
"You should go," Finn told Poe in an undertone. A look passed between them, charged with something Rey couldn't decipher. Then Poe peeled himself away from Finn and sauntered off, seemingly unaffected.
Rey couldn't pretend. "You could at least do that somewhere with a door!"
"Rey." Finn shook his head, then took a step forward. "It's not what it looks like."
"You were humping in a corridor."
Finn winced. "Maybe it's a little what it looks like. But -"
Rey stepped away. "It's fine. You're both adults, you can do whatever you like." Even to her own ears, she sounded profoundly unconvincing.
"Poe told me he wants you. More, after what happened when I was away," Finn said.
For a moment, the world stopped.
"I'm not mad," he added. He didn't look it, either. He looked hopeful, which Rey didn't understand at all. "I just wish we could've talked about it earlier."
So that the air could be clear between them all, Rey thought with no small amount of bitterness. So that Finn and Poe could embark on their beautiful relationship without having to even think about others.
"I wish I could've been there, too," Finn said.
He - what? He couldn't mean what she imagined. Could he? "So you could stop us," Rey said.
Finn shook his head. He looked so open just then, chagrined and embarrassed, but determined all the same. "So I could've joined in."
It was a searing image, and it immediately took up residence in the darkest part of her mind. What would Finn have done? He'd be desperate, she thought. She could have pulled him on top of her, had him fuck her hard and fast, and he'd gasp and whisper her name even as Poe worked him open from behind, dropping his head when the feeling got too much, whispering endearments and -
No. "Stop," she said. "That's not what you want."
Finn made a frustrated noise. "Maybe it's not what you want - and you know, that's fine, of course it's fine. But Rey, it is what I want. What both of us want. We've been trying to tell you."
He seemed sincere, but of course he was wrong. Guilt was a powerful motivator, she reminded herself. So, too, was his own upbringing - one of communal lives and sharing everything, because he'd had no other choices. It was nice of him to say such a thing. Of course it was. But Rey knew that, given the opportunity to think about it, he'd want Poe all for himself. He couldn't possibly feel anything like the horrible, empty desperation she did. She wanted to grab them both and hold them tight, to drink in their focus and attention until her fear and loneliness finally faded. If he'd felt the same way, he wouldn't be looking at her with such calm. He was kind; he was just also indifferent, even if he didn't know it.
So she told herself as she took one step back, then another. Finn's expression barely faltered, proving her supposition true.
"Thank you," she said. "But I wouldn't make you do that."
She watched him frown in dismay. He opened his mouth -
And Rey ran away.
She'd be embarrassed later, probably. Right then she had more energy than ever, powered by sheer relief. Mara's ship was still new to her, but she'd explored yacht class ships before. She found a storeroom on the far end, away from the observation deck and sleeping quarters. It was full of freeze dried product and boxes of what Rey strongly suspected were smuggled goods, but there was more than enough room for one person to sit and put her head in her arms.
How had things gotten so bad? Well, no, scratch that. There were plenty of explanations to be had. But somehow, she hadn't expected one of the terrible things to be Finn and Poe trying to -
To what? Include her? Not likely. Not in the way she wanted. And yet, part of her had been tempted to say yes. What a disaster that would have been. She'd have slept with them, and it would have been amazing, right up until the point where she asked for more: more love, more time, more attention. Then they'd politely, but firmly, put her out. Forever. Or until she died at Snoke's hands, she supposed.
She shuddered, drawing in on herself. Loneliness couldn't kill you. She knew that, had in fact learned it long ago, but right then she felt certain that precedent would fold beneath the sheer weight of how awful she felt.
Then someone knocked on the storage room door.
All doors opened by command here. Whoever knocked knew she'd want privacy. That almost made her more resentful, reflected in her tone when she said, "What?"
"Manners," Mara said. She sounded vaguely amused, in the way she often did. "The ship alerted me to your distress. I'd like to come in, if I may."
Rey spared a horrifying moment to think about how much the ship might be spying on her. Then she said, "Fine."
The door slid open before she'd even finished talking. Mara looked calm and put together, utterly in control of herself. Envy of one's mother had to be a quick path to the dark side, yet it was envy Rey felt, sharp and clear.
"You're a mess," Mara said, with the mild tones of someone commenting on the weather.
Mara's lips quirked in an almost-smile, and she came to sit down next to Rey. "I might be too, if I had your problems."
"Probably would be." Mara looked around the store room. "I did run away from your father, after all."
"You probably had your reasons," Rey said.
"Everyone always does. The Force, Luke's power, my power, war, pain, losing a child. Luke was a legend before I even met him, and I was a very effective shadow. That doesn't mean either of us did the right thing even half the time."
They were definitely legends, Rey thought. She still had moments where she felt like the thrilled fish out of water she'd been on the Millennium Falcon. Now, she felt weighed down by history that only half belonged to her, full of at least as much fear as awe. Seeing the remembrance in Mara's face brought that wonder back just a bit. "Did you think things would be good, after the war ended?"
"I wasn't with Luke then. I also wasn't on the right side of the law, if you take my meaning. Or the war, sometimes."
Rey swallowed back her less polite questions. "You weren't?"
"You've probably noticed that the galaxy abounds with criminals." Mara waited for Rey to nod. "I was one of them."
"You had the Force."
"It's not as rare as people like to pretend, but it's not a cure-all, either. I used it to smuggle things more than I used it to do good or help the galaxy, or whatever the Jedi tell themselves they're always doing."
"Life. Your father, to an extent. I found myself wanting to do different things, so here I am."
"I suppose you're going to tell me that I can find love, too. I should put myself out there and just - forget all my fear, like a Skywalker would."
"I'd never tell you to be like a Skywalker." Mara raised an eyebrow. "They're largely idiots."
But - "What, then?"
"Take your chances," she said. Her expression indicated that she thought it was simple. Rey itched to disabuse her of the notion. How could it possibly be simple for her? "You're on a ship headed for evil, you've already had a hard life. Just take the chance. You'll be better for it."
"You know there's two of them," Rey said. "Right?"
"You're my daughter in more ways than one. Unless you're offering me Poe, in which case..."
But Mara's smile mirrored Rey's own. "Now you understand my point of view," she said. She leaned forward and kissed Rey's forehead. "Take some time to think. You need it."
And then she left Rey alone.
Having a mother was strange. She felt comforted, she supposed, though of course Mara was completely wrong about whether or not Finn and Poe wanted what she also wanted. Still, having support was nice. And important, she reminded herself. It was very important for both morale and sanity.
Yes. Morale and sanity. Those were her concerns.
She let herself out of the storage bin eventually, and went to the tiny room that Luke had designated for padawan use. The crystal was there, on its own little platform, looming in the space despite the fact that it was mere inches off the ground. Rey sat in front of it, taking a deep breath and gazing into its depths.
This room wasn't a place for idiotic pining. Here, her priorities were - had to be - learning. She focused on the crystal and slowly exhaled, trying to expand her mind further and further.
The world sparkled in the crystal. She could see the malicious bits of Snoke's power as the ship sped through hyperspace. The crystal, too, carried some of that power - not Snoke's, but dark power all the same. It was easier to access than the light, sweet and tempting. No wonder so many people fell to the dark, Rey thought. Given the way the light evaded control, given how difficult it was to even try to access, she'd have been shocked if more than a few people devoted themselves to it.
Of course, they had. And they'd all died. Was the Jedi's extinction inevitable, then?
It was a poisonous, tempting thought. It came from the dark. Rey's brow furrowed as she dove deeper into the crystal.
Ultimately, she accomplished very little. Like the first time, she was only practicing the same concentration she'd need to wield the actual saber. She didn't doubt that he intended to draw the process out, to give her something to look forward to that was outside Snoke's influence. She'd do the same, in his shoes.
Poe showed up at her door that night, long after the communal meal had been served. "We missed you at dinner."
"I was tired."
He didn't go away. She was forced to look up and take in the image of him leaning against the wall in the doorway, hips cocked. He was so...so...
"You're staring," Poe said quietly.
She snapped her eyes away. "Like I said. I'm tired."
"How long ago did you come back? Six months?"
"I spent some time captured," Rey said. "It's been awhile. Ask the AI."
"Not that long, anyway. But you're so different now."
She didn't know if he meant it as condemnation. It sounded like he did, a bit. She could hardly blame him if that was the case, yet she found herself annoyed anyway. "Maybe you've just gotten to know me better."
"Maybe." He didn't say anything else, but he also didn't move from her door.
When the silence became unbearable, she said, "Did you come here for something in particular?"
"I wanted to apologize for this morning. It was my idea. Finn said it wouldn't go well." He half-smiled. "I didn't listen."
Now was the time for her to graciously accept his apology. If she did, they'd never bring it up again - and what a blessing that would be.
She said, "He was right. I don't want what you two think you're offering."
Poe raised his eyebrows.
"I'm not the kind of person who wants to be some - trinket in a relationship. A fun new diversion. With everything going on, how could you possibly think that's something I'd want?"
"That's not - what did he say to you?"
"Exactly what you told him to," Rey said with deadly calm.
"Pretty sure that's impossible," Poe said, "since I told him to ask you to stay with us. To stay, Rey, for more than one night." He pushed himself upright then, taking two firm steps into her room. On this ship, that meant he was next to her bed, his face inches from hers. "If you want to reject us, just say so. But not like this."
She flinched, and then several things happened at once.
Like an ultra-heated laser shot into Quadanium, Snoke's influence took over. She didn't realize she'd been carrying a knife until it was in her hand, the cold metal driving forward towards Poe's gut.
He was too fast. He darted to the side and caught her wrist. When the shock of the grip made her drop the knife, he said, "Rey! Rey, come back!"
She kicked out, and he fell. The knife's blade caught his arm, causing blood to seep onto the floor.
It was the sight of the blood that jolted her back. She threw herself away, against the wall, spreading her palms on the cool surface and gasping. She could feel the influence still, snaking through her mind - out, out, out, she thought furiously, screwing her eyes shut.
Her mind was a dark and tangled place, with recesses and depths that it was easy to get lost in. And so she did. She wandered in a desert made of her own pain and recrimination until BB-8's loud and panicked binary forced her back.
Leia stood in the doorway, BB-8 next to her. Luke and Mara crowded behind her. Finn, Rey realized, was in her room, crammed against Poe, seeing to his wound.
And all of them were staring at her.
"Rey?" Leia said. "You in there?"
Her voice was gentle, but her expression wasn't. Her eyes burned with fury. Oddly, Rey found it bracing: it meant that someone on this ship would stop her if Snoke managed to keep hold of her.
"Yes," she managed to say. "I'm sorry."
"It's really not that bad. A graze," Poe said.
Finn kept his back to Rey just then, taping a bandage down on Poe's arm. Unhappiness hunched his shoulders.
Damn, Rey thought miserably. Damn, damn, Force damn it all.
"I'm sorry," she said again. "I'm..."
"General," Poe said, his eyes still on Rey, "can you leave us alone?"
"You really think that's a good idea, Dameron?"
"Let's stop pretending you'd kill her for a second. I'm as safe as anyone."
It wasn't an order, which meant Leia could follow it. They all left, letting the door shut so that Rey was alone with Finn and Poe.
Finn turned around. "Rey."
"It wasn't me," Rey said. "Or it was, but...not. I'll stay away from him. I'll stay away from you both. I just -"
"Rey," Finn said, his voice tight with some emotion - anger, pain, Rey didn't know and didn't get a chance to ask, because Finn moved like lightning to pull her close and kiss her.
This was what she wanted, this and only this: Finn's mouth on hers, his hands in her hair, as Poe moved behind her, holding her up. Finn kissed as though Rey was already dying, like this was his last chance. His nails bit into her shoulders, hurting just a bit even as she pressed into it. She climbed into his lap with a scavenger's ease, held onto his neck like she might a rappelling rope, reaching back with one hand to keep Poe against her as she bit Finn's lip and pressed her tongue into his mouth.
"Rey." Finn pulled away; Rey, a fool, let him. He looked at her with wide, frightened eyes. "Rey. Are you sure?"
She wanted to say yes. Oh, how she wanted. Poe's fingers stroked along the base of her spine, a gentle rhythm that made goosebumps rise all over her arms and legs. In this cold ship, hurtling towards a death that seemed more likely every day, she wanted them both.
But she was afraid, and Finn could see. His expression gentled, and he touched her cheek as she closed her mouth.
"We can stay with you, if you want," Finn said. "For tonight."
She nodded. Poe led them to his room, with a bed twice as large as Rey's and still really too small for the three of them. He scooted against the wall, pulling Rey down to spoon against him. Rey, in turn, curled around Finn.
They were packed like a cheap transport ship, just as Rey had said they'd be when Poe first brought it up, and yet Rey found she didn't care. For once, she had everything she wanted.
At first she didn't realize she was dreaming again. Poe was taking her and Finn to see a first-generation X-wing. She had a lightsaber at her waist and showed it to a little girl also there to see the ship. They were on a planet with a beautiful clear sun and sparkling purple waters. The First Order was nowhere to be found, and Rey felt giddy with excitement again, finally free of worry and fear. They looked at the X-wing, and then Finn initiated a ridiculous wrestling fight that ended with laughing kisses in the grass.
Happiness was easy to wake up to and agonizing to feel fading. She tensed immediately, noting the slowly brightening ship's lights. Time to face the world again.
"You almost slept well," Poe said.
He was keeping his voice quiet; his breath ghosted along the back of her neck. They hadn't slept like this since the undercover mission, and Rey hated to realize she'd missed it.
"I did sleep well," she said finally.
"Until that last moment. You whimpered."
"Coming back was hard."
"Ah, Rey." He brushed his lips against her neck. "I wish we could end this."
"We will. We're going to." She forced some cheerfulness into her voice. "You'll have to be a citizen pilot, hauling moss chips to the Core planets."
"You don't sound like you believe that."
"You could also become a smuggler, I suppose."
"Me? My mother would return to this galaxy just to kill me." He kissed her neck again. "Don't worry. I'd keep you and Finn in the gadgets of your choice, even if I'm hauling legal cargo."
Her throat seized up. She'd have liked to run away, but Finn still lay in front of her, dead to the world.
"I'm sorry," Poe said. "That was - rude."
"No." Well, maybe. She chose her next words carefully, trying to be as honest as possible. "I can't think about it right now. All I feel is - I'm so sure everything's going to end badly. Snoke living in my head doesn't exactly help."
"We'll get him out of there. I promise."
Rey couldn't answer. She leaned back, pressing more firmly against him, dropping her head so that his lips could find her neck once more. He understood with shocking ease, and didn't press for anything more than a few slow, careful kisses, pulling back as Finn began to stir.
And so, in spite of everything, Rey started the day with a cautious spark of hope in her. She meditated on the crystal Luke had given her and didn't even run away when Luke joined her in the room.
"I haven't seen Leia scared that often," he said, like he was discussing a new model of hyperdrive. "She looked like she was losing Ben all over again."
"I said I'm sorry," Rey bit out.
"I didn't mean it like that." Luke spoke the words with no small amount of woe, like he was used to saying them. "I was going to compliment you."
"You pushed him away," Luke said. "That's more than Ben did."
"He was young, wasn't he?"
"Not much younger than you, at the end." Luke lifted a shoulder. "He didn't grow up like you did."
"And you think that made him weak?"
"No." A fierce syllable. "He was never weak. But he hadn't had to defend himself. Snoke found him early, before he'd learned he might have to fight."
Rey had only had the desert. Well, and Plutt. "You think I can beat him? Isn't he a thousand years old?"
"Probably older." Luke grimaced. "Sorry."
"It's about what I expected."
"That doesn't mean you can't defeat him."
"I'm not sure being elderly means you're not strong with the Force."
"It's the opposite, usually."
"I was about your age when I started out, you know."
"Trust me, I do know. I've heard all the stories."
"Not from me, you haven't. I'm a hero in most of them, to hear other people tell it."
"You don't think you're a hero?" She couldn't quite keep the skepticism out of her voice.
"I wanted to be, back then. But I was just a kid. I think I screwed up more often than I helped, back in the early days."
"Rey. I'm telling the truth. I didn't know anything. To me, the Rebellion was just a story."
She'd never had that luxury, and there was no good way to say that. She stayed silent instead.
"You remind me of Leia, more than anyone else. If she could kill Snoke for you, she'd do it."
"Why isn't she a Jedi?"
"It's too time-consuming. She was raised as a politician, and she's good at that."
Rey absorbed that. "I'd be jealous."
"It is a pretty neat set of skills." Luke nodded at the meditation crystal. "Are you getting places?"
"You'll get there," Luke said kindly, and patted her shoulder.
She hoped so. "Luke. Thank you."
He smiled. It was her smile, she realized - an older version, but recognizable all the same. "When we get through this, I'm going to buy you the best speeder engine on the market."
It was an image that danced in her mind the rest of the day.
They dropped out of light speed forty-eight hours later. Snoke's location resolved to an enormous gaseous planet in the Unknown Regions, surrounded by six moons. "Much as I'd love to speed in, guns a-blazing, a slow approach gives us a better chance," Mara said. "By which I mean, any chance."
"Anyone out there?" Poe said.
"No. And you've got Rey to thank for us knowing that - my radar's got twice the range now."
Rey flushed to hear the pride in Mara's voice.
"Of course, that doesn't mean we're in the clear." Now her voice became cold. "Those bastards like to sneak up on ships like mine and slaughter those inside."
"They wouldn't kill us easily," Leia said. "Not with five Force users."
Rey shivered. Finn reached out and touched her arm, and she let herself be pressed to his side.
"Morbid," Poe said lightly. "Either way, we're unlikely to encounter anyone until we're past the first moon."
The ship's alarms began to wail.
"You were saying?" Mara said, running to the pilot's chair. She'd barely sat down before she started swearing a blue streak, breaking out words even Rey had never heard before.
"What's happening?" Leia said.
"Ships, that's what's happening. Dozens of them."
Poe grimaced. "I'll go suit up."
"You'll be outnumbered," Leia said. "Impossibly so."
"Still better than nothing." Poe squeezed Finn's hand, then turned to leave.
A cold voice over the intercom said, "Jade Shadow, this is the Loyal Valor, hailing you to board. Do not attempt to flee or bar our entrance. This is First Order jurisdiction, and this ship and its occupants are wanted by order of the Supreme Leader."
Leia closed her eyes, her lips moving - a prayer? A curse? It didn't matter. They didn't have a choice.
"Be prepared to flee," Luke told Rey in an undertone.
Rey looked around the room. Someone had to do something. But they all looked grimly helpless.
"They're docking now," Mara said.
Rey wanted to move. She wanted to hide. But forced or otherwise, she found herself frozen to the spot, terror rocking through her, as General Hux and several storm troopers marched into the observation deck.
Hux looked around with watery eyes. "Not the improvements I'd have made, I must say."
Mara's tone could have frozen a star. "The First Order's not known for creativity."
"Perhaps not." He looked at them one by one, his eyes lingering on Rey and Finn. "Leia Organa. Mara Skywalker. Luke Skywalker. Rey of Jakku. FN-2187. Poe Dameron. You are under arrest for high treason before the Supreme Leader Snoke, as ordered by the forty-first convention of the Galactic Senate, confirmed by the Senate of the New Republic."
"Shadow governments," Leia said. "They have no jurisdiction on this ship."
"We'll see how well that argument holds up during court martial." He snapped his fingers. "Come along."
Rey felt fury bubbling within her. To access the Force now would be to let Snoke take hold of her. She knew that. But if the First Order took them, what would become of her? Something worse. She'd be a monster.
At least here, she could be a monster on her own terms. She stepped forward.
But she wasn't the only one. Leia did, too, and the gathering power that suddenly swept through the ship wasn't Rey's at all. "Hux," Leia said. "I didn't listen to the First Order's generals when they were the Empire's attack dogs, and I'm not going to listen to them when they're arrogant children, either." She raised her hands. Power snapped into existence, crackling in terrible bolts of light around her fingers. "Even hydras can be killed," she said, and gestured with the light.
Hux shot backwards, hitting the wall with a sickening crunch. The stormtroopers behind him stood absolutely still, watching.
"Call off the ships," Leia said, advancing on Hux.
He shook his head.
"Very well," Leia said, and lifted her hand for what Rey knew would be a killing blow.
One of the stormtroopers said, "Incredibly attractive though this is, there are more civilized solutions, Senator."
Leia froze mid-movement. "No," she said.
"Oh, yeah," the stormtrooper said, and removed his helmet.
Rey didn't know the man beneath it. But Leia did - and Luke, and Poe too, to judge by his whoop of delight. The man smiled at Leia as though she wasn't about to kill someone. "Don't worry. There's a virus running through their systems as we speak. Give it a minute, and they'll be gone."
Leia's expression went through a number of contortions. For a moment Rey thought she might cry. Finally, she said, "Lando Calrissian. Your timing hasn't gotten any better."
The stormtrooper threw back his head and laughed. "And you haven't gotten any less beautiful."
A keening alarm sounded through the ship. Mara sounded profoundly nonplussed as she said, "They're retreating."
"Make sure they take their garbage," Lando said, nodding to Hux.
Hux did nothing but glare, even as they led him back to the ship. The other stormtroopers, Lando was happy to tell them, were his own trusted associates. Hux piloted a half-dead raider away from Mara's ship, wholly alone.
"This is more of a crew than I really need," Mara said once they'd cleaned up. "Four extra people. I'm not even sure where you'll sleep."
"I'll think of something." Lando winked at Leia. Winked! Rey wasn't the only one who looked flabbergasted; she thought Finn might be close to fainting.
"Oh, I'm sure you will," Leia said. But she was smiling, too, in a way Rey hadn't really seen before.
"Right," Mara said. "More bodies for the eventual cannon fodder, I suppose." She hit the ship's throttle, sending them ratcheting past the first moon.
No other traps waited for them. Rey felt an unshakable uneasiness that matched Finn's. Finn himself brought it up, saying, "It's hard to believe Snoke invested all his available troops in a first-line defense."
"He probably didn't," Mara said. "But until someone starts shooting at us, we're going to keep going."
"We're sixteen hours out," Poe added. "Plenty of time to nap before we hit ground."
Rey looked out the enormous windows, into the darkness. "I can barely sense him."
She didn't add what if we're in the wrong place?, but Luke seemed to understand. "He's here. Laying low."
That made sense. He was, after all, a coward. She could understand that kind of cowardice, though. If she could've hid, she would have, too.
The sixteen hours passed, a unique kind of torture. At some point, Leia and Lando disappeared; when Finn noticed and asked about it, Poe only smirked terrifyingly. Mara eventually left too, and Luke, leaving the comm to the ship's autopilot. Mara had a fatalistic view about the First Order, apparently.
Or maybe she was just certain that this last leg of their journey would be peaceful. Rey couldn't be. She slept a bit, curled up in the pilot's seat, but what little rest she got was punctuated by fleeting nightmares. Even Poe and Finn's relative proximity, both of them sleeping on the observation deck's passenger benches, didn't help.
She fell asleep to the ship's white noise, and woke again too soon as the ship began its descent into the atmosphere. It shouldn't have been so simple, Rey thought; there should have been ground-mounted blasters to shoot them out of the sky, or a fleet of defenders that ambushed them as they attempted descent. But they landed in a conveniently flat clearing with no such interference.
"I'll give him this," Lando said. "He's got a sense of the dramatic even Lord Vader couldn't have matched." He glanced at Luke. "No offense."
"None taken," Luke said, pleasantly enough.
Would they joke about this one day, too? Rey hoped not.
BB-8 confirmed a clean environmental scan, and they all disembarked from the ship together. Finn took hold of Rey's hand as they walked into the clearing, with Poe on Finn's other side. As a comfort, it was working. If they had to run...well. She could pull away then.
"Wait," Mara said as they reached the edge of the clearing. She frowned at her datapad. "Something's not right."
The rain swept in from the other side of the clearing, so that by the time it occurred to Rey to run, she'd already seen the acid eating into Mara's ship, and seen BB-8 flee towards them, drops of corrosive liquid pitting its chassis on the way. Then Finn and Poe shouted, and Mara said, "Don't stop until I give a signal!", and they were off.
Rey had simply not imagined this. She had no real defenses. They ran into a stand of trees, but the rain followed, growing ever closer and killing everything in its path.
She gasped as a thorn caught at the tender flesh of her leg. They weren't going to make it; she saw that now. Even as she slowed down, Poe turned back to yell, "Rey! Rey, come on!"
But it wouldn't be enough. She couldn't run quickly enough, and she knew it. The rain would fall, and they'd all die. She'd never know her mother because she'd be dead. She'd never kiss Finn or Poe again. She'd never breathe freely, she'd never see the Resistance win.
She raised her hands, opening herself to the Force.
The dark side was all around; it was easy to grab hold of it. She had more power than she knew what to do with, more than enough power to turn the rain back, to find the cloud it originated from and encourage it to go elsewhere. She was aware of yelling, and of fear coming off the group in enormous waves, but she didn't let it stop her. Death right here, after coming so far, was unacceptable.
A strong voice, closer than the others. She managed to turn enough to see Leia, wreathed in her own power.
"I'll hold them off," she said.
"It'll hurt you." It was hurting Rey, even as the Force welcomed here, even as she felt every crack in her soul pried apart by the delicious, heady power.
"I'll survive," Leia said, with the confidence of someone who thought they might not survive. "But I can't face Snoke. You can. Go."
She had no time to hesitate, so she didn't, even when Lando moved to stand next to Leia, shrugging when Leia tried to glare at him. Rey ran to follow the others, and when Luke looked back at his sister and Lando, Rey took the lead of the group.
Ahead she saw only trees, but she heard the screech of some kind of animal as the wind carried the smell of carrion to her nose. If her heart broke right then, she didn't take the time to notice.
The woods became more and more dense, until the sound of the attack faded. For awhile, they walked in silence. Rey could feel something working at her mind like she might try to file down old bolts on a valuable ship part: a steady pressure, only terrifying in how inexorable it was. When she mentioned it to Luke, he only nodded and told her to hold onto Finn.
Deeper into the woods they went. The branches on either side of the path drooped lower and lower; after awhile, Rey noticed that they were covered in dark red vines that dripped viscous liquid onto the packed dirt.
Someone had been here. The path made that obvious enough. But they saw no one, human or any other sentient species - or non-sentient, for that matter. It seemed to Rey that the farther into the wood they went, the closer they were to being completely alone.
She nearly voiced the opinion to Finn. Then they rounded a curve in the path, and at the top of the next hill stood a figure in a long, black robe.
"Oh, no," Finn whispered. Rey very much agreed.
"Keep walking," Mara said. "Trust me. The last thing you want is to show weakness in this place."
"Should I ask how you know that?" Poe said.
"Only if you want a long, boring story." Mara picked up speed, leading the group to the hooded figure. "Well met," she said. "Do you work for Snoke, or are you just an unfortunate traveler like ourselves?"
"Supreme Leader Snoke will lance the boil that is Jedi society and return order to the galaxy," the hooded figure said.
Rey's temple began to throb.
"Not a traveler, then." Mara sighed. "How much?"
She couldn't mean to bribe a mind-controlled slave of a dark lord. Could she? Rey touched her temple, where the insistent pressure had begun to throb. "Mara -"
"Hush, daughter." Mara flashed her a smile. "You'd be surprised who can be bought off."
"Your tainted coin cannot persuade me," the figure said.
"I wasn't going to offer you coin. This far out, I'm sure you've got moons where you can find whatever precious metals you want." Mara tapped her chin in a mockery of pensiveness. "Probably not force crystals, though. Those are still pretty rare, in my estimation."
The figure hissed. "Whore."
"Jedi," Mara corrected. "Or close enough." She tilted her head. "How many would you take?"
They watched as the figure's hand, the only part of their body that Rey could see, began to shake.
"I know he controls you." Mara sounded quiet now, achingly sympathetic. Rey's temples felt like they were buzzing. "Freedom is probably hard to imagine. But the right leverage can get you some."
She was lying. Even if Rey's instincts hadn't told her so, there was the small matter of Snoke's presence in her mind, the sneering disbelief. She watched as the figure replicated that emotion, obvious in their body language and tone when they said, "Supreme Leader Snoke commands my eternal loyalty. Your temptation cannot touch me."
"That's a pity. I didn't want to hurt you." Mara moved too quickly to track, unsheathing a blaster and shooting at the figure.
For a moment, time seemed to slow. The blaster's bolt hovered in the air, trembling with force, unmoving. "Oh, no," Finn whispered.
The figure pushed their hood off. Kylo Ren looked down at them with contempt.
"I told you," he said. "My loyalty cannot be bought." Slowly, with a cracking noise that sounded like bone breaking, he closed his hand into a fist, forcing the blaster bolt smaller and smaller until it disappeared.
Mara and Luke both stood very still.
When Ren spoke again, his voice shook. "You thought you could stop me. You were wrong."
"Ben," Luke said. "Don't do this again."
"You think I regret it? You think I won't? I killed those students because you'd filled them with poison! The weakness of the Jedi." Ren gestured, bringing a tree down inches from Finn and Rey. They both moved instinctively, darting to the side. Rey firmed her grip on her blaster, and was pleased to see Finn doing the same. She also had her staff on her back; it seemed, in this place, like a completely absurd conceit. Who would she fight with it? Could she undo Snoke with a salvaged staff? She'd die before she got it off her back, the nasty voice in her head whispered.
"I'm not asking for them." Luke's exhausted voice dragged Rey's attention back to the present.
"Oh? Just like you didn't beg for your students, the idiotic children who thought you had their best interests in mind?"
"Ben. They're not children. I'm asking for your own sake."
Ren froze. A cool wind blew through the clearing; Rey held herself stiff against shivering.
He had to react eventually, though. His mouth curled into a sneer. "You think these two could stop me? You never did have any faith in me, Uncle."
Luke had no snappy retort. Ren activated his saber, the red light dancing in uneven fits and starts. Luke held up his own saber and waited. When Ren charged, his expression a rictus of fury, Luke responded, moving defensively away with a lightness of foot that seemed at odds with his age.
Standing there, Rey felt very sadly sure that Luke was going to die. It sent waves of regret through her. He was her father, and she'd only just come to know him, and now she was going to lose him. Of course, the tiny voice whispered, if Rey herself died too, she wouldn't have much time to regret it all.
A bit of light sparked at the edge of her vision. She glanced to the side and saw that red light, so dark it was almost invisible, shone at the edge of the trees on the side of the path.
Finn, Poe, and Mara didn't seem to notice; all their attention was on the fight. Poe, too, held a blaster as though he might get lucky with a shot at Ren. He wouldn't, Rey thought, and edged away from the group, moving closer to the light.
The dull red resolved itself into deep maroon with tiny sparks of bright crimson. It wasn't a laser, nor was it natural light of any kind. It looked like a red crystal might if someone sent power through it. Rey wanted to examine it more closely, but when she tried to focus on it, a sick, dizzy feeling came over her.
Rey's legs moved of their own accord, carrying her into the trees. The light surrounded her, so that her own vision took on an odd red patina. She thought that she should be panicking. Her heard pounded in her chest as she walked, and her hands shook, yet she kept walking, her legs moving with their usual surety.
She didn't think his name until she was well and truly separated from the others: Snoke.
Of course. Who did you think? A snicker. Keep going, now. An invisible force pushed her forward, making her stumble.
Now, truly, she felt terrified. Would he kill her? Would that give him the power he wanted? No - nothing so simple. It would hurt. Of that she was sure.
The inaudible voice stayed silent on the matter, letting her wonder as she walked, and walked, and walked, still surrounded by the odd red film. Finally, she came to a sheer cliff face, rising out of the planet's gloom so abruptly that she almost ran into it.
She couldn't have seen very well in the gloom even if the red film hadn't obscured her vision, so at first she didn't notice that the cliff's face was an odd color and texture. Her legs forced her forward, though, and so she saw that what she had taken for rock couldn't possibly be. It was smooth and pale, utterly free of cracks or seams. Maybe, she told herself, it was chalk. Maybe it was natural. It didn't need to be something terrible, just because it looked disconcerting.
She wanted to look away. She thought it several times and heard only silence in response. Finally, when her eyes began to tremble with the effort of staying open, and when she began breathing more quickly with rising panic, Snoke released her gaze.
It served as limited relief; he forced her to move down the cliff face until she came to an opening, barely more than a seam in the solid material.
In she went. Small though she was, she could only fit in sideways. It wasn't the first tight space she'd been in, but that didn't make it any less terrifying. The only bright side was that she was already so frightened that some extra fear for her life hardly registered.
Still, when the crack opened into a cave, she fell to her knees, breathing deeply for the first time in what felt like ages, barely managing to hold back gasping sobs. It took her long moments of dizzying freedom to realize that the red film had disappeared.
It should have been good news. Rey knew better than to think it was. Dread filled her, and she moved to her feet, pulling her staff off her back.
Do you think that will help you?
"I'll take what I can get." She looked around the cave. What light there was had no definable source; like the sun shining fiercely through heavy clouds, the light illuminated without brightening. She saw no sign of Snoke, or even the throne Liren had described as Snoke's favored backdrop.
Fool. I am everywhere, and I am nowhere. I have become as the Force, its own master.
Even through his power and control, Rey could tell that statement was a lie. He'd lured her here, after all, and his control was imperfect at best. She'd spent half her time on her mother's ship fighting him and considering the nature of the Force. And of course, she realized, that had been Luke's intention. She'd seen the Force in the stars and in the ship and in the people around her, in the droids and in the ship's plants. In Liren, someone she hated, and Finn, someone she loved. No, Snoke wasn't the Force. He wasn't even really like the Force.
She opened eyes she didn't realize she'd closed, and looked straight in front of her through the suddenly illuminated cave.
The throne, she saw, wasn't a throne after all. It was a chair, ornately carved but no taller than Rey's shoulder. The person who sat in it was still smaller. Malevolence radiated from it, but as Rey stepped forward - of her own volition this time - she realized that most of what she felt was sheer, overwhelming pain.
"Now you see," the creature rasped out loud. It - he - regarded her with glassy eyes from scarcely three feet away. "The Jedi destroyed this body and the mind it once held. Now, I will destroy the Jedi." He raised a withered hand and pointed it at her.
And so she did see, very vividly. She saw someone who might have been Snoke trained by Jedi, emotion suppressed, brutally punished for any deviation from Jedi standards. She saw him old and young, and she felt the terrible claustrophobia, the overwhelming loneliness. She watched as the loneliness became hatred, like sand melted into glass: his power grew, and so did his loneliness, until he was the being who stretched through time and space and hatred nearly everything he came into contact with. The Jedi moved towards a more compassionate model of training, and then a more warlike one; he'd been here, she realized, for thousands of years. The Jedi who'd so cruelly broken him were all long dead.
And yet, here he sat, hollowed out of anything but his anger and pain. Even as he stopped projecting his memories, she could feel his influence in her mind again.
He was evil, and he was pathetic. Rey, whose own loneliness had sometimes felt like enough to split the galaxy in two, felt awash in pity.
"No," he hissed.
She felt him trying to push the emotions on her: anger. Rage. Hatred of the Jedi, and love of the Dark side and the addictive ease with which it could be accessed.
The loneliness underpinned it all, and it was the loneliness that Rey felt and immediately, intimately knew. It only fed her pity.
"You will destroy the Jedi as my tool and heir!"
Her hands tightened around her staff. It knew her well; it was keyed to her skin and carefully customized to her own needs. She understood now that the Force ran through it, just as it ran through this cave, horrible though it was.
"I won't," she said, and moved the staff in a killing blow.
He died easily; he died surprised. She waited for the aftershock, but it never came. His hold on her simply disappeared, and as she stood there, staring at his crumpled body, the light in the cave grew into sunshine streaming in from a crack in the ceiling, hardly twenty feet above her.
She put aside wondering how one person's evil could blot out the sun and began climbing the rock. It wasn't quite sheer, and she hadn't really lost any of her old skills; it was easy enough for her to climb the cliff wall and then claw her way through the opening at the top.
She caught up with Poe, Finn, and Mara under a bright blue sky. When she noticed Luke's absence, her throat tightened in fear. "Is he -"
"With Ren," Mara said. "Well, with Ren's body. He'll rejoin us at the ship shortly."
Mara looked at her with the ghost of a smile. "Can't you tell? She's fine. She'll be rendezvousing with us as well."
Fine. Was that the word for it? If Luke was mourning Ren, then surely Leia did, too. And it had only been a few months since Han. Rey swallowed hard past the lump in her throat.
"You okay?" Poe said quietly.
Whatever she said would be heard by Mara and thus, probably, reported back to Luke and Leia. Her whole family. Rey didn't, then, report anything she was actually feeling; she just nodded tersely and fell into step with the group as they walked back to Mara's ship.
Leia and Luke boarded many hours later. Mara reported the fact by saying that they'd gone to their rooms; BB-8, newly scarred, gave the flight authorization, and they left the planet soon after. Rey lay awake in her bunk for a long time that night. Part of her kept insisting that it couldn't be that simple. It felt like they hadn't done enough; she'd killed Snoke, but in the end it hadn't felt just at all, only sadly necessary.
She tried not to be depressed about it. Mostly she failed.
They all met in the kitchen the next morning. Luke looked his usual solemn self, but sadder. Leia had dark circles under her eyes that betrayed how little sleep she'd gotten. She conducted herself with a brittle dignity that everyone respected, albeit with more than a little fear in their actions. No one openly discussed Snoke's planet, to Rey's relief.
After breakfast, they dispersed. Mara had placed the ship on autopilot, so that it was bound for Chandrila. Their going to Chandrila was, of course, a mixed blessing; they had no idea what they'd find, now that Snoke's influence had been destroyed. Rey was hoping for civility. Maybe everyone had just woken up from their haze, realized their mistakes, and reinstated the Senate. A girl could dream.
Whatever waited for them at the other end, the ship currently felt a bit like a tomb. Rey approached Luke only briefly. He set her to some drills, staff work and meditation on the - her - saber, utterly refusing to discuss what had transpired on Snoke's planet. She knew they'd have to talk about it eventually, especially given the corruption she'd seen in Snoke's memories. But Luke was almost as brittle as Leia. He'd been damaged on that planet, perhaps more than he wanted to admit. Rey kept her mouth shut, running through her assigned drills long after Luke had left her.
It took her awhile to realize she hadn't spoken since she'd gotten on the ship. She was fine, she thought; the trip to defeat Snoke had been awful, but it was over now.
That explanation didn't wash when she spent the second sleep shift sitting on the observation deck, staring out at the stars and fighting the tears that leaked from the corners of her eyes.
She wasn't surprised that the Jedi had a history of being awful in one direction or another. Luke hadn't exactly taught her to hold the old Jedi order in perfect esteem. Even her childhood dreams of being in the Rebellion hadn't involved much idolizing of the Jedi.
But Snoke's pain went beyond that. His had been the pain of abandonment and emotional torture, all wrapped up in a desire to hurt. If she recognized the former perfectly, if she knew it as well as she knew herself, how could she completely condemn the latter?
Easily, she thought. Snoke's pain didn't justify murder or possession.
But it did make it harder to hate him in turn. She sniffled and rubbed her tears away, fighting irritation with herself. No amount of crying would make this easier.
She'd suspected Poe or Finn might find her, but she'd mostly assumed that Finn would be the one to actually talk. Apparently, she'd been wrong. She scrambled to her feet, blinked up at Poe, and did her best to act like she hadn't just been crying. "Hi. It's late."
"It is," Poe said. "I couldn't sleep."
"With Finn," Rey said before good sense could catch up with her. She shut her mouth with a click of teeth, cheeks turning red.
If Finn had been here, he would have prevaricated, trying to avoid confirming what she'd said. Poe just peered at her a little more closely. "Is that frowned upon on Jakku?"
"The two of us," Poe said. "Or three people. You were so peaceful that night, and now you're, well. Not."
"I saw terrible things on Snoke's planet. Horrible nightmares."
"I know. Trust me, I get the comedown after a big fight, and this was the biggest of them all. But that's what we could've helped you with. That's why we asked."
For a moment, she didn't understand. When she got it, irritation washed over her. "You didn't even mention it!"
He dragged a hand through his hair. "Didn't we?"
Rey thought back to the beginning of the sleep shift: she had said she was going to sit out for a little while longer, and Finn had said, "Not too long. We all need sleep," and then looked at her with an expression that, at the time, she'd thought was strangely goofy.
Oh. But still. "No. Finn never said that."
"He probably thought it was implied."
"Why?" Rey all but yelled the question, exasperation threading through her voice.
Poe, she knew, was preternaturally patient. Yet apparently even he had limits. He said, with an edge in his voice, "Because we're interested. We've made that clear, haven't we? Haven't I? How many times should we say it? If it's not something you want, if you're hung up or, I don't know, repulsed, we'd like to know. Finn spends half his time being all sad and rejected. And I've got some getting over you to do, if that's what's going to happen." He shut his eyes and took a step away, breathing like he'd been running for hours.
But Rey, for whom most relationships were at least a little bit confusing, understood. More than understanding, she thought for the first time that perhaps what they all wanted wasn't so different.
She wasn't ready to say it. But to hope, maybe, wouldn't hurt anything.
So she took a step forward and touched Poe's hand. She lifted it and kissed the back of his hand.
"I'm tired," she said, looking him in the eyes, willing him to understand.
He did. His expression softened, and he pulled her closer, and she felt a relief and thankfulness that washed over her like a cool mist.
"Come to bed," he said quietly, in her ear. His lips brushed against her temple, and his hands framed her hips.
She nodded, moving her hands to hold his and letting him lead her away.
Poe and Finn's room, she learned, was truly both of theirs. The ship itself had combined the rooms to allow for it. Finn slept there already, in near-complete dark. But when Rey got into bed, feeling tentative enough to try and press herself against the wall, Finn half-mumbled and reached out, pulling her close to him, nuzzling her shoulder even as he slipped farther back into sleep.
Poe fit around her front perfectly, his back to her chest, kissing her hand as he put her arm around him. It was warm and safe, complete and utterly free of the fear and pain she'd felt she couldn't escape from.
She learned then that Snoke hadn't been responsible for everything negative in her mind. A tiny strand of anger ran through her; a soft voice whispered, this can't last. But it was distant, and she was tired. When she fell asleep, the voice was silenced.
They received the first post-Snoke reports from Chandrila the next day. Mon Mothma was rumored to have escaped. The Imperial Senate had erupted in furious accusations of deception and corruption. First Order loyalists had, for the most part, faded into the background.
"All in all, it's the best news we could hope for," said Lando. "But it's not the only news, unfortunately."
"They're doing what they did last time," Mara said, her voice full of angry certainty.
Lando nodded. "Gathering in the deep. It might be two days from now, it might be a hundred years, but the First Order will want another reckoning. They've got true believers mixed in with all the acolytes."
It was as people had said, then. "What are we going to do? I don't have any proof that I killed Snoke."
"You probably don't want proof," Leia said. "The Resistance isn't known for its love of extra-judicial killings." When Rey winced, she softened her tone to say, "You did the right thing. We all know that. But there's no benefit to publicizing it."
It was the right thing to say, in a sense. It was practical, Rey thought, and it was what she needed to hear - that she wouldn't be hurt or killed for self-defense. But it was also so seductive, the idea that she'd done the right thing in killing someone. It was too easy to believe. Was this how the Jedi had become corrupted, over and over? Was this the source of the poison that had lived within, and consumed, Snoke?
"People have a right to know," Rey found herself saying. "If we're to be a democracy...I killed him. He wasn't attacking me. I shouldn't have done it. There could be a trial."
"No," Luke said.
His voice was harsh enough to make her blink in surprise. He glared at her like she'd suggested powering up Starkiller Base again. "Luke -"
"It won't happen. No."
She opened her mouth to object, but Mara spoke before she had a chance. "The rule of law will exist, but he'd attacked you for months, Rey. He sought to enslave you. We're not going to send our only daughter to trial for that."
But I feel guilty, Rey didn't say. But this can't end so well, so easily, she swallowed back.
Finally she just nodded. Conversation moved on.
Chandrila being in chaos, several Senators - newly freed from heavy psychic influence - had called for General Leia to act as a city- or planet-wide administrator. When Mara read that particular piece of news, Leia sighed heavily. "I was and am a Senator, but I've never run a real city before, certainly not alone. It's a bit different from galactic governance."
"Too bad no one on this ship's ever run a city," Lando said.
Leia raised her eyebrows. "You think I should appoint you steward on Chandrila?"
"Can you think of anyone better?" Lando's smirk implied quite a bit, as did his slow stroke of the back of Leia's hand.
Rey felt a sudden and acute need to be elsewhere, which was mirrored by Luke's groan. "Not now," he said. "Lando, you can be Chandrila's steward, with Leia's recommendation and the Senate's approval. But not if you're going to act like a horny teenager."
"Luke has no reason to be jealous," Mara said.
Agony. Pure agony. "I'd like to be excused, please," Rey said.
"Me, too," Finn said.
BB-8 announced that it, also, would like to go, and immediately wheeled off to find R2.
"General," Poe said, and joined the exodus of younger people.
Though of course he wasn't as young as Rey. "Mara's not even that much older than you," Rey said, once they'd reached the relative safety of the greenhouse.
Poe grimaced. "Don't remind me. I'm just assuming you're both reasonably of age."
"Sure," Rey said. One year past counted.
"What will happen when we get to Chandrila?" Rey blurted out.
She regretted it almost immediately, as the joking atmosphere died. But she wanted, and needed, to know. "Does Luke have a school there?"
"Luke's never loved Chandrila," Poe said. "At least, not from what I've heard. You'll both keep being trained, obviously. But there aren't that many Force sensitives left."
"What about the acolytes?"
"They'll be among the deserters," Finn said. "They've got a lot of cachet within the First Order, especially with Kylo Ren gone."
Rey tried to picture it. She tried to imagine safely training with Luke, having enough to eat and no dark Force user trying to worm his way into her mind. She found it impossible - not that she was going to admit that out loud. "Of course. So there's lots of work to do."
"A lifetime's worth," Poe said, almost lightly.
A lifetime of hoping that they weren't remaking others' mistakes. Rey did her best to smile.
"Oh, also, parties," Poe said. "There'll be a party when we get to Chandrila."
Rey had seen the pilots drink enough to know what to expect. She nodded.
"I haven't really been to parties," Finn said. "Still. Aside from in the cafeteria, I guess."
Poe looked delighted. "My advice is, drink a lot of water. And stick close to me."
He leaned in, then, to kiss Finn. Rey wasn't surprised by it, as she told herself several times while watching their lips slide against each other. Finn was open, incredibly willing to kiss back and let Poe's hands slide over his face and down his neck. They both gave each other so much.
They were so attractive, together like this, that Rey felt completely unable to breathe. She managed to gasp, though, when Finn reached out and caught her arm, trailing his fingers down her skin until he had a hold of her hand.
She let herself be pulled in. They were both welcoming enough that it felt natural to kiss Finn, to feel his slightly dry skin beneath her fingers as she bit his lip. Poe took advantage of their position immediately, dropping his hands to Rey's waist and just barely pressing into the delicate skin of her hip.
"This isn't exactly a private room," Poe mumbled into her neck.
Finn hummed a little, then said, "Now it is."
"What did you do?"
"Nothing that'll get me in trouble." Finn sounded so confident then that Rey had to kiss him again, spreading her legs so he could press his thigh between them, making her gasp.
"In that case," Poe said. He moved away from her, but before she could complain, he was nudging his way between them.
Rey blinked in surprise when he pushed her against one of the hydroponic units. "What's your plan, exactly?"
"You'll see." Poe smiled at them both, just a quirk of his lips, then told Finn, "Stay busy," as he dropped to his knees.
"Pretty sure you'll enjoy this," Finn told Rey. He kissed her again, then touched her breasts, so gently that she barely felt it.
She appreciated the care, but she'd never been one for a slow - process. She pressed into his hand a little harder, making an impatient noise.
But Finn only laughed and moved away. "Give it a second."
She glared at him - and then gasped, because Poe had gotten her pants down and was pulling her thighs apart and spreading her wide with his fingers.
The wet noises made her blush, but Finn groaned when he heard them, his hands getting a little rougher on her. Rough, right then, was what she wanted: rough and hard, and fast. Poe still refused to give her the last one.
He did lick her, though. Long and slow, dragging his tongue over her clit, then moving around two fingers that he sank slowly inside of her. Finn was hard against her leg, and even as he kissed her, she wiggled a hand between them, pressing it against his pants.
It was so satisfying to watch him groan and move against her, even moreso when Poe moved his other hand to join her, rubbing Finn's hardness. She made a helpless noise at the feeling, then choked back a yell as Poe shifted, pulling his hand out of her and undoing Finn's pants.
It only took a moment. He quirked a smile at Rey, then pulled Finn's pants down, giving Finn the same treatment he'd given Rey.
This, though, was more familiar to him. He knew exactly what Finn wanted, and he gave it to him, hard and fast. Finn pulled Rey close to him, pressed his own fingers against Rey's clit, and bent to kiss her breasts as he shuddered against her.
He came first, biting back a moan, his hands twisted in Rey's and Poe's hair. He was breathtaking, too: frozen in ecstasy, his throat working, his jawline stark with tense muscles. Rey leaned in on impulse and kissed his neck, skimming her fingers over his stomach.
"You," Finn said a moment later. "Him. I -" He actually pressed Rey and Poe together then, like dolls.
Rey laughed, but it wasn't a humorous matter; Poe pulled her to him, and then lifted her so that her back was flush against Finn as Poe pressed inside her.
Full. She was so full, and yet still wet and aching. Finn's arms came around her, and in a rush of need, she guided his hands to her nipples. "Hard," she said. It came out breathy and tentative, so she firmed her voice into a command. "Hard," she said again, squeezing her legs around Poe.
He obeyed. It felt wonderful. He fucked her into Finn, rough thrusts that drew noise out of her as she spiraled away into an orgasm, and then another, her awareness lost to the feeling coursing through her body. She barely felt it when he came - but she heard him, broken and needy, whispering both her and Finn's names over and over again as his movement slowed.
When it was over, she slumped against Finn, gasping. The air was humid in the greenhouse, she suddenly realized. She could smell the plants growing all around them, and the recycled air blew past in a simulated breeze that made her shiver.
"Are you okay?" Finn rubbed her back.
"Cold," she said. But she wasn't that cold; she snuggled closer to Finn and sighed.
Poe, of course, was the one who stood and said, "There'll be security footage to deal with."
"I already scrambled it," Finn said. "You should learn to trust me."
Poe's laugh brushed against the back of Rey's neck. "Believe me, I do," he said, and reached around Rey to flick Finn's neck.
Rey wanted more. It was terrible to admit, but no less true. She wanted to push Finn down and ride him, she wanted to watch Finn and Poe get each other off. She wanted to fuck them both until she was too exhausted to move, and then she wanted to wake back up and do it all over again.
She sighed and leaned into Finn's neck. He made an interested noise and moved his hips against her, slowly, teasing. She arched against him a little, then met Poe's gaze - Poe's very interested, bowled over gaze - and did it more deliberately.
There was an idea.
It was easy with Finn. He understood what she wanted before she even expressed it. He lay on the floor of the greenhouse and watched with astonished eyes as she climbed onto him, kissing him, then guiding him inside her.
Of course, then Poe spoke. "She feels good, doesn't she?"
Finn made a noise halfway between a whimper and a cry, reaching out for Poe. Poe went easily, his laugh turning into a guttural moan when Finn got his hand on Poe's cock, stroking him roughly in time with Rey's movements.
When Finn spoke, he sounded as dazed as Rey had ever heard him. "She does."
"I could watch you both - for ages." Poe rocked his hips into Finn's hand on a sigh. "Rey, his chest. He likes that."
Rey didn't bother hiding her reaction to that, the pure jolt of energy it sent through her. She splayed shaking fingers on Finn's chest, dragging her nails through the sweat there, then pinching one of his nipples in a quick, precise movement.
His hips jumped beneath her, so she smiled and did it again. They needed no more speech. This time, when Rey's orgasm came on the heels of Finn's own, Poe held them both through it. It wasn't until after that they realized he needed no more attention, either.
It was so easy that it sent ecstasy through Rey's veins. It wasn't until much later, lying in the darkness of their tiny room, that she felt the foreboding sink into her again.
It was stupid, and she met it with irritation. Things would be fine. They'd land on Chandrila, and she'd become a Jedi in truth. But even as she thought it, she knew herself for a liar. She didn't have the control she wanted, nor the confidence she needed.
And so even as Finn smiled in his sleep, even as Poe made satisfied noises and clutched them both, Rey lay awake and worried.
She didn't know what she'd expected, really. Chandrila when she'd seen it had been under the grip of the First Order. That horribly constricted society, with its shiny streets and poverty-stricken underbelly, wasn't the Resistance's vision of a free society. She expected it to change, certainly.
But she hadn't expected to land on a planet afire with power struggles and near-local-war.
They had a safe landing in the capital. They were greeted by a man who identified himself as Mon Mothma's lieutenant and displayed credentials that satisfied an already grim Leia. He led them to a fortified tower, which stretched down through every city layer and far into the clouds. "We're responsible for everyone here," he explained, "though that may have been neglected recently."
The grime and pain Rey had seen wouldn't have developed in a few short years. She kept her mouth shut on the topic, though.
The lieutenant, Jarkon, explained the city's situation. First Order loyalists had largely fled for now, but that didn't mean the people who were left wanted anything to do with a Resistance-led New Republic government. "We can't subdue them violently, obviously," he said. "But that also limits our options."
Leia, who'd taken the lead spot at the table, raised her eyebrows. "I'd hope it does. Governments that have access to all the options tend towards the unjust."
"Of course." He smiled; it looked pained. "We welcome any direction to that effect."
"How much money do you have at your disposal?" Lando said.
Lando crossed his arms, raised his eyebrows, and waited.
Jarkon spluttered for a moment before saying, "Chandrila is a participant in the Imperial - Republic - the credit system. We're in good standing."
"Really," Lando said. "Correct me if I'm wrong - I've gotten along in years, see, I'm not what I once was - but the first step in stabilizing Chandrila should be setting up credit stations, shouldn't it?"
"General." Jarkon took a deep breath. "If we enable credit to be drawn by any citizen, the lower levels will simply pour it into the black market."
"A valid concern. But if they can't buy food, what else might you have them do?"
"A ration station -"
"No," Rey burst out. "No rations."
"My assistant is correct," Lando said as Rey furiously tried not to blush. "For now, by order of General Organa, you answer to me. We won't be establishing a rationing system. Place a credit station at each ordinal of every level - or reactivate them if they already exist. Once we've sorted out a reasonable work office, we can ease people back into routines."
"You can't intend to establish work offices in the lower levels?" But Jarkon sounded cowed already, and looked unsurprised when Lando nodded.
"We'll put them in the places that need them most," Lando said. "Get moving. I'll expect a progress report in two hours."
Jarkon handled his dismissal with a disgruntled look. Lando looked around the table; three city administrators remained, plus Leia, Poe, and Rey. Luke was off training Finn and scanning the city for any potential Force-related disturbances; Mara had gone with him for reasons Rey was carefully not thinking about. It had been surprisingly easy to gain a 'these are my parents' aversion to thinking about their nascent love lives.
"Leave us for a second," Lando told the administrators. None of them looked pleased, but they exited the room.
"Right," Lando said. "How long do we think Mon Mothma has been imprisoned, then?"
Rey blinked in surprise, but Leia didn't miss a step, saying, "At least a year, if not longer. We'd suspected, but..."
"She'd never allow this," Poe said. His mouth was set in a hard, flat line. "Is Jarkon behind it?"
"We'll find out," Lando said. "I've got a couple people trailing him, and Chewie and R2 are into the network here. If he's up to something, we'll know."
"What's the other option?" Rey said.
"Jarkon could think she's really dead," Leia said. "Unlikely, but possible. Though I can't imagine any true Republic lieutenant pursuing such policies."
"People will do a lot for safety or stability." The way Lando said it, it sounded like more of a practical statement than a philosophical one. He hit the comm on the table. "Come back in, you three."
Lando set each administrator with jobs to do, extremely detailed and carefully delineated. Rey was impressed by the time he sent the third one on her way; Leia, she could see, was even more impressed. "Is Chandrila ready to host the Senate again, then?" she said.
"As ready as anyone," Lando said. "The Core Worlds should be ready for a recall election in a week. We'll set the Senate to convene at the beginning of next month."
"I've got work to do then, as well," Leia said. "Thank you for your time...Governor."
They left Lando with a smile on his face. Rey wished she could feel as lighthearted. Even Poe looked more cheerful now that he and Leia had mandates, but Rey just felt - adrift.
"What am I supposed to do?" she asked Leia when Leia announced her intention to make calls pertaining to setting the Senate up.
"You'll be training with Luke," Leia said. "Unless you'd prefer a different assignment?" She asked the question with a clear expectation for Rey to say no.
And Rey indeed didn't plan to say anything else. How could she? She had plenty of skills, but Leia wouldn't be willing to assign a Skywalker to some generic ship's mechanic job. Plus, even through her hesitation and wariness - of which she had plenty - she still felt drawn to the Force, and to working with it. Jedi training, once started, was very difficult to stop. She knew that perfectly well.
But it was still hard to shake her head. "I need to continue my training."
"I asked what you wanted, not what you think you should be doing." Leia held up a hand when Rey moved to protest. "Don't worry. I won't make you talk now. But there are people who care about you, Rey. We'd be willing to listen."
"I, for one," Poe said, "love hearing people's tales of woe. As you know."
Rey couldn't stop herself from blushing, which of course made Leia look between the two of them with obvious amusement. "I've got other meetings," Leia said. "Poe, you've got a free afternoon. Just so you're aware." She nodded at them both and left as Poe grimaced with embarrassment.
"She's bugged me about settling for, oh, longer than you've been an adult," Poe said. "And now she's got a niece to keep an eye on, too. So it's a big time for her."
He didn't quite meet her gaze as he joked, and Rey understood why. She could feel awkwardness practically crawling all over her. She desperately wanted Poe to care for her, and Finn too; she equally desperately wanted to never risk her emotions for long enough to actually talk about it. And so she, too, avoided Poe's gaze as she said, "I imagine she likes you quite a bit."
"She's a big-hearted person," Poe said. "People always forget that."
He gave Rey a speaking look just then, an "and you'd better not" kind of look. It made Rey's heart flutter; Poe was a good person, and he was defending Leia, and he'd likely defend her, too, if the time came. It made her feel like she'd gotten her hands on a brand new cruiser and was tumbling through the air, just to try it out.
"I should - ah, Luke will want me." She smiled at Poe. "You could come too, I bet Finn will be wanting lunch."
"And naturally, I'd go with him." Poe's eyes flicked to her mouth, then down farther, before settling on her face again. "You're not hungry?"
The double meaning was obvious, and she was, which made it even harder to ignore. But the fear lurked in her now, still. She said only, "Luke has work for me."
If Poe was disappointed, he didn't show it. He led them to the training space and kept up a stream of discussion the whole way.
"The dark side is strong within you," Luke said that day, as Rey plodded through quarterstaff training.
"Is that meant to be an insult?" Rey attempted to deal Luke a blow. He neatly sidestepped it, as she'd expected.
"I think you know it's not." Luke tapped her staff, lightning-quick, then retreated. "But I know what hurt feels like."
"I'm your daughter." It was still hard to say. But - "I'm not you."
"No. You're my student. It's my responsibility to be aware of...issues."
Issues. What a way to put it, Rey thought, stifling a hysterical laugh. She did her best to sound reasonable, even sane, when she said, "I killed Snoke. I'm having some backblow. That's all."
"You think he's really dead?"
Her stomach twisted. She couldn't get the image of Snoke's small, broken body out of her mind for more than a few seconds at a time. "Yes. I do."
Luke lowered his staff. He was looking at her with one of his haunted expressions, worry obvious all over his face. He said, "Do you want to talk about it?"
If he'd been sensing her distress as a student, then now he finally sounded like a father. She had to swallow past a lump her her throat when she said, "There's nothing to discuss."
"I'm not sure I believe you."
He said it so gently, yet something in Rey sparked with anger. "I don't have anything to say! He was pathetic. I killed him. What else could I possibly say? Would you like me to describe it? It only took a second. It was a waste of time, going out there. I - he -" The words crowded in her throat: angry words, bitter words. She shook her head. "Never mind."
Luke nodded. She expected a word of peacemaking, maybe, or at least an apology. Instead, he said, "My nephew is dead. He killed two children of old friends of mine, and a dozen other Force sensitive children. Leia tells me that despite all that, it still hurt to lay him to rest."
"That's the hope." Luke spread his hands. "All we can really hope for is rest, don't you think?"
Something in her stomach twisted. "I don't know."
"If you killed him, you let him rest. Finally. You broke no laws, Rey."
That wasn't what she was worried about. She wanted to scream the truth at him. How could she train and learn in even a diluted Jedi tradition, and be sure she wouldn't end up just like him? Or - perhaps worse - how could she be sure she wouldn't end up like the teachers who made Snoke who he'd become?
"Rey. That won't happen."
She was projecting, then. She found she didn't care. Tears rolled down her face, and she didn't bother to wipe them away. Her grip on her staff hurt her fingers.
Luke had rarely hugged her, and never when she was this upset. He moved forward now, though, putting his hands over hers on the staff, disengaging her grip so that he could hug her.
"Shh," he said, and patted her back.
It was rather how she imagined 3PO might comfort someone, which is to say it was awkward and clearly an action he was unfamiliar with. But he was human, and close, and he believed in her. She could feel that coming from him, assurance and love in warm waves of heat.
She closed her eyes and leaned into him. "I'm scared," she said. "He hated the Jedi so much. And I agreed with him. What they did to him...he never forgot. Thousands of years and he never forgot."
"You're not responsible for his hatred," Luke said. "What you can do is move forward. Learn and train others. Try not to hurt others, and protect who you can."
He'd done that, and they'd died.
"I lost my students, yes. There are no guarantees," Luke said. "You're the one who came and got me off the island. We both have responsibilities now." She felt him smile. "Surprise."
The comfort didn't stop the storm inside her. She suspected nothing could, not right then. But it did make her feel slightly less like she was about to fly into pieces.
"That's a Skywalker trait," Luke told her. "Now. Let's get you projecting a little less."
He led her through a series of steps. At the end of them, he produced her crystal with an unapologetic look. "You should be ready for your vigil in a couple of weeks."
"What about Finn?"
"What about him?" Luke said blandly, which was how Rey learned he took student confidentiality pretty seriously.
He left her earlier than he'd planned. She went through a series of handstands and quick agility movements once she was alone. She felt less terrible by the time she finished, if also red-faced and unusually sweaty.
Finn and Poe were nowhere to be found after her trip to the fresher. The tower was teeming with newly arrived members of the Resistance, both civilian representatives from other planets and military members. Thinking of introducing herself to anyone made Rey feel like a cornered animal, so she escaped through a side entrance, hopping down the elevator to the city's second-top level.
Here, people's wariness was obvious. Most of the shops were empty, the cafes and bars sparsely populated. More than a few apartments appeared completely abandoned; First Order sympathizers had, of course, been much more common among the wealthy. Despite the prestige of this level, the sanitation droids had clearly had periods of inactivity; she saw bits of trash on the poly-walks, and more than a few unpleasant scents floated past her. Jarkon had been vague about what had happened in the capital after the First Order had evacuated, but Rey got the impression the city had been teetering closer to destruction than he'd admitted.
She found herself at the site of their - or the Resistance's - honeypot restaurant without realizing she'd been walking towards it. It stood at the junction between the first and second levels now; someone had build an elevator to let out across the airway from the restaurant. She walked over the polymer bridge that led right to the building's front door.
No new tenants had moved in, though it had been vacant for months now. The holo-sign was blank, as were the restaurant's windows; Rey tried the front door and found that no one had even disabled it. The door whooshed open silently, beckoning her inside.
Curiosity, Rey knew, could kill as easily as malnutrition or antagonizing the wrong person. And yet, in she went.
The tables had been stolen, as had the valuable privacy controls. But Poe's concierge desk remained, as did the stairway up to their apartment. Rey climbed cautiously, one hand on her blaster. But the door upstairs had been fairly well hidden, and she found when she got to the second floor that no one had bothered searching the apartment.
They'd been careful about leaving personal effects out. One of Poe's little carved figures still lay on the coffee table, but nothing of Finn's or Rey's remained in the place. And yet, when Rey closed her eyes and reached out with her senses, she could feel a faint impression of the three of them.
She had been so afraid for most of her time here. So much had happened since then that it was easy to forget. But here was her fear, and her longing, too; here was Finn's bravery and Poe's determination. And here was all their love, fading even now, yet still strong enough for Rey to pick up on it when she closed her eyes and cast her mind out.
How had she missed it the first time? Fear, she thought a bit wryly. The answer for her was always fear.
She ended up in the bedroom. It was prettiest now, in the early afternoon, with the sun streaming in through the skylight far above the bed. The bed itself, she was somewhat surprised to see, had been left alone. The sheets, a cheap polymer pair the Resistance had sent with them, were still mussed, as though the three of them might return to sleep at any moment. A pair of pants hung in the closet; it could have been Finn's or Poe's. A lump rose in her throat as she looked around, less because of memories - which were, after all, influenced by a pervasive fear of getting caught - but more because of what this room suggested they could have been. What, she thought, they almost had been, several times now. What they could be, if only she were brave enough.
She'd almost left the apartment when she saw the drawing pad. It sat on the bottom shelf of the end table right next to the door. Thin and light, it would have none of the functionality of a datapad - but its stylus was still attached to the side, and when she picked it up, the screen turned on.
She recognized Finn's handwriting instantly. It was only in the corner of the current page, with "Chandrila" and a date that matched when they'd been undercover, but it was clearly distinctive, small and neat block letters that spoke of training for precision and the personality that shone through in spite of it.
The rest of the drawing wasn't what she expected. It wasn't a portrait, though she and Poe were both on the page and easily identifiable. They sat on the apartment's couch with Finn between them, and in the drawing, Finn lay his head on Rey's shoulder. As she watched, the drawing-Finn moved, kissing Poe's cheek and saying something that made the three of them laugh.
It was an older style of drawing, she noted. No program had been used to create the in-between frames, though such programs had been common in holovids and in high Republic art for centuries; he'd drawn it all, carefully rendering their faces in different poses, charting the movement of a laugh and a sigh. It was beautiful and accurate, intimate and wonderful, and it had never happened in the time they'd been here. She held a drawing of Finn's longing.
It felt too intimate to keep staring at. She turned the drawing pad off, but tucked it in her rucksack to give to Finn later. Things between the three of them were still new enough that she could sense he wouldn't want to discuss it - but for the first time, real hope bloomed in her heart. Finn had wanted the same thing she did, or something similar, anyway. He probably still did. There had to be somewhere to go with that knowledge.
She walked back to the governor's tower soon after making her discovery. The streets stayed as abandoned as they'd been on her journey out; a few people peered at her, warily, from around building corners and through broken windows. This kind of abandonment might be normal for a Western Reaches town that had recently been raided. She suspected it hearkened back to ancient times for any long-term Chandrilan residents.
Finn was in his training with Luke, so Rey sent a droid to his room with the drawing pad and went off to work on her lightsaber drills. Luke had told her they'd be doing only lightsaber work in the morning. It took up enough of her attention that she didn't see Finn at all for the rest of the day.
He was missing at dinner, but Poe found her. "Mind if I sit?"
"Please," Rey said. The governor's tower had a workplace cafeteria that was much the same as a ship's might be. She'd picked a small round table, and given the dearth of employees in the tower, that meant she was eating alone.
He set his tray down across from her. "Finn's eating a meal bar and lying down. Luke's training really took it out of him."
Rey nodded and tried to avoid thinking about how Poe knew that. She failed. "You're still sharing, then?"
"There's no real need to," Poe said. "The tower's got plenty of space." He kept his gaze on her, to the point that it became profoundly disconcerting. "But we're sharing a room, yeah."
She hesitated for too long trying to think of something else to say. Poe, ever the opportunist, added, "There's space for three. That's why we picked it."
"I haven't seen it," she said, then winced, feeling like a fool.
"Not for lack of trying on our part." Poe raised his eyebrows. "You know, it's funny. I stole my mom's X-wing when I was five years old. I almost gave her a heart attack. But I see you sitting over here, and the first thing I think of doing is running away."
"I'm not scary."
"Sure." Poe shrugged. "But think of how we feel. It's hard to know what's going on in there."
She felt a bit of anger at that, unique in how rare it was post-killing Snoke. This was legitimate anger, though, from a source other than someone else's malevolence. Did he think this was low stakes for her? Did he think a no one from Jakku had rejected oh so many long-term relationships and chosen loneliness? "It's hard knowing what I'm feeling," she bit out.
But apparently that was the opening Poe had been waiting for. "Stay with us while you figure it out. Share our room. Move your stuff in, I don't know what stuff you have, but move it in." He said the last in a rush, like thought she'd stop him before he could get it all out.
Rey had nothing to say for a moment, and then she had too much to say: please yes, and does this mean forever, and I am honestly so afraid, worse than when I got stuck pinned under a detached engine, please make me less afraid. She managed to choke out, "I don't have a lot of stuff."
Poe's smile looked about as fragile as she felt. "It'll all fit, then."
And so it was decided: Rey was moving in. Poe told BB-8 as he followed Rey back to her soon-to-be-former room, and BB-8 reacted with whistles of joy, since apparently rolling back and forth down hallways to find its favorite people made its routing mechanisms complain. Thanks to BB-8's jubilant narration, Rey was thoroughly blushing by the time she'd finished gathering her things.
She rejected Poe's suggestion of a transport droid in favor of carrying her lone bag of belongings over to the new room. When the door to Poe and Finn's room slid open, she saw Finn sitting on the bed, staring down at his drawing tablet.
"Rey! You're - here? To stay?"
"If that's okay," Rey said. She glanced at Poe, but he looked untroubled. That wasn't, she realized, proof that he'd discussed it with Finn beforehand.
"Oh, no, it's great," Finn said. "I was just going through this - you must've guessed it was mine." He powered down the drawing tab. "Thanks."
"I just happened upon it." Rey dropped her bag and looked around the room. "Well."
"You could unpack, you know," Poe said.
So Rey did, though it was embarrassing. She had three outfits, all of which she laid in a single drawer. Her staff went in a corner; her tiny whittled totem stayed in her pocket. She was done in just a few minutes, and when she looked back at Poe and Finn, they were both staring at her with what she could only interpret as pity on their faces.
"I travel light," she told Poe, all but daring him to comment.
"You and Finn have that in common."
Blushing. More blushing. She might never stop, at this rate.
She definitely didn't stop when Finn stepped forward and kissed her.
She did blush, though. Her heart hammered in her chest. It was almost worst when Poe said, voice thick, "This is a really great visual, but I have work to do. Drills. I have to go."
"We'll say bye, then," Finn said with mischief in his eyes. He kissed one of Poe's cheeks, and Rey, feeling both stupid and excited, kissed the other.
The excitement faded as she was left alone with Finn. "I'm sorry," Rey said. "I've been...it's been hard."
Finn nodded. "For me, too."
"Which means I get it," Finn said. "Not that I'm mad. I just -" He bit his lip. "You're really pretty. And you're you."
"You're amazing," Rey said. And then, overwhelmed with odd embarrassment and near-terror, she said, "Want to watch a holodrama?"
"God, yes," Finn said, and that was that.
"I want to apologize for what I'm about to do," Luke said the next day.
Rey, who had imagined him doing any number of horrifying Mara-related things in front of her since they'd started flirting, said, "Oh?"
Luke plunked several rocks in front of her. They were all clean, but uniformly covered in mineral deposits that made them look both craggy and deeply unattractive.
"I see." She didn't see.
"These are kyber crystals. Normally you'd travel to harvest your own. It's the best way to get a saber that's attuned to you."
"I thought you had me meditating on crystals already."
"I lied." Luke lifted a shoulder. "You were volatile. Those were meditation crystals. You have to choose one of these. Shaping a crystal and fitting it into an assemblage will define the final form of your saber."
"Is lying part of training in the Force?" But Rey's heart wasn't in the comment; she was distracted by the crystals. They called to her in a way the meditation crystals hadn't, alluring and entrancing.
"Sometimes." Luke sounded amused more than anything else. No, not amused - parentally fond. What an emotion, Rey thought, to have directed at herself.
Even that thought was more of a stray spark than a fully formed idea. Her attention had been pulled in by the crystal.
Luke must have left; she didn't notice either way. The crystal's rough-hewn outside hid a mass of energy and light. The Force, Rey thought, light and dark, tangled together. She couldn't ask the Force about the Jedi; she couldn't tell the Force all of her doubts. That wasn't the point of it. If Rey repudiated the Jedi and went to live on an island in an uninhabited Far Reach planet - if Rey, in fact, imitated Luke in disappointments as well as education - the Force would remain the same. Unknowable, and uncaring. The Jedi could harness the Force, but they no more defined it than Snoke had.
Why the rules, then? It was much easier to simply access the Force, and work out the details from there. It was much simpler to access the Force instinctively, to let the power flow through her, to feel the pure possibility held within the crystal, the ability to change, to power -
She pulled back, distantly aware that her body was breathing hard, close to its limit. Here, again, was the dark side. And it was tempting too, even without Snoke in her mind. Could she wield a saber that embodied the whole Force? How could anyone possibly think it simple, or even achievable?
Repeatedly she let herself be drawn in, and repeatedly she pulled away from the brink. Her awareness of time's passage faded. What mattered here was what she could learn from the crystal, and the crystal had existed in its current form in the galaxy for a very long time.
She didn't realize how tired she was until Luke shook her from her trance. Her limbs felt like rubber, and her lungs burned as though she'd run several miles. Luke said, "What did you learn?"
"I'm not sure I'm meant to tell you."
Luke snorted and waved her out.
She tried to rest, but she couldn't pull her thoughts away from the crystal. When she lay down on the wide bed, her mind was buzzing so much that she thought she'd never sleep. Then, of course, she lost awareness, and only woke again in the early morning, finding herself squished against the wall with Finn and Poe next to her.
Right. She'd been exhausted. She propped herself up on one elbow and watched them both. She knew Luke wouldn't have told her if Finn was also training to build a saber. Either way, he didn't look half as tired as she still felt. Poe, of course, was as hale and healthy as ever. He'd forsaken a shirt for the night, and his skin showed signs of getting a lot of sun. Rey looked down at herself and grimaced: she needed the 'fresher and a lot more food before she'd look half as healthy or strong.
When she moved to hop out of the bed, Finn's brow furrowed and he grumbled, burrowing more solidly into the covers and grabbing her pillow. For a moment, longing tore at her - but she couldn't stay, so she forced herself to look away and go about the business of getting ready for the day.
Luke had brought in more brand-new mechanical materials than Rey had ever seen in one place. She did her best not to regard them dubiously, but Luke clearly caught on to her hesitance. "I know they seem a bit ostentatious," he said, "but you've scavenged things your whole life. A saber - it's a tool, it'll be close to you. They can be built - rebuilt - scavenged, but - your habit, it's not the only way to do things. You shouldn't think it is."
Rey ran that through her Luke filter and came to an astonishing conclusion. "You want me to have something nice and new."
It was like being given an entirely new workshop - literally. He showed her how to construct the double-sided handle, and how to mold the crystal to fit. The chassis came along beautifully, and Rey was so absorbed in the joy of creating it that she almost forgot the doubts that had plagued her.
"It can sense your doubt," Luke said as the blade sputtered.
"I don't have doubt!"
Luke didn't answer; he didn't need to. She scowled and put the saber down, watching as the faulty blades blinked out of existence. "I'm tired."
"We'll try again tomorrow."
She waited for another comforting word; when he didn't offer it, she left as quickly as her feet would carry her.
She told herself that she wasn't sulking. She just didn't feel like going to bed yet, and so was sitting on the roof. And it wasn't the roof of the governor's tower, because that was a security risk. It wasn't, in fact, any roof on Chandrila's top level. It was the roof of the small speeder she'd taken down to the third level, docked on a scenic overlook that presented a beautiful view of the water.
But that wasn't sulking. She'd just found a nice place to sit, that was all.
"Did you know you're a block from the restaurant?"
She managed to stop herself from whirling around when she heard Poe's voice, just barely. Keeping her eyes on the water, she said, "What restaurant?"
He moved to stand next to the speeder; its height put Rey several inches above his head, still. "The one we lived at. Remember?"
"Of course I remember."
"We all do." He laughed a little. "Even if we don't want to."
It felt like holding a match to a bone-dry stick. An odd emotion rose in her, not quite anger, but a fraught cousin. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Something's up with you. Finn's been trying to get up the courage to ask you what's wrong, but since you're not a First Order commanding officer, he's having trouble with it. That's why it's always me who comes and gets you."
She looked down at him - which of course was a mistake. His gaze was kind and steady, confident, the very opposite of how Rey felt right then.
"How can you think this will work?" she blurted out.
"This, as in, the Republic?"
"New Republic." And of course that hadn't been what she'd meant. But she, who had survived often via cowardice, was grateful for the opportunity to lie.
"Well, it has to work. I've given you the whole speech before, about loyalty and belief. It's as true today as it ever was."
What was it like to have that kind of belief? She couldn't imagine - and she couldn't ask him.
He proved to be a terrifying interpreter of her silences. "You don't believe me."
"I've tried to."
"Do you think Finn will go back to the First Order?"
She reared back, feeling like she'd been struck. "He'd never! How could you say such a thing?"
"See? There you go."
She wanted to say it was different. And, of course, it was, because whatever Poe felt for the New Republic was almost certainly not what Rey felt for Finn. Or for Poe himself, for that matter. But... "He really wouldn't, though. And General Organa's a Skywalker. Which means the New Republic is run by -"
"Your aunt," Poe said. "You think you'll go evil, too?"
"No, I just -"
"It'll be a long life if you don't have faith in someone. Or something."
"I don't know if I'm ready to be a revolutionary." She didn't know if she was ready for a lot of things, actually. Including the way Poe was looking at her just now.
"You'll figure it out." He leaned forward then, just a shade shy of too quickly for her to react, and kissed her.
She wanted this. She wanted it in a way that seemed itself a kind of condemnation. Wanting Poe and Finn both combined with a keening desperation in a way that seemed almost certainly doomed for failure. And yet, even past that, she felt hope. It was a terrible sort of feeling, sharp and painful. It made her feel shallow and silly, and it lit her insides on fire as she kissed Poe back.
"Come home," he said when they pulled apart. "Otherwise Finn will just sulk."
And of course they couldn't have that. She found herself smiling. "All right, fine."
No one slept relaxed that night, but they were nominally together, at least. Rey wanted more - in fact, she wanted more quite desperately - but she'd rather fight a dozen more Snokes than actually ask for it. Not yet, she kept thinking. Not quiet yet.
The next day, she stood in the Jedi training room and tried to work her lightsaber.
"It will reflect your confidence and power in the Force," Luke said. "That's why you're having trouble."
She'd almost have preferred a teacher who minced words. But of course that wasn't Luke's way. She grimaced and tried to steady herself, but her lightsaber continued to hiss and spit in a very discouraging way.
"It's like some kind of cat," she said. "This can't be the point of being a Jedi."
"I'm not training you to be a Jedi," Luke said. "I'm training you to be a Force user. And it is. Unfortunately."
"What's the difference?" Rey grumbled, moving the saber in an arc. The two blades shimmered uncertainly, emitting a noise that she could only think of as complaining.
"Quite a bit. Jedi aren't allowed to have emotional relationships with other people, for example."
Rey stopped dead and stared at Luke. He looked back, more than slightly amused.
"That's not funny," she said as a thin defense for her pride.
"It isn't. And it's part of why we're moving away from that." Luke turned away with a casual mien, as though dismissing thousands of years of history was as easy as waving a hand. "Now. Try again. And think about it this time, really think. Let yourself feel the Force."
Every time Rey let herself feel the Force, she felt Snoke's formidably powerful helplessness, his anger and rage. It wasn't exactly an emotion that motivated a person towards understanding. Or gentleness.
But Luke was her teacher, and she felt responsible for at least trying. She let her breath out slowly, then inhaled and gripped her saber again, activating it.
The blades still wavered, but they were fractionally steadier this time, a watery purple. Luke smiled.
She drilled for the entire rest of the day. It was exhausting and, she couldn't help but feel, limited in its rewards. At the end of the day, the beams of her saber were still three times as uncertain as Luke's own, and she felt emotionally drained besides.
She was not, then, prepared to be greeted by both Finn and Poe when she exited the 'fresher. She especially wasn't ready for the pilot's helmet Poe carried.
"I'm very tired," she said, looking between them. "Were you going somewhere?"
"We were hoping you'd come with us," Finn said.
If Poe had asked, she thought she could have turned him down. Poe liked to pretend he wasn't sincere even when he clearly was, and he gave the impression of someone who could take a few disappointments. But Finn...Finn was genuinely nice, and kind, and good. Rey didn't want to disappoint Finn. "Only for a little bit," she said. "I mean it."
Finn's smile made her heart flop over in her chest. "Of course."
They took a lightweight speeder, flying low over Chandrila's top level. At first Rey thought they'd be heading for the parks farther north, but after they got away from the densest buildings, Poe veered right - and began flying over the water.
"What," Rey said, but the wind was such that no one could hear her; she had to sit still while Poe took them into the ocean, until the lights of the governor's tower barely twinkled in the distance. Then they began their descent.
She saw the island before they reached it. It was small, densely forested, and apparently - impossibly - uninhabited.
"What is this place?" she said once they'd disembarked.
"An old Jedi temple, technically," Poe said. "Finn found it on an old map. Functionally, it's a rock that handily destroys any attempts at non-Force-user settlement."
Rey could see it, here and there: ruins of poly-fiber construction that really shouldn't have been possible to tear apart. Those ruins, however, were largely eclipsed by the tall, brilliantly green trees, vines that threaded round their trunks and draped from branch to branch, and the forest's undergrowth, tiny flowers and damp moss.
"It's beautiful." She waited to feel something - a stirring change in the Force, perhaps, or a breakdown of all the anger she'd carried inside herself while fighting Snoke. Neither happened. She was only Rey, standing among the grass, breathing in an air more humid than any she was used to, and fighting the urge to pull Finn and Poe both in for a kiss.
"I heard about your saber," Finn said quietly.
She winced. "I'm working on it."
"So Luke told me. He asked me to try to figure out what your block was." Finn smiled a little. "Then he told me not to tell you I knew."
"It's embarrassing." And worrying, and horrifying, especially since it was bad enough that Luke had intervened with Finn. "I didn't know sabers could go wrong like this."
"A whole lot of the universe runs on faith," Poe said. "That's why we're here."
"I don't follow."
He stepped forward, so that they were scant inches apart. She wanted quite desperately to step away, but she made the mistake of locking gazes with Poe, and then she felt pinned to the ground. Finn's hand, too, didn't help; it twined in hers and lent her courage that she couldn't help but believe in.
"We've talked about it quite a bit," Poe said. "Me and Finn. We're trying to figure out how to get you to believe our offer is genuine."
She did. Or she wanted to. But seeing wasn't believing, even on an impossible island. She shook her head.
"Good thing I have a backup plan," Poe said. He kissed her, his hand curling around the back of her head.
It was a good kiss. Rey was more than happy to lean into it and kiss back. But then Poe took it one step farther, licking into her mouth as he spread a hand over her ass.
She broke away then. "Poe! We're in a temple."
"An old one." He smiled at her, crookedly, and her heart flopped over. They were both so - so -
"We're trying to say we love you," Finn said.
She turned to him, expression frozen with surprise.
He shrugged. "Sorry, Poe. But one of us had to say it for real. That's what we're hoping for, you know. Even if you never get the saber working. Love."
Love apparently felt like Finn holding her hand and stepping into her and Poe's space, kissing her cheek and then her jaw, stroking her hip. Love felt like his mouth on Poe's shoulder as Poe kissed her again. Love felt like both of them touching her all over, and holding her up when she swayed on her feet.
And of course, love felt like the backdrop to it all: dizzying, breathtaking hope.
She wanted to say yes with an intensity that surprised even her. But - "That won't fix anything with my training. This can't possibly be your whole plan."
"Maybe not," Finn said. "That's only half the plan, though."
"And the other half?" she said, turning to Poe. Her stomach tightened with trepidation.
"Here we go," he said, and he and Finn took each of her hands at once.
It was Finn who opened the connection up: the Force, expressed through him, a wild maelstrom of power. It was so much power, in fact, that her instinct was to flinch away, thinking of Snoke and all that might go wrong if she embraced the Force fully again.
Oh. She'd been flinching, then, for weeks.
"Let yourself feel it," Finn said. "We'll catch you. Don't worry."
He didn't understand; in fact, Rey thought, he couldn't understand. He'd never been in Snoke's control. The memory of it, sickeningly strong, acted as a stone wall might, keeping the Force away. Keeping her away from the Force, too, so that she couldn't abuse it, couldn't go to the dark.
Snoke would have tried to cajole her. Certainly, right then she had plenty for him to work with. Her insecurities formed a roiling mass in the pit of her stomach; her fear made her teeth chatter. If Snoke had been in her mind, he'd have only needed the barest hint of doubt or fear to make her fly apart.
Finn, apparently, was made of sterner stuff. "I love you," he said. "And I've been afraid before, too. Plenty of times. We'll catch you if something goes wrong."
Poe added, "You don't have to worry, Rey. You're safe here. Listen to the forest."
Safe. Could she be safe? She let out a slow breath and cast her attention beyond Poe and Finn.
The forest had not always been safe. It had ripped the poly-fibers apart to defend itself, howling with the fury of the Force in its purest form. And before then, it had been a home of Jedi, proud and brittle - and eventually, all dead. Malice had stalked the forest floor; anger and betrayal had broken a heart-tree, long ago. To the Force, time and memory were malleable. The forest, then, could tell her what it had experienced, because in some ways those experiences were still happening.
She told herself to be brave. When bravery failed, she told herself to stay standing.
Poe shone gold. The Force loved him, as much as it could feel love, though he only moved through it, never speaking to it directly. Finn carried an iridescent fire inside, tempered in unimaginable pain, as resilient and true as the temple itself.
And Rey saw herself through the eyes of the forest: small. Afraid. But full of life all the same.
Cajoling and manipulation wouldn't have worked. It was only with certainty and knowledge that Rey could take the last step, opening herself to the Force, feeling the full rush of its power for the first time since leaving Snoke's forsaken planet.
"Oh," she said, coming back into her body. The feeling of channeling the Force was nothing new, but now it was - more. Infinitely scarier, but infinitely more beautiful. "This is how it should have been?"
Finn's smile widened, relief showing all over his face. "Let's find out," he said, and pulled his saber out. He activated his, then waited for Rey.
She unhooked hers from her belt. A long handle and two blades: it was nothing like Luke's, or Snoke's for that matter. It was hers. She felt the crystal inside the chassis hum with recognition.
It activated as easily as a thought, and two purple blades appeared, casting steady light all over the clearing.
"Thank the Force," Poe said. "Uh, I assume that's what it's supposed to be doing?"
Rey bowed to Finn, unable to keep a grin back as she did. "It is. It is!" She deactivated it and ran over to Finn, who'd barely put his saber back in its holster before she tackled him.
The forest floor was damp and smelled a bit moldy. Apparently dirt had its job to do even on a Force-filled magical island. But even though twigs poked her back, Rey pulled Poe down to join them, laughing and trading kisses with them both as the world spun above, below, and within her.
When they returned to the governor's tower, it was to news that Lando had solidified his hold on the local government.
"Um," Rey said.
Leia raised her eyebrows. "Yes?"
"Does that mean he didn't have a hold on it before?"
"Are you questioning Lando Calrissian's management ability?"
"No, of course not," Rey hastened to say. "I only wondered -"
Leia surprised her by laughing. "You'd be right to question it. He's a scoundrel. He had some politics to navigate, as you might expect. Jarkon's in jail. Things have settled down, for the most part."
"The most part?"
"Well, Luke might have to knock some heads. In a Jedi sense."
"And you?" Standing this close to Leia, with the Force running through her, it was impossible not to feel Leia's power. She kept it banked, marking her very obviously as not a Jedi, but Rey suspected that kind of control took even more self-possession than she herself had at all.
"I'll go back to the Senate," Leia said. "That's what I am, on a good day: a senator."
"What about Lando?"
"What about him?" Leia said, just a bit sharply. "The Senate rotates its seat. I'll be back in Chandrila soon enough."
Asking for more details or saying she was happy for them, Rey suspected, would be embarrassing for them both. "And I'll continue training, I suppose."
"About that," Leia said. "Mara and Luke have been fighting about when to tell you, but they both forgot that I'm capable of talking to you myself. There's a lot of work to be done on Jakku, cleaning up the slavers, helping survivors of the First Order's massacre. Oh, and possibly fighting pirates."
"The Western Reaches are a lawless place." Leia smiled serenely. "Luke and Mara plan to go in their capacity as Galactic authorities. You'd need a pilot, of course - one whose focus was just on that, not on being a Jedi apprentice."
She didn't dare ask for Poe, but -
"I'd, personally, like to send someone less expensive," Leia said. "But I was told that if I didn't give Dameron up to the cause, he'd be putting in an extensive request for leave. So." She gave Rey a speaking look. "Try not to embarrass the New Republic."
A devil of mischief rose within her. "Isn't it the new, New Republic?"
"Not another word," Leia said - but she was smiling. "Pack your bags. We're sending you all off after dinner tonight, and Testor's reportedly ordered half the stock of booze on Chandrila for the occasion."
"Half of it? Really?"
"The other half will be for your wedding," Leia said, and laughed at the dumbstruck look on Rey's face.
"Look, here we are: the desert."
Finn said it with the irony of a joke in his voice, yet he glanced at Rey with tenderness even as Poe laughed. Rey only said, "We'll have a lot of cleanup to do."
Jakku wasn't as she remembered it. The Republic had already apprehended Plutt; he was the biggest boss around, though he of course reported to a higher power in the Western Reaches' crime syndicate. But there was, in truth, a lot to do. The community of Force worshipers that Poe had found had disbanded, and many were in need of help. Rey's own old community - if you could call it that - was in chaos, requiring aid in both food and organization.
It seemed small, though, Jakku did. Oh, the desert was vast as ever, and breathtaking besides. But when Rey looked at the outpost, she no longer saw threats that she had to carefully categorize. When she saw Plutt's station, she no longer saw a god who decided if she feasted or starved. Even her ship, though it woke pangs of odd homesickness in her, was smaller than she remembered.
"You should take what you need," Poe said. He stood next to her, just close enough for her to sense his presence. Finn held her hand in a sure, steady grip.
"I've got what I need," Rey said, "mostly." She took her doll, though, and her old necklaces, and her little book of stories. It all fit neatly into a knapsack, and then they were moving again.
They had so much work to do, and so many people to help. And, of course, they had to clean up the shipyard.
But Rey had her two loves, one on each side. She had herself. She had a ship, and she had a job and a family.
All things considered, she wasn't doing half bad.