Note: This is it. End of the line. This chapter is just a wee bonus for sweet Rey, who needs a cuddle.
WARNING: Mush. This is Sentimental City!
Remain in Light - Chapter 16: Rey by Erin Darroch
Chapter 16 (Epilogue): Rey
"You're distracted, Rey," Luke said in a gentle tone. "Focus on where you are and what you are doing. You must set aside all other thoughts and feelings."
Rey was acutely reminded by her uncle's comment that he was critically observing her efforts. Even from her upside-down position, she could see the half-smile flickering in his blue eyes. She lost concentration, wobbled and then tumbled from her handstand onto the deck plates of the Falcon's main hold. An assortment of objects crashed to the floor along with her, including an old blaster scope, and a handful of power cells, creating a clatter that reverberated through the corridors. She rolled to a seated position, heaved a tired sigh and stood up, dusting her hands off on the seat of her trousers.
"Sorry," said Rey. She wiped her sweaty face against the sleeve of her tunic, and shook her arms and shoulders out to loosen them. "I am trying."
Luke opened his mouth as if to retort, then seemed to think better of it. He shook his head and gave Rey a wry smile. "Well, that's enough 'trying' for one day. You need to rest and meditate. I'll make us something to eat."
[*I have already prepared a meal.*] Chewbacca growled as he entered the hold from the corridor that led to the galley. He stepped carefully over the objects scattered on the deck plates. [*Clear this mess so we can eat,*] he grumbled. The Wookiee disappeared down the corridor, headed to the cockpit.
"Thanks, Chewie," Rey called after him, beginning to scoop up the fallen items. "Sorry!"
She'd learned to her cost that a hungry Wookiee was a grumpy Wookiee, and she was keen to avoid delaying Chewbacca's meal time. When she was finished tidying up, she turned to face her instructor, who was waiting patiently to speak with her again.
Luke regarded her with a neutral expression, his pale blue eyes looking at her with cool detachment, but there was a shade of admonition in his tone as he spoke. "You need a calm mind to maintain that level of control," he told her. "A focused mind. And you definitely are not focused."
She hung her head for a moment, her shoulders slumping. She knew he was right. She could not seem to gather her scattered thoughts, or calm her fluctuating emotions. Her body, too, was in a state of agitation, muscles jumping, nerves jangling. She drew a deep breath and blew it out slowly, trying to centre herself.
"You're thinking about tomorrow," Luke said, not unkindly. "Instead of concentrating on today. You will always struggle to use the Force when you're in that state of mind. You know that."
Rey nodded contritely. "I know, Luke. I'm just...so..." Her voice trailed off. She couldn't even put a name to what she was feeling.
Luke regarded her with apparent affection for a moment, studying her face. Rey returned his look, her eyes roaming his haggard visage. It was an indulgence to be able to stare openly at him; she often found herself stealing surreptitious glances at him when he was otherwise occupied, searching his bearded profile and scanning his sturdy figure for any resemblance to her mother. For twins, they looked nothing alike, as far as she could tell, and yet there was something about Luke, some quality that she could almost see, which reminded her of Leia. She suspected that he was looking at her and seeing something similar.
"Come on," Luke said, breaking into her thoughts. Clapping her gently on the shoulder he steered her towards the galley. "Let's get the food on the table before Chewie comes back through here. He's much better company when he has a full stomach."
"I've noticed," Rey said dryly, leading Luke to the kitchen.
She leaned a hip against the counter as she watched him collecting plates, cups and utensils. He handed them to her to carry, reached to collect a large bowl of what looked like cold tsitchen salad that Chewbacca had prepared, and then leaned down to the chiller to collect a flask of water.
"On the way to Takodana, Han told me some stories about Chewie..." She trailed off, thinking about Han for the hundredth time that day. My father. Wondering what it would be like to see him again, knowing now who he was to her. And Leia, too. My mother. She savoured those words. Mother. Father. My family. She felt a flutter of excitement at seeing them both, together, at the same time. The prospect seemed like a dream.
"Aaand...there you go again," Luke leaned in and dipped his head to catch her gaze. "Your eyes give you away. They're full of stars when you're daydreaming."
"I'm not daydreaming," she protested, following him through the corridor to the main hold. "I'm just...speculating." Together, they laid out the meal, and Rey poured water into their cups.
"I can imagine what you're speculating about," he said with a smile. "And it's no wonder you're distracted. I'm distracted, and I should know better."
He waited for her to slide around to the centre of the curved bench that wrapped around the ancient holochess table that served as their dining area. He slipped in beside her as Chewbacca lumbered into the hold. The Wookiee joined them at the table, sitting in his accustomed position on the far end, where he could more easily fit his massive bulk.
[*It is difficult to think of anything else*], Chewbacca growled softly. [*Solo is alive. I cannot imagine how.*]
"It's a mystery," Luke admitted with a nod. "I'm looking forward to learning the details." He lifted his fork and turned his attention to his meal.
Rey spooned some tsitchen salad onto her plate and then into her mouth, and chewed, too hungry to comment further. They were right, of course, about what she'd been thinking. The knowledge that Han had somehow survived the attack at Starkiller Base had obsessed her mind almost continuously in the days since the holocomm message had arrived. She'd witnessed Solo's confrontation with Kylo Ren, and she'd seen the sputtering red blade of the lightsaber piercing Han's body. She'd watched him fall, screaming her throat raw as he'd spiralled away into the depths, screaming until he'd been lost to view. She had not doubted for a moment that he was dead. She'd been certain of it.
On arrival in D'Qar, she'd been met on the landing field by Leia—a stranger to Rey, but one to whom she'd felt powerfully drawn and strangely connected nevertheless. Rey had learned on that hazy afternoon the stunning truth of her parentage, and had experienced a new depth of pain when she understood exactly what it was that she'd lost when Han fell. After so many years of wishing and yearning and hoping to see her family, it was gut-wrenching to realise that her father had been there beside her for days, had spoken to her, helped her—had even offered her a place working beside him—and she had not recognised him.
In the days after her arrival on D'Qar, Rey's mind had reeled in shock from the other facts Leia laid out before her. Although she'd sensed that Leia was holding back, cautiously feeding her only the most relevant information in the most basic way, she hadn't pressed immediately for more details because, deep in her heart, she didn't think she could handle any more. It had been difficult enough over the past few days to accept the reality that her father was gone forever, that she'd been so close to the reunion she'd longed for, but now the opportunity to know him had passed.
And then Han had sent them a message.
Just two days into their journey from Ahch-To to the Nastasi system, she and Luke had been engaged in a training session in the centre of the main hold floor when an astonished roar reverberated from the Comms station. Chewbacca had jumped to his feet and roared—it was a primal, wordless bellow that shook the deck plates and rattled the hanging harnesses that dangled from the hold walls. Rey had been startled into a loss of concentration that earned her a painful zap from the hovering training remote. She'd grabbed the remote and deactivated her lightsaber only to notice that Luke suddenly had the hilt of his lightsaber in his hand, his thumb hovering above the activation matrix. The two of them exchanged glances, put their weapons away in unison and crossed the hold to see what Chewbacca was howling himself hoarse about. The big Wookiee was gesticulating wildly, pointing at the comms station and baying inarticulately.
"Chewie, ssh!" Rey had said, trying to get around him without getting knocked in the head. "I can't understand you. What is it? What's wrong?"
[*Look, Little One. Your father is alive.*]
The memory of that thrilling moment would never fade, Rey thought. It was the instant when a thousand possibilities, all extinguished beyond hope of resurrection, had come blazing back to life. She had gaped at the wavering blue-white holographic image of Han and Leia that was playing atop the console, trying to understand what was happening. Hearing Han's tinny voice and absorbing his words, she'd whirled to look at Luke, expecting to see her own astonishment reflected in his face; instead, she'd realised with a jolt that he already knew. Confused, she'd turned back to look at the flickering image again, her heart in her throat. She had stood for a long moment at the comms station in a state of shock, vaguely aware of Luke's utter stillness, and of Chewbacca's clamorous rejoicing. It had taken a long time before she could move, and when she had, she'd moved to replay the message.
Finishing the last bite of her salad, Rey put her fork down and placed one hand each on the arms of her companions, as if preparing to make an announcement. They paused their meals and looked at her as she finished chewing, and swallowed.
"I want to watch it again," she said, and grinned self-consciously at their resulting amusement.
"Oh, that's a surprise," Luke said fondly, sliding around to let her out. "How many times is that now?"
"I'll clean the galley first," Rey offered, ignoring his question. Ten times, she thought. Maybe eleven.
"No, I'll do it. You go watch it again," Luke said. He, too, had finished his meal, but Chewie was scooping another portion onto his plate, chuckling in Wookiee fashion at Rey's enthusiasm. Luke disappeared into the galley with his plate and Rey's in hand, and Rey went to sit at the Comms console.
She pulled up the file and rapidly pressed the key sequence that would replay the message. Nibbling distractedly on a thumbnail, she watched again as the animated three-dimensional image of Han and Leia came into view. On impulse, she jabbed the button to freeze the picture, her eyes scanning the tiny scene presented in the hologram. Han was foremost in the frame, with Leia slightly behind. The two of them were seated close together, their sides touching, to fit into the picture. The frame captured the moment before Han leaned back to begin speaking. He was leaning forward slightly with his arm extended towards the recorder. Rey smiled at the illusion that it created, that he was reaching towards her.
She examined the image, trying to soak up as much knowledge as she could about the couple it represented from the scant evidence presented. My family. Those words had been worn almost bare in her mind over the span of years she'd spent on Jakku. She scarcely had any idea what they meant. She'd spent a few days with Han, and a few days with Leia, but the time had passed like a whirlwind, and so much had happened since then, it was all a blur in her memory. She felt electrified with excitement at the prospect of seeing each of them again, and of seeing them together.
She had some vague memories from early childhood of the mother and father she'd lost, but the memories had been worn threadbare by the passing of time and she could no longer be certain which were true recollections and which were merely fantasies borne of longing. One of the reasons she kept re-watching the holo was to try and reconcile her hazy recollections of those distant ghosts with the reality of Han Solo and Leia Organa. It was also, she supposed, an effort to make sense of everything that had happened since she'd left Jakku. She'd dreamed for so long of a reunion with her family, and had been so convinced that it would happen on Jakku, it was difficult to believe that it had taken the act of leaving the planet for her to find them.
Tomorrow! Her stomach flipped with excitement. Tomorrow, I will see them both.
She pressed the replay button again and felt a smile stealing over her face as the blue-white light of the holographic image resumed its flickering animation. The picture wavered on the top of the console before resolving, and there was a slight hiss and crackle that preceded Han's voice.
"Hey, Chewie. Okay, listen, pal. Don't go crazy, alright? It's me. I'm with Leia. We just left Ord Mantell. I know you think I'm a dead man, but... What can I say? I'm full of surprises."
Han's words were accompanied by a cocky smile, and an exaggerated gesture that said, Hey, it's me. Did you expect anything else? As he leaned back into the seat and came to rest against his wife, Leia tucked her arm through his and propped her head against his shoulder. The sight always made Rey's throat close up with emotion. It was one of the moments in the message that compelled her to replay it over and over. They looked so relaxed, so content, so familiar with one another. Rey's heart yearned to be part of that warmth, to feel their arms wrapped around her, holding her close. She bit her lower lip to stop it trembling and listened to the rest of the message.
"It's a hell of a story, but I'll tell you all about that when I see you. I'm just glad to know that you made it out, too, buddy. And that Rey is with you now."
The image of Han showed him hesitating slightly, his expression a complex mixture of emotions. Rey's eyes tracked the lift of Leia's head and the movement of her slim fingers tightening on Han's biceps. Rey had already scrutinised every tiny element of the brief scene a dozen times, so she found herself grinning in anticipation of seeing again the faint smile that played at the corner of her mother's mouth as Han spoke.
"This part is for Rey."
There was another long pause, while Han seemed to be trying to gather his thoughts. He blew out a puff of air from his lips and shook his head, seemingly at a loss as to where to begin. Rey especially loved the next moment, when Han turned his head slightly to look back at Leia. She punched the button to freeze the frame again and smiled at the image she'd captured. Even the relatively poor quality of the hologram image did not obscure the look in Leia's dark eyes, focused as they were on Han's face with a warm expression of encouragement. Her mother looked so different here than Rey remembered seeing her on D'Qar. Younger. Far more relaxed. And happy. Grinning in unabashed delight, Rey pressed the replay key and watched Han's recorded movements resume. He faced forward again, and leaned in to peer directly into the recording device, as if trying to make eye contact with Rey across the vastness of time and space.
"Okay, I don't know what to say, Sweetheart. There's too much to put in a message like this. Just...stay safe. Let us know where you are, as soon as you can. We love you. We'll see you soon."
Behind Han's shoulder, Leia smiled.
The holocomm ended there, and Rey had to resist the urge to punch the replay sequence one more time. She felt Chewbacca's presence behind her and, swivelling, dropped her head to the back of the chair to look up at him, heaving a deep sigh. His blue eyes met hers in a warm gaze of understanding. He bared his fangs at her in an expression that equated to a gentle smile, and patted her on the shoulder with a giant paw.
[*Soon, Little One. Very soon.*]
The Falcon flew low over the mountainous terrain of the largest continent on the planet Kodus. They were in the northern hemisphere, not far from the western coastline where the land mass met a vast ocean. A glance at the ship's instruments showed Rey that they were fast approaching the coordinates they'd been given, identifying the location of the new Resistance base. Her heart fluttered in her chest and she gripped the armrests of the co-pilot's chair in which she sat, vaguely aware that she was not being of much help to Chewbacca as he navigated towards their destination, but feeling too wound up even to go through the motions. Even without asking, she knew that Chewie understood.
The location of the new base appeared to be somewhere along the northern edge of the planet's warm temperate zone, hidden high in a remote mountain range. The mountains themselves were majestic, even when viewed from above. Their lower halves were skirted with a dense band of forest that stretched as far as the eye could see; a sea of deciduous trees in every shade of green, with hints of gold, scarlet and orange, and scattered clumps of tall evergreens. The bare mountain tops were laced with snow and, in between, there was a treeless band of mostly-bare rock, thinly covered by patches of colourful heath and coarse grasses. Rey's scanning eyes narrowed against the afternoon sun as it glinted off of high mountain lakes and through the mist created by threadlike, cascading waterfalls, casting faint rainbows in the air. The stunning beauty of the landscape registered only dimly in her mind. She was looking for something else.
[*There it is.*] Chewbacca growled, indicating the direction he meant with a lift of his hairy chin. Luke, watching from his seat behind the pilot's chair, leaned forward to peer over the Wookiee's shoulder.
Rey's eyes followed Chewie's line of sight, and she spotted it: a broad natural plateau not far above the tree line, jutting out like a bent knee from the mountainside, embraced on two sides by low ridges of rock. As the Falcon closed the distance, she could see that the plateau was occupied and bustling with activity, as Resistance personnel went about the business of setting up their new base.
As they drew closer, Rey tried to take in the scale of the site. To her eye, it looked very similar to the base on D'Qar, with the same orderly arrangement of sturdy temporary structures, albeit it in a slightly different configuration, and the same collection of personnel, equipment and droids. A few structures were still in the process of being erected, Rey could see, as her eager gaze swept over the scene.
Chewbacca took them for a pass high overhead to get a glimpse of the overall layout, and to find a place to land the ship. As they flew by the site, Rey noticed that the plateau extended deeply between the two ridges of rock, and it was at the far end—the edge abutting the mountain itself—that the largest structure had been erected. That would be the command centre, she knew, and the place where she was likely to find Leia, at least, if not also Han.
She drew a deep breath and then blew it out slowly, trying without much success to calm her racing pulse. She could sense Luke in her periphery, and she knew that he would probably tell her to remember her lessons in how to meditate to quiet her emotions, which he'd first taught her as a child. She and Chewie had spent a handful of days with Luke at his home on Ahch-To before departing for Kodus, and he'd used some of that time to refresh her memory and resume her training. She felt utterly incapable of calming herself, though, and she hoped that he wouldn't voice the suggestion.
The Falcon flew wide of the base and banked sharply to return the way they'd come. Just over the lower end of the abutting eastern ridge, a landing field had been set up on a second broad plateau, and Rey could see that there was yet another landing area slightly higher up the mountainside, which was already populated with ranks of X-Wings and an assortment of other smaller ships. The Falcon banked again as Chewbacca headed for the lower of the two fields.
[*That is your mother's ship.*] Chewbacca growled softly, indicating a new model KDY Arisaig-class light cruiser perched near the lower end of the eastern ridge.
There was a vacant space reserved next to Leia's ship that looked just big enough to accommodate the Falcon. Rey sat forward on the edge of the co-pilot's chair, fingertips slipping on the surface of the console, her eyes taking in the distinctive features of the chromium-plated ship so that she would recognise it again. She also noted a natural dip in the low ridge that separated the main base with the lower landing field, a thoroughfare over and through which Resistance personnel were passing in both directions in a steady flow. As the Falcon dipped lower and Chewbacca began flipping switches in preparation for landing, Rey's scanning eyes caught a glimpse of two familiar figures emerging from the command centre.
"There they are..."
Rey tried to speak the words aloud, but her throat was locked. Her lips moved, but she produced only the faintest of whispers. She blew out a gust of air and bit the inside of her lip, trying to quell the feeling that she was going to burst into undignified tears. She turned to look at Chewbacca, and then glanced over her shoulder at Luke in the seat behind the pilot's chair. The Wookiee was preoccupied with the task of landing the freighter without the aid of his distracted co-pilot, but Luke's mouth quirked up in an understanding smile, and then Rey turned back to crane her head for another glimpse. Her eyes roamed the line between the command centre and the pass that led to the landing field, looking for Han and Leia again, but she could no longer pick out their figures from those of other personnel on the ground.
As the Falcon began drifting down to its landing site, Rey stood up from the co-pilot's chair and leaned forward to peer through the canopy, trying to map out the direction and route she would take once the ship was on the ground. She barely noticed Chewbacca reaching one long arm across to operate the controls to her right that she should, as co-pilot, be operating for him. Just before the freighter dipped below the ridge line, Rey saw her parents emerge on the nearside of the mountain pass. Han lifted a hand high in greeting, just as Chewbacca carefully manoeuvred the Falcon into position and they dropped below the line of sight.
Rey sank down on shaky legs to perch on the edge of the co-pilot's chair again, chafing her icy hands together and shivering. Dimly, she was aware that something was wrong. Her stomach was in knots, and her breathing was too shallow. One moment, she thought she might be sick—in the next, she felt afloat, emotionless and strangely detached from her environment. It was disquieting to realise that her happy excitement had evaporated, leaving behind only a bitter residue of emotion that was more akin to fear than to joy. In an effort to rationalise her way into a better mindset, she reminded herself that she'd already met her parents, albeit individually. She'd spent time with them, and felt connected to them. She'd already felt the tender touch of her mother's hand, and earned her father's respect. Why now, when the day that she'd longed for was finally upon her, when she was moments away from being reunited with them both, did she feel suddenly so anxious and afraid?
At that moment, she felt her uncle's hand on her shoulder and turned her head to look at him, even as she felt the thunk of the freighter's landing pads touching down on the rocky surface of Kodus. Luke's fathomless, faded blue eyes regarded her with sadness, and something like remorse. It was a look she didn't quite understand, but she placed her hand over his and gave it a squeeze nevertheless, grateful for his kindness and forbearance.
[*Go, Little One.*] Chewbacca rumbled as he finished the landing sequence.
Rey couldn't remember exiting the Falcon. One moment she was rising to her feet in the cockpit, and the next she was at the foot of the boarding ramp, shivering in the cool autumnal air and turning around in place, trying to get her bearings. Behind her, she could hear the sound of Luke's voice and Chewbacca's answering rumble echoing in the corridors of the old freighter. Above her head, the Falcon creaked and groaned as it settled down onto its new perch. Around the perimeter of the Falcon's landing site, the ceaseless flow of Resistance personnel continued under the late-afternoon sun. Two or three people recognised her from her brief visit to D'Qar and called greetings, but Rey was too slow to respond, and they walked on. She took a step in what she thought was the right direction, changed course and faltered, and turned around again, feeling lost.
"Rey," her mother's rich voice called softly from behind her, and she turned to see Leia and Han emerging from the gap between the Falcon and Leia's gleaming cruiser. Han closed most of the distance between them in a few long strides, clearly intending to embrace her, but something in her face must have arrested the impulse, because he stopped short of touching distance and gave her a wary, searching look.
Rey stood transfixed, scarcely more than a few steps away from the man she now knew was her father, the man whose brutal murder she thought she'd witnessed not long ago. As she scanned his figure, she felt overwhelmed with thoughts, memories and emotions. She shivered and wrapped her arms tightly around her middle in an effort to still the uneasy trembling of her muscles. The sight of Han alive was stunning and surreal, partly because she'd believed without question that he must be dead. But even more than that, the look in his eyes made her feel shaky and strange. A flicker of a memory stirred, something from her early childhood. She recalled the same hazel eyes in a leaner, smoother face, but with the same loving expression. She remembered the same wide, wryly tilted mouth, forming similar, caring words.
"You alright, Sweetheart?" Han said as Leia moved around to his other side.
The two of them seemed hesitant to approach now, warned by something in Rey's expression and her hunched, stiff body language—or perhaps through vibrations in the Force—that all was not well. Looking at them as they stared at her, feeling the concern and love that was emanating from them both through that silent channel, she realised what it was that was making her heart gallop and her palms sweat. For fourteen years she'd languished, abandoned on Jakku, isolated and seemingly forgotten, tethered to the desert surface by a faintly-remembered injunction to wait, and a promise that her family would someday return to claim her. In time, she'd forgotten everything else, even her own name, although she'd remembered that command: wait. But the promised day had never come, and her many questions had languished with her. Over the years, she'd collected a thousand more, but there was never anyone to ask, never anyone who could answer.
As those memories floated up from the darkest corners of her mind, she saw Leia move as if to step closer, and Rey put out a forestalling hand.
"Wait," she whispered the word aloud, meeting her mother's anxious gaze with a pleading look of her own. I'm not ready. Please wait.
Here before her now were the two people in all the galaxy who were best placed to tell her the story of her origins, of what had happened to her as a child, and why. And although she knew some of the basics, having learned them from Leia during her brief stay on D'Qar, and a few other bare facts gleaned from Chewbacca, and then Luke, as they travelled together on the Falcon, she couldn't shake the feeling that there were still many important things yet unsaid. There was so much more she wanted to know—that she needed to know—and Han and Leia together would be able to give her all of those answers. But now that both of them stood almost within arm's reach, inexplicably she felt afraid.
And not just afraid, she realised. She felt rigid with fear, as if to take another step towards Han and Leia, to touch them or to speak with them, would shatter the delicate picture of her family that she'd held for so long in her mind. Faint memories, cherished hopes, wild imaginings—all of it would evaporate. And she didn't know what would be left behind.
Shivering in the cool mountain air, Rey looked from one strangely familiar figure to the other. Han stood with his hands braced on his hips, frowning, looking worried. Rey's gaze dropped to Leia's face and she saw that her mother's dark eyes were filled with concern. Blinking to clear her blurred vision, Rey tried desperately to feel something—anything—other than dread.
Then her father spoke again, and the single word, in that timbre, was the key that tumbled the lock.
Rey felt something deep inside her heart crack and crumble, even as she felt her face crumpling up with tears. Han reached her in two strides. Her arms were still wrapped around her own body so she didn't return his embrace, but he didn't seem to care. He wrapped her up in a fierce hug, cradling her head with one hand and pressing kisses against her temple, murmuring an endless string of words and phrases she'd yearned for so long to hear, but now could scarcely comprehend: "We've got you, Sweetheart. You're home now. Ssh. It's alright. We love you." His voice rumbled on and on in that vein, a gruff lullaby that soothed and calmed her.
Rey's world dissolved in a blur as Leia joined them, and the energy that surrounded them all enveloped her in warmth. Han released his hold only long enough to gather his wife against him, too, and the two of them formed a close circle with their arms around Rey, and let her cry, communicating with her through the Force just how dearly she was loved. Rey sobbed like a child for a long time, but the weight of Han's arm across her back, and Leia's warm hand smoothing her hair away from her face, gave her comfort. Eventually, her tears subsided and she realised that the fear that had gripped her was fading, and a new hope was rising to take its place. Wiping her eyes against the back of one hand, she rested her head against Han's chest and shared a tremulous smile with Leia, who was doing much the same thing on the other side. Han's arms tightened around them both as he planted a kiss first on one head and then the other. There were no words between them now; they needed none. Through the Force, Rey could feel both of her parents communicating their love for her and for each other, and their soaring joy at having her home. She was content for the moment; her questions could wait.
The afternoon sun had dropped lower in the sky as they stood swaying together, and now slanted its rays under the edge of the overhanging Falcon, warming Rey's back despite the chill in the air. The sound of Chewbacca descending the boarding ramp roused Rey from her comfortable position at last. She turned her head to see the Wookiee reach the foot of the ramp and slump down on a stack of shipping crates a short distance away, waiting to greet Han. Chewie had been patient enough, she thought, remaining aboard the freighter all this time to give her time alone with her parents. Smiling up at Han and placing a soft kiss on his cheek, she released him and took a step back. As Han stepped away, Leia reached out a hand and Rey took it, drawing close to her mother as they turned to witness the reunion of the two old friends.
Considering Chewbacca's reaction when he'd first learned of Han's survival, Rey expected to see her father treated to an extremely boisterous Wookiee reception. She was surprised, therefore, to see Chewie simply tilt his russet head and growl softly at Han as he approached. The autumnal wind ruffled his long hair and sent long strands of it whipping across his face.
[*I have no idea how you survived that, Solo.*]
"Yeah, well, I almost didn't, Chewie," Han said plainly, stopping just short of where Chewbacca sat. "If a couple of things hadn't gone my way..." His voice trailed off and he gave a characteristic half-shrug.
[*You really are the luckiest human I've ever known.*]
Han laughed and sighed at the same time, nodding and shaking his head all at once. "I know. Trust me. I know it. I'm a lucky man. And not least of all because you were there, pal. If you hadn't—."
Chewbacca made an abrupt gesture of negation, and a gruff vocalisation that cut Han's words off. From where Rey stood, she could see the pain in the Wookiee's blue eyes. His voice, always rough, sounded even more ragged than usual.
[*Don't thank me. I should have taken out Kylo Ren before he struck you. I hesitated too long. I'm sorry.*]
"Ah, Chewie," Han sighed. "Don't do that to yourself. You were the same as me out there. 'Cause that wasn't 'Kylo Ren' I was standing in front of—that was Ben. And you wanted him to come home as much as we did."
Chewbacca hung his head then, and low, mournful sounds emanated from his chest. Rey felt Leia's arm tighten around her waist. The Wookiee was seldom as sombre as he appeared now, and the sight was deeply affecting, as were the strange, subterranean vocalisations he was making. Rey wasn't sure if Chewie was actually saying anything, or if the sounds meant something else. Whatever the case, Han was moved to approach his friend, and placed a hand on one massive, shaggy forearm.
"Alright, stop that and listen to me," Han said sharply, gripping Chewbacca's arm and giving it a shake. "There was nothing you could have done to help me. And, Chewie, you saved our daughter's life."
He swallowed hard and moved his hand up to grip Chewbacca's broad shoulder, leaning in to try to catch the Wookiee's eye. "I don't need to tell you what that means to us. You know better than anybody. So don't tell me you're sorry, you big oaf. And don't talk to me anymore about owing me anything. You got that?"
After a pause, Chewbacca lifted his head and met Han's gaze fully. His blue eyes searched Han's face for a moment.
[*I shot Ben. Wounded him badly, I think.*]
Han straightened up and blew out a forceful gust of air, bracing his hands on his hips. "I know. Leia told me. You did what you had to do, buddy. And if you hadn't done that, if you hadn't weakened him, he might've killed Breha."
Chewbacca paused and then gave a sharp chuff, tilting his head. [*She calls herself by another name now, you know.*]
"I know, I know. I'm trying to remember that!" Han rolled his eyes in mock exasperation, then glanced over at Rey and winked.
He turned his gaze back to his friend. "She's still Breha to me. And she's alive because of you. So we're square, right? No guilt, no debts. Okay?"
The Wookiee cocked his head to one side, then gave a short nod and a grunt.
[*As you wish. I'm happy to have brought her safely back to you and the Princess.*]
Han grinned, then, and clapped Chewie on the arm, clearly relieved at the Wookiee's response.
"C'mon, cheer up, then," he cajoled. "You're not even gonna try to pick me up, or mess up my hair or somethin'?"
Obligingly, Chewbacca bared his fangs in a broad Wookiee smile and threw his big arms around his friend in a relatively restrained—but still evidently backbreaking—hug. Han gasped in pain, and tried almost immediately to escape it.
"Alright, alright, that's more like it," he said good-naturedly, extricating himself from the Wookiee's embrace, and trying to duck his head as Chewie stood up and ruffled his hair with an enormous paw. "Cut it out already."
With a brief squeeze, Leia released Rey and went to greet Chewbacca herself. The towering Wookiee had to bend nearly double to embrace the diminutive woman and the two exchanged some words that made all three of them laugh. Rey was moving to join the group when she saw them turn to look up towards the top of the boarding ramp, to where Luke had just appeared. Chewbacca chose that moment to take his leave, ducking underneath the Falcon to attend somewhat belatedly to the landing gear, leaving Han and Leia to greet their friend and brother.
Luke had deliberately delayed disembarking from the Falcon, and now he looked oddly hesitant to Rey's eyes, which was in sharp contrast to the self-assured demeanour he'd demonstrated throughout their short acquaintance. The Jedi Knight stepped lightly down the ramp to stand before Han and Leia and, in the gravid silence that followed, Rey recognised that there were some weighty issues to be discussed and resolved. Indeed, she had the distinct impression that something was already being discussed among the trio, through the Force, without words.
Watching the silent exchange, Rey knew that her brother and his dark master would be at the centre of many conversations to come, and the thought made her quail inside. She'd been stunned to learn from Leia, during their first long conversation on D'Qar, that indeed she had an older brother. She was still reeling from that knowledge and could not bear to think about it for long. Her early memories of her parents were faint enough, but she had no memory at all of a sibling, which was a fact that left her feeling deeply uneasy. If she could be made to forget something like that, what else of her life had been lost?
And she'd been deeply shocked to learn of Ben's betrayal, and especially of his adopted identity as Kylo Ren. The revelation that her own brother had abandoned her on Jakku had been bad enough. But when she'd realised that her brother was, in fact, the same person as the menacing figure who had abducted her from Takodana and tried to invade her mind for information; that he was the spectre that had hunted her through the woods on Starkiller Base—and that he was the monster who had very nearly murdered Han Solo—Rey had felt simultaneously terrified and furious. She'd tried to speak with Leia and with Luke about Ben, but both had been somewhat reticent with details, gently redirecting such conversations to firmer ground. Clearly, they preferred to leave more in-depth discussions about her brother for another time.
Luke, especially, had resisted being drawn on the subject, and had focused more on Rey's reaction to the news. He'd voiced his concern particularly over the anger and fear she showed when they talked about the events on Starkiller Base. Rey had dutifully banked her outward expressions of fury, but she was still enraged at Kylo Ren for what he'd done to Han, as well as for his attack on Finn, and she wanted him punished for those heinous acts. Ben's cold-blooded attempt to murder their father made him especially grotesque in Rey's eyes. Deep in her heart, if she were being completely honest, she wanted revenge for that.
As those dark thoughts flickered through her mind, Rey realised that her parents and her uncle were no longer looking at each other; they were all staring at her. She felt suddenly self-conscious, wondering what she'd done to draw their attention. She reached up to touch her hair and glanced down at herself, tugging on her tunic.
When she looked up, the strange, silent conversation between her parents and Luke seemed to have been broken, and Leia was finally moving to hug her brother, murmuring something in his ear. The two clung together for a long moment as Han looked on, and then Han and Luke shared a brief embrace and a few quiet words. Then, together, the three of them turned and advanced towards Rey, to stand around her in a rough semi-circle.
"What is it?" Rey asked, feeling a stir of discomfort at being the focus of their troubled expressions. "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong, Rey," Leia said gently. "We're just concerned about you. You've already been through so much." She tilted her head in acknowledgement of Rey's almost involuntary gesture of impatience. "We know you have questions, and we're going to talk through everything. Together. Soon. But I think it can at least wait until morning."
"I'd like to talk now," Rey asserted somewhat testily, surprising herself with the vehemence of her response.
Wait!? The word made her clench her fists and swallow hard against the lump in her throat. I've waited long enough!
She also felt increasingly uneasy at the way all three of them were regarding her, and she wanted to get whatever it was that was worrying them out in the open. Luke, especially, looked disturbed.
"It can wait," Han echoed Leia's words with mock sternness, giving Rey a pointed look that felt oddly familiar.
A dim recollection drifted up into her conscious mind. That was his most fatherly expression, she remembered, the one that meant cut it out —or, sometimes, mind your mother. Scraps of memories flickered through her mind, making her catch her breath. The corner of Han's mouth quirked up at her expression. "There are more important things to do tonight," he said in a gentler tone.
"More important?" Rey repeated, suddenly feeling breathless and tense.
"Much more important things," Han said with deep conviction, stepping closer to drop one arm across her shoulders. He gathered her against his side to plant a kiss on the top of her head. "Like celebrating."
"Finn is anxious to see you again," Leia reminded her with a warm smile. "He's been driving us a little crazy, waiting for you to get back. I think he and Poe are planning a party."
Rey felt some of the tension leave her at the mention of her friends. She'd been so happy and relieved to learn, upon receipt of Leia's holocomm message, of Finn's quick recovery. And although she had only spent a few hours with Poe Dameron, they'd been memorable hours, and she couldn't deny feeling intrigued by him. She offered a hesitant smile, looking from Luke to Leia, and then back at Han.
"A party? I'd like that," she admitted softly. "And we should celebrate your survival."
"Not just that," Han replied in a quiet voice, gazing down at her with a tender expression that made Rey's throat close up. As he spoke, Leia stepped to Rey's other side and took her hand. Wordlessly, Luke moved towards them, completing the circle. To Rey's eyes, the three of them together presented a formidable assemblage. Her eyes roamed from face to face, wondering at what mysteries would be solved when she finally got the chance to ask all of her questions, and to have all of them answered.
"So, what else are we celebrating, then?" she ventured, finally, when the weighty silence had dragged on uncomfortably long.
She was startled by a burst of laughter from all three of them, which was followed by a flood of warm emotion that she could sense through the Force—of joy, relief, amusement and love; most of all love.
The family (such as it is) is back together. My work here is done.
Comments and reviews are always, always, always appreciated. Gives me a little thrill to know people are still reading and (hopefully) enjoying this!
With big thanks to lovely beta readers BonesBooth206, CoriMariee and Aquarius-1977 for many thoughtful and useful suggestions, and loads of encouragement.