The Prince and the Scavenger

The desert heat was oppressive, but that didn't stop the scavenger girl from venturing out at the first sign of light. She sailed across the rippling ocean of sand on a boxy speeder, one she'd refurbished herself from spare parts. Though a rusty and unattractive machine, its role in her daily regimen had proven vital. Faster transport meant less energy and sweat spent on her part, and for inhabitants of harsh, unforgiving planets like Jakku, every calorie, every drop of water, was precious.

She squinted as she approached the junkyard, the air around her seeming to warp and shimmer as the sun made its slow ascent over the horizon. Though she detected no movement, her human eyes could only be so sharp; just because she didn't see anyone, didn't mean that there wasn't. Still, it was prudent for a scavenger to have some idea of what he or she was walking into before starting work, and by the looks of it, the competition would be scarce.

Grateful for her luck, she sped forward, until she came upon a particularly massive dune. At the top of it sat a starship, its once gleaming metal exterior turned dull and decrepit after being left exposed to the elements. The Inflictor. That had been its name, back when it was still operational. Or at least, that's what Unkar Plutt had said, and the scavenger girl had little cause to doubt him. After all, he knew more than she did about the great battle that had waged in Jakku's skies between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance all those years ago.

She leaped to the ground, taking a moment to unhook her multipurpose staff from its bindings on the side of her speeder. She strapped it across her back before climbing the dune, her gray frock billowing in the wind. Once she'd reached the top, she took a long drink from her canteen before sliding a pair of protective goggles over her eyes. Then she dropped to her knees and crawled through a small hole in the side of the ship.

Darkness enveloped her at once, and she paused to flip on the penlight she'd soldered to the side of her goggles before treading onward. Navigating one's way through a crumbling spacecraft was risky business, though the scavenger girl moved as if she'd been born to it. She scaled the walls with the ease of a spider, collecting troves of treasure along the way. Every bit of it was fodder for trade at Niima Outpost. She worked until the satchel at her hip was full before turning back toward the faint sliver of light that she could still see shining in the distance.

Outside, she removed her goggles in order to more closely inspect her finds. Most of the metals were filthy, having accumulated over thirty years' worth of dirt, dust, and grime, but that was to be expected. Career scavengers knew that most parts needed cleaning before being presented to Unkar Plutt. With that in mind, the girl jumped back on her speeder and headed toward town.

Or rather, village would perhaps have been a more accurate description for Niima Outpost. Though it was the most densely populated area on the planet, its number of permanent residents fell just shy of a hundred. Dozens of tents and makeshift stalls were set up all around, the only true constant being Unkar Plutt's post. It was there that the scavenger girl did most of her bartering. Though Plutt was a greedy bastard bent on being the wealthiest man in the Jakku system—for whatever that was worth—most of his deals were fair, and loath as she was to admit it, she owed him.

Once she'd reached Niima, she secured her speeder and sat down in the sand with a hard bristled brush. It was still early, and while the crowds were thin, she kept her eyes trained on passersby, lest any of them get any ideas of stealing. She scrubbed each piece as thoroughly as possible, and when at last she'd finished, she gathered her things and made her way toward Plutt's tent, one arm resting securely against the bulging satchel at her side.

It became clear from almost the moment she'd stepped inside that there was some kind of commotion going on at the counter. She met the gaze of a blue-skinned Twi'lek woman, who rolled her eyes. Likely someone was disputing the value of an item, though anyone who had any notion of how Plutt ran his business knew that he rarely haggled. Which could only mean that the person in question was new to Niima Outpost.

The girl shouldered her satchel and crept forward, until she was close enough to hear what was transpiring between Plutt and the trader. An argument, by the sounds of it.

"Listen, I don't care who gave it to you. It's still my ship!"

She stood on her tip-toes so that she could see over the Twi'lek woman's lekku. The speaker was a human man, likely middle-aged judging by the patches of gray in his hair. His hands were clean, and he wore a shiny leather pilot's jacket that was decidedly unsuited for the grueling life of a desert dweller.

Definitely an off-worlder, the girl thought as Plutt laughed, the sound deep and throaty and not the least bit humorous. "Yours? Just who, exactly, do you think you are, old man? Han Solo?"

The off-worlder blinked, seeming to take exception to being called an "old man." With a hurried glance over one shoulder, he leaned in closer to the metal bars that separated Plutt from his patrons, speaking in hushed tones. The scavenger girl strained to hear what was being said, but his words were jumbled and impossible to make out.

Plutt seemed willing to humor him at first, though it wasn't long before the Crolute slammed one of his pink, meaty fists down on the counter, cutting the other man off mid-speech. "The freighter's not for sale," he growled, his voice loud and clear and final.

The off-worlder stared at him for longer than most would dare before pushing away from the counter. Then, with a disgruntled shake of his head, he turned on his heel and stormed off.

The girl watched him with a knitted brow. She'd quickly caught on to what was happening, despite only hearing the tail-end of the conversation. The off-worlder was trying to purchase Plutt's freighter, the one he kept parked in Niima near the trading post. It had to be that ship, anyway, because it was the only one of its kind in the area. But why, she wondered, would he want it? Why would anyone? The freighter was practically ancient; buying it off of Plutt would almost assuredly not be worth the expense, as it held little value in terms of resale, aside from maybe as scrap metal.

It was the Twi'lek woman's turn in line, and as she made her way toward the counter, the scavenger girl glanced down at her satchel. She didn't know why, but she couldn't get the exchange out of her head. There was a niggling feeling at the base of her skull, almost like a pinprick. It whispered that she should abandon the task at hand and go after the off-worlder.

Stupid, she thought, annoyed. After all, her primary concern in life was survival; there wasn't any reason why she should care about the off-worlder, let alone what his intentions were with Plutt's freighter.

On the other hand…

The Twi'lek left her place at the counter, pocketing a ration pack as she turned and strode toward the exit, all the while the scavenger girl stood in place, staring at the ground.

On the other hand, it wasn't as if this was the first time she'd ever had this...feeling. It almost seemed like a presence at times, buried somewhere deep in the back of her mind, dormant, only to awaken in moments of great need or duress. Like last week, when it warned her not to go out into the junkyard. Her brain had been abuzz with activity that morning, along with a tiny, insistent urging for her to stay home, stay home, stay home, which had not ceased until she'd complied. While at first she'd lamented losing a day, she later learned that an unexpected sandstorm had swept through the desert, one that likely would've killed her had she not been in a shelter.

She'd yet to come up with a proper name for this strange phenomenon. Words like instinct and foresight didn't quite seem to hit the mark, but if there was one thing she did know, it was that whenever this thing decided to pay her a visit, it was almost always worth listening to.

With a small groan, she surrendered her spot in line and stepped outside. It was still morning, which meant that there were plenty of hours left, certainly enough time for her to make it back to Niima by midday. She cupped her hands over her eyes, spotting the off-worlder almost immediately. He was headed for the open desert, which meant he probably had an aircraft parked somewhere nearby. The girl raced over to where she'd left her speeder. It took several false starts before she finally got it running, and when she looked up again, the off-worlder had vanished. Gripping the handlebars, she tore off in the direction she'd seen him go. Brown and beige colors blurred at the edges of her peripheral, and within minutes, Niima was completely obscured by dunes.

Blast! Where could he have gone?

A sudden flash of white caught her eye, and she veered right. The machine sputtered in protest at the sharp maneuver, and she laid off the gas, allowing herself to coast before finally coming to a stop. There she cut the engine and leaped to the ground, her jaw going slack at what was sitting in front of her.

It was a starship, though it certainly wasn't anything like the ones she was used to seeing coming and going from Jakku. No, this ship was eye-catching in every way, from its unique W-shaped body to its glossy white exterior. The scavenger girl stepped forward. Not a single speck of dirt or rust was visible on the flawless finish. It was, by far, the most beautiful ship she'd ever seen. Whoever owned it was obviously wealthy, and though she knew she shouldn't, she couldn't help wanting to reach out and touch it.

Slowly, she extended a hand, edging closer, though she didn't get very far before a husky voice said, "All right, kid, who are you and why've you been following me?"

She spun, surprised to find the off-worlder staring back at her. His eyes were blue and piercing, and there was no mistaking the suspicion in them as he regarded her with his arms crossed loosely over his chest.

Inhaling sharply, the girl swallowed and replied with all the calm she could muster. "I'm Rey. And I'm no one you need to worry about. I followed you because I have information you might be interested in regarding that old freighter."

Hearing that, the man's dark eyebrow's shot up. "The Falcon?" he yelled. "Did that mook Plutt send you out here to taunt me?"

"I...what?" Rey shook her head quickly back and forth. "No! No, of course not. I'm just a scavenger. But I know Plutt, and I know about the freighter…" She trailed off, frowning. "Hang on. Did you just say the Falcon? As in, the Millennium Falcon?"

He didn't answer, though the way he averted his gaze made her think that she was onto something.

"I heard you talking to Plutt at Niima Outpost. He called you Han Solo. I thought he was joking, but…"

Her eyes roved over the stark white spacecraft before returning to the shifty-eyed man in front of her. Was he the legendary smuggler she'd heard so much about? The longer she stared at him, the more certain she became. The Millennium Falcon was, famously, his ship; the sentimental value of such an item for Han Solo would be priceless, even if it was in terrible condition, which would explain why he was so desperate to get it back. Now that she thought about it, it also explained why Plutt had been hoarding the old freighter like some kind of trophy all these years.

"It's true, isn't it?" she said. "You're Han Solo, and that freighter in's the Millennium Falcon."

Again, Han said nothing, though Rey was too beside herself with glee to notice. "This is unbelievable," she gasped. "I never thought I would get the chance to meet someone as famous as you, not here-"

He held up a hand, and she clamped her mouth shut, fighting back a grin.

"Look, kid," he said. "I know this is all very exciting to you, but I'm on a mission. Normally, you wouldn't catch me dead on some desolate backwater planet like this. Well…" He broke off, his eyes darting upward. "I guess that's not exactly true. In any case, yeah, I had the Falcon stolen from me a few years back-"

"I know," Rey cut him off. "Or at least, that makes sense. From what I understand, it originally belonged to Ducain. But the Ervin Boys stole it from him, then Unkar Plutt stole it from them and now-"

"And now it's getting returned to its rightful owner."

He sounded confident, but Rey didn't miss the uncertainty in his eyes as he raked a hand through his hair, sighing. "I still don't know if I'm gonna be able to convince Plutt to hand it over," he admitted. "But if one thing's for sure, I ain't leaving here without it."

"Oh, Plutt will never give it to you," Rey told him with absolute conviction. "If you really want it back, you're going to have to steal it. Plutt may be a junk dealer, but whenever he gets hold of something he believes is truly valuable, he never lets it out of his sight."

Han was staring at her like she'd suddenly grown a second head. "You sure seem to know a lot about that big ugly blobfish. I take it you're a lifer?"

It took a moment for her to comprehend his meaning. "Not my whole life," she said, her voice quieting. "But...yes. I have been here a very long time."

"How old are you?"


He swore under his breath. "What about family? You got any?"

Rey felt herself slump a little at the question. "Yes. I mean...I don't know. I think so. I…"

She swayed, blinking hard as she tried to remain focused on Han. But it was too late. Panic seized her as two figures materialized in the distance. One of them was a little girl, no older than five, her dark hair tied back into three tiny buns atop her head. The other was a massive lump of man, his skin pink and blubbery. He gripped the girl's forearm as he dragged her across the desert. Rey swallowed. Unkar Plutt.

Above their heads, a ship was flying away, its engines twin tongues of flame in the bright morning sky. The little girl stared at them until they had shrunk to the size of pinpricks, tears streaming down her cheeks as she cried out, "No! Come back! Please, come back!"

But Plutt yanked her back to him, and Rey could only stand watching, helpless.

"Hey, kid. You with me?"

That was Han's voice. But it sounded far away, distorted. Almost like she was underwater. Rey smiled to herself. Because of course, that couldn't be right. There were no bodies of water on Jakku.

"Kid!" Han lunged, catching Rey just as she began to feel herself falling backward. "You don't look so good," he said, steadying her, and when she didn't answer, he dragged a hand down his face. "Look, why don't you come inside for a minute? You can cool off, have a bite to eat. Just...try to keep that star-struck stuff to a minimum, all right? It'll make my son uncomfortable."

He has a son? Rey didn't know why this surprised her, but it did. She followed Han toward the ship, her legs still shaky, though she couldn't resist glancing one last time over her shoulder.

But the little girl and Unkar Plutt were both gone.

Han knocked methodically on the hull of the ship, and the hatch hissed open a moment later. A short ramp dropped, and Rey peered up into the darkness. A shadowy figure covered in long brown fur stared back at her. A Wookie, she thought, recognizing the towering creature at once. They were frequent visitors to Jakku, and Rey had managed to pick up some of their language over the years. The Wookie roared as he came down the ramp. Though Rey's limited knowledge of Shyriiwook only allowed her to make out every few words, she was at least proficient enough to get a general idea of what he was saying.

"Tired of waiting...Falcon is ours...pry it from his cold, dead hands…"

A pause, and Rey's eyes immediately went to the bowcaster that the Wookie had slung over one shoulder. Seeming to think he'd frightened her, he pushed the weapon behind his back and out of sight before coming to stand near Han. "Who's this?"

But Han waved off the Wookie's question. "All right, Chewie, calm down. This is Rey. I met her down at the trading post. She knows a lot about the Falcon."

"I helped Unkar Plutt work on it a few times," she said quickly, hoping to further prove her usefulness. "He did a decent job with the repairs, but he made some modifications to it that I don't think you'll appreciate."

"Like what?" Chewie asked, turning to Han. The smuggler didn't say anything, but his stony expression indicated that he wasn't pleased by this bit of information.

"He put a compressor on the ignition line," Rey answered. "I told him it was a bad idea because it puts too much-"

"Stress on the hyperdrive," Han finished, gaping at her. The Wookie stared too, and Rey had to bite the inside of her mouth to keep from smiling. They both seemed impressed, and though she knew she shouldn't, she couldn't help feeling a little smug.

Chewie growled, breaking the silence, and Rey nodded along with him in agreement. "He's right," she told Han. "Unkar Plutt won't give you the Falcon, not for anything. If you really want it back, you're going to have to take it from him."

At that, Han sighed heavily. "Yeah, well, that was always the backup plan anyway. But we'll go and talk to him one more time. And I mean really talk," he added with a pointed glance at Chewie's bowcaster. "Leave that thing here, would you? Last thing we want is him alerting local authorities."

"Authorities?" Rey had to laugh at that. "There aren't any in these parts, not really. But Plutt does have men of his own that he'll send after you if he feels threatened."

"Yeah, well, that's the kind of thing I'm hoping to avoid," Han muttered, patting Chewie on the back as he swept past him. The pair began walking up the ramp together, and when Rey didn't follow, Han beckoned her forward. "All right, kid, what do you say we discuss your payment?"

"Payment?" Rey stared up at him, wide-eyed. "What payment?"

But Han just chuckled, as if the answer were obvious. "Well," he said after a beat, "usually when someone helps you with a job, you pay them, right?"

"Right," Rey said slowly. "But I'm not helping you with a job."

He ignored her. "I know it's probably a bit below your pay grade, but I was thinking maybe...oh, two hundred credits?"

Two hundred credits? Rey felt as if time had come to a standstill. Two hundred credits was more money than she'd seen in all her life, certainly more than she'd ever hoped to make in a single transaction. She could eat for a year without working. It would even be enough to pay for passage on a ship, enough to get her off Jakku altogether, if she really wanted.

Was that what she wanted?

She supposed it didn't matter. Because there was no way she'd heard right. And even if she had, there was no way that Han actually meant it.

"You're killing me here, kid. All right, all right, how about two hundred and fifty credits? Going once."

"Wait!" Rey rushed up the ramp. "You can't be serious. Two hundred and fifty credits is-"

"Going twice!"

"I haven't done anything! How can you even think to pay me such a sum when I haven't-"

"Two hundred and fifty credits it is! All right," Han said, winking at her before turning to address Chewie, "here's the deal. We're gonna walk in there, all sweet and charming-like—oh, don't look at me like that!" The Wookie roared, and Han glared at him. "What are you talking about? It's worked plenty of times before!"

The dubious look that Chewie gave him was worth a thousand words, and Han sighed, assenting, "But, if things don't go as planned, that's where you come in, kid."

Rey gave him her full and undivided attention, though her mind was still reeling from what he'd said earlier. "I don't know what I can offer you that would be worth two hundred and fifty credits," she said.

But Han didn't look the least bit concerned. "Information. Like you said, if this doesn't pan out, we're gonna have to steal the Falcon." He trailed off before fixing her with a serious look. "Would you be willing to tell me about any security measures that Plutt has in place around it?"

Rey opened her mouth, but before she could say anything, he added, "Be honest. I don't want to put you in a situation that'll get you into trouble. Plutt may be a moof-milker, but I don't think you'd wanna get on his bad side."

He had no idea how right he was about that.

"Either way, you don't need to worry. You'll get your two hundred and fifty credits. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, you've already earned them."

How? The question was on the tip of Rey's tongue, but she knew better than to ask. Because there was something she was starting to realize about Han, and that was that he had a good heart. Or at least, he did when compared to the majority of people she'd come across in her years on Jakku.

Most wealthy off-worlders would've sent her packing the moment they saw her approach. Some would've probably even pulled a weapon. But Han hadn't done either of those things. Rey bit the inside of her cheek. She remembered the way he'd looked at her when she told him how old she was. It was pity that she'd seen in his eyes then, and that was how she knew he was giving her his credits out of compassion, not because she deserved them. Part of her was inclined to let him. It had been a long time since anyone had looked out for her or wanted to help her, and if she was being honest, it felt nice. On the other hand…

She might be poor, but she still had pride, and the idea of letting Han treat her like a charity case was enough to make her prickle with indignation. She was more than capable of looking out for herself, after all, and if anyone was going to give her two hundred and fifty credits, she was going to make damn sure she did her part in earning them.

"I'll tell you whatever you need to know to get the Falcon back," she said. "And I'll make any repairs to your ship that you need. I'm a pretty good mechanic. And I can clean." She stepped into the ship's entryway, though a quick glance around told her that everything was already basically spotless.

"So can my son," Han shot back, grinning. "Look, I don't need you to do anything else, all right? Just hang out here until we get back. Relax, make yourself at home. There's plenty of food in the galley. My son's probably asleep, but if he wakes up, fill him in on everything, would you? He doesn't like being left out of the loop."

Though Rey nodded, she still didn't move. She couldn't help feeling out of place, boarding such an expensive ship, her dirt encrusted fingernails and torn desert garb marking her as an unfitting passenger.

"It's okay, kid," Han said, as if reading her thoughts. "You can go in. My son's name is Ben. He'll look after you until we get back. He might complain a little, but don't mind that. He's a good kid, just...a little rough around the edges."

Then we should get along just fine, Rey thought, taking a deep breath before finally stepping further into the ship. She stopped to glance back at Han one last time, and he raised a hand in farewell as the hatch closed and the locking mechanism clicked into place, leaving her alone in the silence.

Then again, she supposed it wasn't entirely silent inside the ship. There was a gentle hum of electricity all around her, something that she knew was always present within the confines of a powered vessel. It was a familiar sound, and she felt herself relax a little as she made her way toward the main room.

There were other things about the ship that she was less accustomed to. Like the temperature, for instance. It was much colder than she could ever remember being. The taupe durasteel walls engulfed her in a chilly embrace as she glanced around, rubbing her arms. The décor was spartan, as was common in most ships' living spaces, with very little color or personal effects to draw the eye. Several consoles jutted from the floor and ceiling, their buttons flashing red and yellow and white. In one corner sat a large booth, the oval table at its center indicating that it was a place for eating meals. Which made her remember: That's right, Han said there was food.

The next room was presumably the galley, as it consisted of nothing but gleaming cabinets and countertops. Rey couldn't help feeling awed at the thought of being surrounded by a never ending supply of food. What must it be like to live this way all the time? She took another step forward, though before she could touch anything, a sharp voice behind her called out, "You, there! What are you doing? How did you get on my ship?"

Rey whirled around. A man as tall as Han with jet black hair stood in the doorway. He kept one hand braced near his side, and Rey tensed, recognizing the stance for what it was. He had a weapon, and he was gauging whether or not he thought he needed to use it. Not wanting him to think her defenseless, she adjusted her footing so that her weight was more evenly distributed. Then she bent one elbow toward the staff at her back, waiting. But neither of them moved a muscle.

"Who are you?" he demanded when she didn't answer him. "What have you done with my father and Uncle Chewie?"

Uncle Chewie? Rey had but a moment to wonder before he continued.

"You're a scavenger," he said, looking her up and down. "You broke in here hoping to steal from us, didn't you?"

His tone was accusatory, and Rey scowled, drawing herself up to her full height. "No. I've never stolen anything from anyone. I may be a scavenger, but I make my own way."

Her intensity seemed to catch him off guard, and for several moments he simply stared, and Rey took advantage of the opportunity to study him.

When Han had affectionately referred to his son as a "kid," she'd imagined him being someone around her own age. She saw now, however, that that was very much not the case. Ben Solo looked to be somewhere in his late teens to early twenties, though there were still traces of boyishness left in his soft, pale face. His dark eyes narrowed as he regarded her, and it was only then that she realized she might have been staring a few seconds too long.

She cleared her throat and extended a hand, though Ben made no move to take it. "I'm Rey. And you're right, I am a scavenger, but don't worry, the contents of your ship are quite safe with me." She fumbled for the clasp on her satchel. "I already have things to trade in later. See?"

She tossed him a hunk of metal, and Ben caught it deftly in one hand. "This is a capacitor," he said after scrutinizing it, and Rey nodded.

"It's a decent find around these parts. It'll buy me a day's worth of food, at least."

Ben's face changed as he returned the capacitor to her outstretched hand. It was an expression Rey couldn't quite place, though she thought it made him look very much like Han.

"My dad let you in here, didn't he?"

Rey nodded, relieved to see that his wariness had mostly dissipated, that he no longer seemed to think of her as a thief. "We met at Niima Outpost this morning. He told me to wait here until he and the Wookie—Chewie—get back. He's going to give me credits to help him steal the Millennium Falcon." She didn't tell him how many credits Han was giving her, as she figured Ben would likely react negatively to something so outrageous. "He...said your name is Ben?" she prompted, even though she already knew the answer.

She expected him to ignore the question, though he surprised her by bobbing his head once in confirmation.

"I still don't understand why my dad is so attached to that piece of junk," he said, suddenly sounding irritated. "He has access to far better ships now. Like the Mirrorbright, for example." He gestured at the space around them in order to prove his point. "But I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Han Solo's always been a sentimental man at heart."

He opened a cupboard and rummaged through it. "You're probably hungry," he said before proceeding to set an entire box of ration packets down on the counter. Rey's mouth watered as he pushed it toward her.

"I, um...yes. Thank you," she muttered, a feeling akin to paralysis taking hold as she pored over the packets. There were so many choices, and after several moments of staring at them in a half-panic, she picked one at random and lifted it from the box with trembling fingers.

Ben eyed her strangely. "You can have more than one, you know," he said, and Rey hastily pressed another package into his hand.

Wordlessly, Ben poured the powdery contents into two ceramic bowls. Then he added water, and Rey watched as they began to change. One became a loaf of bread, the other a lumpy, gruel-like substance that, admittedly, did not look appetizing. But a scavenger could never afford to turn down a meal, and besides, this was precisely the sort of food she was used to eating.

"I know it isn't much," Ben said, "but you can have as much as you want. Oh, and"

He poured a cup of water, and Rey didn't know why, but she could feel her eyes burning with the threat of tears as he handed it to her. "Thank you," she said before taking several bites of bread, only to look up a moment later and find that Ben was watching her.

"I've never seen someone eat so fast in all my life."

Her cheeks burned at the remark, and Ben averted his gaze. "You really must be starving out here," he said, his voice low, and Rey lifted the glass to her lips, still embarrassed.

"Not exactly," she said. "I mean, I can handle myself just fine, if that's what you're worried about."

"Where do you even live on a planet like this?" Ben asked, clearly eager to change the subject. "It's nothing but sand and sun all the way across. No buildings, no cities. Surely you must have a hovel or dwelling of some kind."

Rey stood a little straighter. "Of course I do," she said, insulted by his apparent lack of faith in her survival skills. "I sleep in an old AT-AT. From the war. It's been stripped of all its useful parts, so no one bothers with it anymore. It isn't much of a home, but it keeps me sheltered from the sun and from sandstorms."

Ben poured himself a glass of water before sinking down into a chair. He motioned for her to do the same. "Sounds miserable," he said, to which Rey shrugged.

"It is, sometimes. But at least I know I won't be here forever."

He watched as she seated herself across from him, his expression inquisitive.

"I'm not supposed to be here," Rey said in between chews. "This is all just some big, terrible mistake. But one day my family is going to come back and set things right."

She continued eating, and for several minutes, Ben didn't say anything. Then, when she had nearly finished the bread, he asked, "How long ago did they leave? Your family."

Rey answered right away, without even having to think. "Two thousand seven hundred and ninety two days."

"Two thousand seven hundred and ninety two days?" Ben's eyes grew wide. "That's almost eight years!"

"I know," Rey said, her voice sad. "But they will come back for me. One day."

She moved on to the gruel, and though she wasn't looking at Ben, she could still see him shaking his head out of the corner of her eye. "It's more likely they abandoned you."

He didn't say it unkindly, but Rey felt a surge of hot anger course through her all the same. "They didn't," she snapped, glaring at him from across the counter. She suspected this would anger him, but if anything, his features only softened.

"But the possibility has occurred to you, at least." He leaned forward, staring into her face, and when she ignored him, he said, quieter, "Rey. You don't need to pretend. I can feel your fear, your despair-"

"Stop," she said firmly, and to her relief, he sank back into his chair, falling silent.

She shoveled what remained of the gruel into her mouth. "Thank you for the food. But it's getting late, and now that I think of it, I really ought to be going."

It was a dismissal if ever there was one, and she watched Ben's face fall as she stood and began to collect her things. "But what about my dad?" he finally managed to sputter. "You said he was going to pay you credits-"

"Tell Mr. Solo I was mistaken, that I can't help him after all." She retrieved her staff from where she'd dropped it on the floor, and Ben watched her all the while, clearly scrambling to think of a way to stop her.

"Hold on. You don't need to…" He sighed. "Look, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said what I did about your family. I don't know them. Or you, really."

Rey strapped her staff across her back, paying him no mind.

"At least have some more food before you go."

Though she hated herself for it, that sentence alone was enough to make her hesitate. She glanced back at Ben, and when their eyes met, she found herself hit by a wave of powerful, churning emotions: fear, sorrow, loneliness, anger. She frowned. It was odd, because those emotions weren't hers. They must have belonged to Ben—it was the only thing that made sense—and she couldn't help wondering if her ability to detect them could be attributed to the mysterious sixth sense she possessed.

Ben gestured for her to sit back down, but she just stared at him, her eyes narrowing as she remembered something he'd said a few minutes earlier. "What did you mean," she asked, "when you said that you could feel my despair?"

It was ridiculous of her to hope that maybe, just maybe, she'd finally found someone who shared her strange abilities. That maybe he would be able to provide her with an explanation for what this thing inside her was and where it came from. But just when she thought he might say something, Ben shook his head and dropped his gaze.

Rey wasn't giving up that easily. She leaned forward, trying to meet his eyes. "What? What is it?"

He shook his head again. "It's difficult to explain. When I first saw you a few minutes ago, I thought that maybe…"

"What?" Rey demanded when he trailed off. "You thought what? Tell me."

Finally, he looked at her. "What do you know of the Force?" he said, and Rey blinked back at him in bewilderment.

"The Force?" When he didn't answer, she murmured, "Only what I've heard in stories."

Ben nodded, as if that was the response he'd been expecting. "I grew up hearing stories about the Force, too," he told her. "Only, to me they were more than just that."

He extended a hand, and for a moment, Rey thought he wanted her to take it. But before she could react, a flash of movement in her peripheral made her start with a gasp. "What the-"

Suddenly, she felt lighter, like something was missing. She reached behind her back, only to realize in the next instant that her staff was gone. Her eyes shot toward Ben, who now held it in his grip. "How did you do that?" she asked, her voice full of wonder, and Ben's lips turned up in a half-smirk.

"I called it to me," he explained. "I did it using the Force. It's in me. Well." He paused, rolling his eyes. "Technically, it's in everyone. But not everyone can use it the way I do. I'm special." He fixed her with a meaningful look. "And I think you may be, too."

"Me?" She chuckled, waiting for him to laugh along with her, but when his expression remained serious, she gave a sharp intake of breath. "No. I mean, I couldn't possibly...there's nothing special about me! I can't do what you just did. I can't...make objects fly."

"Have you ever tried?" he asked, and Rey shook her head.

"See? You don't know. Sometimes people go their whole lives without realizing they have the Force. My mom didn't discover her abilities until she was an adult. It is possible."

Is it? Rey considered. Like every other child, she'd grown up hearing stories about the Force and the elite group of Jedi Knights who once wielded it. They'd been peacekeepers, protectors of the galaxy, and though they'd died out long ago, some said that the last of them had been within living memory, a man named Luke Skywalker. He'd fought alongside the Rebel Alliance during the Galactic Civil War, and it was his involvement that had ultimately led to the Empire's downfall. But Rey had never been one to believe in fantastical tales. She'd always assumed that the truth was that Luke Skywalker was just an ordinary man whose story had become embellished over time. Because there was no way he'd actually done all the things everyone said he did; a power such as the Force couldn't possibly exist. And even if it did, there was no way that she, an unremarkable girl from nowhere, could possess it.

Was there?

"If I had the Force," she said carefully, "how would I know? Is there, like, some sort of test, or..." She trailed off, looking to Ben expectantly.

"Not in the strictest sense," he replied. "I mean, there used to be, a long time ago. A blood test, from what I understand."

"A blood test?"

Rey didn't like the sound of that, though Ben assured her, "That knowledge was lost when the Jedi Order fell. Now, there's really only one way to tell if someone is Force-sensitive or not. My uncle discovered it," he said somewhat proudly. "I could try that method on you, if you're willing."

If I'm willing? Rey chewed on her lower lip. "What would I have to do?" she asked, trying not to let her trepidation show.

But it was like Ben could see right through her. "It's called a mind probe," he said, his voice surprisingly gentle. "And you don't need to be afraid. It isn't painful, though it can prove to be a rather...invasive process."

"Invasive?" Rey echoed. "How so?"

He gave a small shrug. "It's simple, really. I would use the Force to attempt to access a very particular area of your brain. If you were able to rebuff me, then that would confirm that you are, in fact, Force-sensitive."

He calls that simple? Rey thought, incredulous.

"A mind probe would be invasive," Ben explained, "because it would temporarily grant me access to all of your thoughts, feelings, and memories."

"Kind of like when a maintenance droid plugs itself into a ship's central computer," Rey said, and Ben blinked, surprised by her apt metaphor.

"Almost exactly like that, actually."

She smiled, though it faded as she began to seriously mull over everything he'd said.

What if she had the Force? What if she didn't? She wasn't sure which prospect frightened her more. Do I even want to know?

Yes, she decided almost immediately. Because if there was even a small chance that Ben Solo could help her better understand that...thing that lived inside of her, that had always been there, as far back as she could remember, then it would be worth it.

Lifting her chin, she took a single, decisive step toward him. "Okay. I'll do it."

Instead of reacting, Ben waited, watching her for any signs of hesitation. "All right, then," he said after a long pause. "Come here."

With a pounding heart, Rey inched forward, until she was standing almost directly in front of him. "Okay," she said, putting on a show of bravery. "What do I have to do?"

There was a glint of amusement in his eyes. "You don't have to do anything. Just...stand still for a minute, all right?"

Swallowing, Rey nodded, mentally berating herself for fidgeting so much. But Ben didn't seem to notice. His brows were drawn in concentration as he lifted a hand and brought it to the side of her head. Though he avoided touching her, he was close enough that she could feel the heat of his fingertips near her temple. She had but a split second to feel uneasy—this was the closest she'd been to anyone in years—before an image rose, unbidden, into the forefront of her consciousness. It was an image of her own filthy, sun-speckled hand using a small blade to scratch a single tally mark into one of the metal walls of her AT-AT. Hundreds of similar such marks preceded it, one for each day, a simple but effective means of keeping track of time.

Her eyes shot to Ben, but he wasn't looking at her. His gaze wandered seemingly anywhere but her face, and it occurred to her that there was at least a decent chance that he was just as discomfited as she was by their proximity.

"If at any moment you want me to back off, don't hesitate to say so," he muttered, and Rey smiled a little despite the awkwardness of the situation.

"It's fine," she told him, and when he didn't respond she asked, "So, you sense anything? In my brain, I mean. That is, do you think I might be-"

She broke off, breath catching as she was hit with yet another unprompted memory. She saw herself trudging through the sand, overheated and exhausted, cheeks flushed, her brow slick with sweat as she dragged a heavy bag behind her. She wasn't sure when, exactly, that particular day had been, though it was obviously sometime before she'd built her speeder.

The memory shifted. This time she was crawling through the ruins of one of the many crashed starships in Jakku's junkyard. She stopped to crouch near an old console, pulling several tools from her pocket so that she could pry open the panel and search for parts.

Again, the memory faded into nothing and was replaced with an entirely new scene. She was at Niima Outpost, staring up into Unkar Plutt's crinkly, bloodshot eyes as he told her, "These are worth one-quarter portion."

Rey saw herself look down at the pieces of metal that lay on the counter between them. "But they were worth half a portion last week," she protested, and Plutt sneered down at her.

"One-quarter portion, or you'll go home empty-handed."

A flash, and Rey's heart lurched in her chest as yet another memory materialized. It was the same one she'd seen earlier that day in the desert with Han. Only, this time it was clearer, the sights and sounds around her more vivid, more real.

She saw Plutt and the girl again. Even though she was in a climate controlled environment, she swore she could feel the heat from the sun's rays beating down on her, scorching her skin. She took in the girl's face, red and dirty and tear-streaked, watching as she reached one scrawny, trembling arm up toward the retreating ship in the sky.

"No!" The sound tore from her throat in a single shrill, agonized wail. "Come back! Please, come back!"

But her younger self was no match for Plutt's brute strength. "They're gone, girl," he growled, pulling her along, even as little Rey dug her feet into the sand, resisting him every step of the way.

"No!" she screamed, slapping at the giant hand clutching her arm. "I won't go with you! I won't! I won't..."

Tears pooled in Rey's eyes, and she closed them, steeling herself against the painful memory. She reminded herself that what she was seeing wasn't what it looked like, not really. It's all right. They weren't leaving you. They'll be back. They will.

In the span of a single second, her eyes shot open, rage ripping through her as Ben Solo's face came into focus, at the realization that he was the reason she was being forced to relive the most traumatic moment of her life in full, refined detail.

"Stop," she hissed, though instead of doing as she'd asked, Ben turned to her, his expression one of sheer horror.

"I didn't-" he started, but Rey cut him off, furious.

"Get out of my head."

She sucked in a breath and gave a mental push, putting all of her strength and willpower into banishing Ben Solo's unwanted presence from her mind. She didn't think it would work, though in the next instant he withdrew his hand with a gasp, stumbling backward.

"What do you think you were doing?" she admonished. "I didn't agree to any of that!"

Ben was bracing himself against a chair. "I...I'm sorry. I didn't mean-"

"You said you were going to probe my mind, not dissect it!"

"I know! I tried to be careful, but that just came rushing at me. There was little I could do to stop it."

Rey wasn't sure she believed him, though she supposed it was a moot point. In the end, the exercise had only served as a reminder of what her true purpose was in staying on Jakku: to wait for her parents' return. And she couldn't allow herself to stray from that purpose, no matter how tempting Han Solo's offer was.

He's right. Helping him steal the Falcon might get me into trouble with Plutt, and that's something I can't afford to risk. She elbowed Ben out of the way as she moved to pick up her satchel. "I've changed my mind," she said. "I don't want anything to do with any of this." She gripped her staff in one hand as she stomped toward the exit. "Open the hatch. I'm leaving."

Ben stepped in front of her with both of his hands held out. "Wait. Please, just listen-"

Without any warning, Rey swung her staff. She delivered several blows in rapid succession, but Ben dodged every one, his movements swift and effortless. With a cry of frustration, Rey swung again, and though Ben avoided the initial strike, she managed to graze the side of his head as she drew her arm back to prepare for another attack.

"Ow," he said, wincing. "Was that really necessary?"

Rey held her staff above him threateningly. "I went easy on you," she lied. "And if you don't open that door in about five seconds, I swear I will-"

At that moment there was a loud hiss, followed immediately by the whirring mechanical sound of wheels and cogs turning within the ship's interior walls. Sunlight flooded the space, making both Rey and Ben squint as the ramp lowered itself to the ground and two figures stepped into view.

"Well kid, you were right," Han was saying. "Plutt flat-out refuses to part with the Falcon. Chewie and I have been talking, and we think…"

He stopped short when he glimpsed them. It took all of two seconds for him to survey the scene—Ben rubbing his head, Rey holding her staff and standing in a defensive position— before he heaved another one of his long, drawn out sighs.

"All right," he said, his eyes darting back and forth between them before finally resting on Rey. "What'd he do?"

But before Rey could say anything, Ben barreled down the ramp toward his father, shouting, "What did I do? She's the one who hit me, in case it wasn't already apparent!"

Han crossed his arms over his chest. "Yeah. My question was, what'd you do to deserve it?"

A wounded expression flashed across Ben's face, and for a fleeting moment, Rey almost felt sorry for him.

"You always do this," he said, his voice low but patently furious. "You always assume the worst of me! And Mom wonders why I can't stand to be around you for more than a few minutes at a time."

Han remained perfectly still, though there was no mistaking the hurt in his eyes as he stared at his son.

"That's what this is, you know," Ben continued, bitter. "It's why she forced me to go with you on this ridiculous expedition. She wanted us to bond over the acquisition of your long lost cargo ship, a relic from your glory days. Well, I have no intention of growing closer to you, Dad, and at this point, I don't imagine I ever will."

"All right, just hang on," Han said placatingly. "For the record, you don't need to say hurtful things like that to get my attention."

"Apparently, I do!"

Han closed his eyes for a long moment. "You got me. I was too quick to blame you, son, and I'm sorry. Now… you want to tell me what happened?"

Rey waited, though it quickly became apparent that Ben wasn't going to say anything.

"It doesn't matter what happened," she told Han. "I was just leaving, anyway." She stepped out onto the ramp, extending a hand toward him. "Thank you for the food, Mr. Solo. And for your offer. After giving it some thought, however, I'm afraid I simply can't bring myself to accept."

Han took her hand and shook it, looking bewildered, but Rey paid him no mind. "I wish you the best of luck in reclaiming your lost ship. Goodbye."

With that, she swept past him and descended the ramp, and though Chewie roared after her, she didn't even turn.

"Wait! Kid… hang on," Han said, flustered. "Can't we talk this over? I still need your help. I'm sure we can reach some kind of agreement. How about I throw some more credits in to sweeten the deal?"

Rey pressed on, despite his continued protests. It was only Ben's voice that succeeded in giving her pause. "You have the Force, you know," he said, and Rey stopped dead in her tracks, the blood draining from her face.

"It's true," he continued. "You passed the test. You rebuffed me when I started digging into the deeper parts of your mind. That isn't something a normal person could do. And that means you're special, Rey. You're special, just like me."

For several moments Rey could only bring herself to stare at him.

No. No, it can't be. She shook her head, her eyes wide and dazed. "You're wrong," she said. "I'm not anyone extraordinary. I never have been. I'm just...Rey."

"Wait a minute." Han stepped between them. "What are you talking about? What's all this about the Force?"

Rey exchanged a look with Ben, who nodded, urging her to tell Han the full story. Instead, she whispered, "I don't know what he's talking about. But if you'll excuse me, I really do need to be going."

She walked quickly in the direction of Niima, though she hadn't taken more than five steps before Ben called out to her again.

"Rey, wait. Please."

She spun to fix him with a simmering glare. "About earlier," he said, undeterred. "I...I didn't mean to trespass on your private thoughts and memories."

He paused, waiting for her to acknowledge his apology, but when she remained silent, he sighed. "What I told you just now is true. You're strong with the Force. Untrained, yes, but powerful. You need a teacher, someone to help you hone your abilities-"

"I'll pass," Rey said dully, though before she could start walking again, Ben caught her arm.

"Not me. I was talking about my uncle, Luke Skywalker."

Hearing the name, Rey froze, her eyes narrowing.

"He's a Jedi master," Ben rambled. "He has a school on Yavin 4. I'm one of his students. You could be too, if you wanted."

Rey felt lightheaded as she struggled to process everything she'd just heard. Was he telling the truth? Could his uncle really be Luke Skywalker, the legendary hero who had fought and won the Galactic Civil War? And if it were true, did that also mean all that talk about him being a Jedi Knight wasn't just hearsay?

Rey shook her head. She wasn't sure what to think anymore, and that terrified her.

"I...I have to go," she told Han and Ben, her voice a half-mumble. "I'm sorry."

She turned and hurried off without so much as a single glance back.

While it wasn't unusual for Rey to have difficulties falling asleep, that night she tossed and turned in her makeshift bed for hours. For once it wasn't hunger that kept her awake, but rather, a nagging sense of regret. Ben Solo's words repeated themselves over and over in her head as she pulled her scratchy, oil stained blanket all the way up to her chin: "You need a teacher, someone to help you hone your abilities."

She couldn't stop imagining an alternate reality, one where she'd agreed to go with him and Han to Yavin 4. She pictured herself standing in the cockpit of the Mirrorbright, her nose pressed to the window as they descended toward the surface of the moon. She had no idea what kind of place Yavin 4 was, let alone what it would look like from the sky, but she imagined it as a rocky, mountainous landscape with icy rivers bisecting snow-covered caps. The thought made her smile. She had no memory of where she'd lived before Jakku, and sometimes she found herself wanting to see other worlds.

If you'd accepted Ben's offer, maybe you could have.

She pushed the thought down almost as soon as it had formed. Because she didn't want to go, not really. The thought of missing out on the opportunity to be reunited with her parents was almost too much to bear. No, she would remain on Jakku until they came back, of that much she'd decided. Still, there was a part of her that was sorry for the way she'd treated the Solos. They'd both been kinder to her than anyone she'd ever met, and storming out on them like a child seemed a poor way of showing gratitude. In fact, the more she reflected on the day's events, the worse she felt, particularly when she recalled the way she'd lashed out and attacked Ben with her staff. She winced, burying herself deeper beneath the blanket. While it was true that the mind probe had been difficult to endure, she knew he'd only been trying to help. Besides, it was clear he'd felt terrible about what he'd done afterward.

Too bad I'll never get the chance to apologize to him. Or Han.

She sat up suddenly then, an idea sparking. Or will I?

She threw the blanket back and got dressed. Like the previous day, she set out when she saw the faintest sliver of red dawn creeping across the barren landscape, opting to travel on foot. Though the speeder certainly would've been faster, this time she wasn't going to the junkyard.

The Mirrorbright was parked about two miles north of her home, and she made her way in that general direction. Her heart pounded wildly at the thought of what might—or might not—be waiting for her at the end of her journey. Will they have left already? She was almost certain that the answer was no, seeing as Han still needed to steal the Falcon, though she supposed it was possible he'd already formed and carried out a plan to do so. She hoped not. She hoped that he and Chewie had decided to bide their time and wait for Plutt's suspicions to waver.

Please, please let them still be there.

When she reached the spot where the gleaming white ship had sat the previous day, however, she found nothing but empty sand.

Inhaling deeply, Rey allowed herself to feel the disappointment that seemed to expand with the air in her chest. Their absence could only mean they'd managed to succeed in their mission. Either that, or they'd had to make a swift departure after failing. Somehow, though, she sincerely doubted it was the latter.

And so the famous Han Solo adds yet another heist to his list of exploits. She wanted to be happy for him and Chewie, though she found she could only muster a half-hearted smile.

I'll never see them again.

She unscrewed the cap from her canteen, taking a drink before setting her sights on Niima. Saddened as she was by the loss of her new friends, she had to move on. Life on Jakku was dependent on one's ability to adapt; she had to consider her survival above all else, and though her haul from yesterday had scored her several days' worth of food, the low fuel gauge on her speeder was currently her most pressing problem, one she intended to remedy with a visit to Plutt.

A small crowd had already gathered by the time she made it into town. Many of the traders were speaking to each other in low whispers, and Rey bit back a smirk as she made her way toward Plutt's tent. It was unusual for there to be so many people up and about this early; she had to figure the hubbub was due, at least in part, to the fact that Jakku's wealthiest trade dealer had just been swindled.

As she drew closer, she kept her ears sharp. Sure enough, the first conversation she overheard was centered on the robbery.

"It's true," a green Rodian male was saying. "The off-worlder stole it in the dead of night, right from underneath Plutt's nose!"

His companion, another Rodian with equally vibrant teal skin, snorted with laughter. "Serves him right for lording over this town the way he does. I mean, would you look at these people? It's pitiful, the way they live." He paused, noticing Rey's stare. While Rodian eyes were insect-like and contained little expression, there was no mistaking the disdain in his voice as he barked, "What're you looking at, scavenger scum?"

Rey was sure to cast him a particularly withering glare before shoving her way forward. He speaks sympathetically of our plight, only to insult us with his next breath. Yet further proof that the galaxy was riddled with cruel and mystifying people.

Except for Han, Ben, and Chewie.

Again, she was hit with a pang of sadness as she pulled aside the brown tarp leading into Plutt's tent. The familiar scent of sweat and oil filled her nostrils as she strode to the front of the room, where the Crolute was talking in hushed tones to a black-clad figure in a mask.

Rey's eyes narrowed at the sight of the second man. She recognized him as one of Plutt's lackeys. These were the men she'd tried to warn Han about yesterday. Plutt had several, and he dispatched them whenever he wanted something—or, more often, someone—to disappear, though thankfully Rey had never had to worry about them. It was one of the many advantages to being good at what she did. Her wares exceeded that of most scavengers, and as a result, Plutt did what he could to deter others from stealing from her. Still, knowing that the faceless man at the desk was not a threat to her didn't make him any less unnerving.

"There you are," Plutt said when he saw her coming. "I knew you'd be along soon enough." He grinned, baring two sets of chipped, rotting teeth, though Rey thought it looked more like a leer as he added, "My girl always comes back."

She tried not to cringe visibly. Plutt had been calling her "his girl" ever since she could remember, and while she hadn't minded this when she was younger, she now recognized it for what it was: a jeer. It was his indirect way of letting her know that he owned her. Not officially, of course—slavery was outlawed on most known worlds—but there wasn't any question that he held more power over the permanent residents in the Niima area than anyone else. He determined what their wares were worth, how much or how little food they were permitted to receive from local stores. He decided whose homes were worth protecting from looters. He controlled the water supply. Basically, their lives were in his hands, and though Rey wasn't happy about it, she respected his position and endured his mocking and name-calling for the sake of remaining in his good graces.

"You wanted to see me?" she said, casting the man in black a wary look before returning her gaze to the bloated mass of flesh that was chuckling to himself behind the counter.

"Not me," he said, still laughing. "A traveler. Pretty face, expensive clothes. Called himself the Prince of Alderaan."

He rolled his eyes, though Rey barely noticed. Her mind was reeling with possibilities as to who this mysterious traveler might be. Her first thought was that Han had returned for her. She quickly dismissed the idea, however, because there was no way Han would be stupid enough to return to Niima so soon after stealing from Plutt. But then who could it be? She didn't know anyone from off-world.

Except maybe…

"What did he say his name was?" she asked hurriedly. Her heart was in her throat. She knew how foolish it was to hope—no, it was more than that. It was insane. Because it had been two thousand seven hundred and ninety three days since she'd last seen her mother. And her father.

Two thousand seven hundred and ninety three days. Eight years. What were the chances that after eight years she would finally be reunited with one—or both—of them again?

Plutt was watching her with a sneer, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. "I don't know his name, and to be honest, I don't much care. Alderaanian prince or not, he's got credits, and that's all that really matters around here."

Rey knew he was right. "Why would a man like that want to speak with me?" she asked, though instead of answering, Plutt threw his head back in laughter.

"You don't get it, do you, girl?" he said after several moments. "The traveler didn't ask to speak with you. He asked to purchase you."

The disguised man turned his cold, bottomless stare on her, and Rey backpedaled, brandishing her staff. Now it made sense why Plutt had called on his goon. He'd known that this conversation wasn't going to go the way he wanted.

"Stay back," she hissed before turning her blazing eyes back on Plutt. "I am a scavenger," she yelled, "not a slave! You've no right to sell me to anyone!"

Again, Plutt laughed, the sound almost jovial, which made Rey grit her teeth.

"That's what I told him, at first. I said, 'I can't sell my girl, she's far too valuable.' So I went about my business, figuring that would be that. But this man was persistent. He just kept offering me more and more until-"

"You gave in." Rey's stomach roiled. She'd always known Plutt wasn't a good man, but...still. Her parents had left her in his care when they departed Jakku, and though he'd eventually turned her loose and left her to fend for herself, he'd continued looking out for her over the years, albeit in small ways. Of course, Rey knew that greed was Plutt's primary motivator in doing so; he kept her safe because having her around was beneficial to him. But to stoop so low as to pawn her off to a stranger for profit? That she hadn't ever imagined him capable of doing.

"I'm not going anywhere," she declared, to which Plutt heaved an exasperated sigh.

"Yeah, I thought you might say that." He motioned for his man to grab her, and Rey didn't hesitate. She swung her staff, clipping her assailant in the back of the skull, and he grunted, staggering against the counter. While Plutt was busy admonishing him for being useless, Rey turned her back on them and sprinted off, only to run blindly into a pair of outstretched arms that were waiting for her outside the tent.

This goon was burlier than the last. Screaming, Rey kicked and thrashed, though her efforts had little effect. He strengthened his grip, holding her in a lock against his chest, and Rey grunted, dropping her head so that she could bite down on his arm. He released her at once with a howl, though her victory ended up being short-lived. In the next instant Plutt emerged from the tent, trailed by his other goon, who still looked shaken from her earlier assault. Rey lifted her staff, prepared to fight her way through both of them, if she had to. But before she could deal the first blow, she was seized from behind yet again by the stronger henchman, the one she had bitten. This time he held her with one arm and used his other to crush her windpipe.

"I knew you'd put up a fight," Plutt said. There was a hint of satisfaction in his voice, as if he was enjoying watching her get knocked around by his minions. Rey's blood boiled, even as she writhed and clawed at the arm that was slowly cutting off her air supply. He was enjoying it. She could tell by the smug look on his swollen, misshapen face. A face that, she realized with great alarm, was becoming blurrier by the moment.

"I really didn't want to do this, you know," Plutt continued, not sounding the least bit remorseful. "But the deal was just too good to pass up. I mean, eight hundred credits? That's more money than your scavenged goods would bring me in ten years' time!"

Eight hundred credits? Rey's mind would have been spinning even if she weren't on the verge of passing out. Because who in their right mind would be willing to drop eight hundred credits for a scraggly little thing like her? It defied all common sense.

"So you understand," Plutt went on, as if she was in any state to answer, "why I had to agree."

No, I don't, she wanted to snarl back, but by then the edges of her vision had turned black and hazy. Her eyes fluttered shut, though before she could drift off into oblivion, the arm around her neck loosened.

Rey gasped, sucking in a great gulp of air. Then another. And another. She was only vaguely aware of the movements of the three figures around her. Her instinct was to lash out when they placed a burlap sack over her head, though she found she simply didn't have the strength to put up any resistance. Her wrists were bound behind her back before two hands gripped her forearms and began dragging her forward.

Trying to breathe in the sack was near impossible. Her feet dragged as she stumbled through the sand, coughing and wheezing in the hot, suffocating smog of mostly recycled air. When someone nudged her back, she responded by purposely slowing her pace, and Plutt grumbled, opting to carry her the rest of the way.

The trek seemed to take an eternity, though when they finally stopped, Rey was promptly deposited onto the sand. Someone grabbed her by the shoulders and hoisted her to her knees, while someone else removed the bag from her head. The fresh air that rushed into her lungs was almost as refreshing as if someone had splashed cool water on her face. The thought of water made her realize how dry her throat was, but before she could ask for a drink, someone shouted from across the desert.

"What is the meaning of this? Remove those restraints at once!"

Rey recognized the voice right away. Her eyes went wide as they locked on a tall man dressed in dark gray robes.

Ben Solo. He was the off-worlder who had convinced Plutt to sell her into servitude. He was the reason she'd had to endure the painful and humiliating experience of being captured and tied down like an animal.

He betrayed me. That was the last thing Rey thought before she doubled over and vomited in the sand.

She could hear Plutt making sounds of disgust behind her, though they were quickly drowned out by Ben's sharp, furious voice. "Did you not hear me, you abhorrent bulbous mass? I said untie her!"

Someone severed the rope around Rey's wrists, and she leaped to her feet, whirling on Plutt. "You're going to pay for what you did to me," she said through bared teeth, though unsurprisingly, Plutt responded to her threat with a deep rumble of laughter.

"You're not my problem any longer, sweetheart. Don't you remember? You belong to him now."

He nodded at Ben, and Rey turned her murderous glare on her would-be friend.

"You were slavers all this time. You and your father. I can't believe…"

Ben sank to one knee beside her as she swallowed, fighting the lump that was forming in her throat.

"I'm not a slaver," he whispered. "And neither is my dad. We want to help you-"

"Liar," Rey choked out, refusing to be played for a fool. "If that were true, you wouldn't have paid Plutt to deliver me to you!"

At that, Ben dropped his gaze. "I'm trying to get you off Jakku," he explained in a low voice. "When I went to the trading post earlier, I asked Plutt where I could find you. He was suspicious, and I made the mistake of admitting I intended to take you off-world." He shook his head, as if quietly lamenting his own stupidity. "He told me you were his greatest source of income, that he would never allow you to leave. So...I pandered to his money-grubbing nature. I offered him all the credits I have in exchange for—well, essentially, your freedom."

Rey could feel her anger starting to deflate as she listened. She wanted so badly for him to be telling the truth.

"Plutt assumed I wanted you as a slave," Ben continued, his voice taking on an edge at the mere mention of the practice of buying and owning another sentient-being, "because he doesn't understand things like compassion. To someone like him, the very concept of helping a person for no reason other than to help them is inconceivable. From his point of view, my willingness to pay for your freedom is surely an indication that I am hoping to benefit from the transaction in some way."

He looked at her, his expression serious. "I didn't like how things ended between us yesterday. I wanted to come back as soon as we'd left. My dad did, too. But he knew he'd be recognized in Niima, so he asked me to go instead."

He stood, offering her a hand, and Rey took it, allowing him to pull her to her feet. "Will you come with me to Yavin 4? As I said, my uncle is strong in the Force. He'll teach you everything he knows-"

But Rey cut him off with a rueful shake of her head. "I can't. I'm sorry. I wish I could, but I have to stay here. I have to…"

She trailed off, catching herself before she could say, "I have to wait for my parents." Because for the first time in her life, she found herself questioning whether those words were true or not.

Up until that moment, being reunited with her family had been the only thing that mattered, the only thing keeping her going day after day, year after year, and as much as a part of her had wished to stop the never-ending cycle of barely surviving each day—to strive for a better, fuller life—in the end, she'd always drawn the same conclusion: Nothing matters without my family. I just need to be patient and trust that they'll come back for me.

But were they really coming back? She found herself doubting it more and more each day, and wasn't it foolish to stake one's entire life on a maybe?

A single tear trickled down Rey's cheek as she refocused her gaze on Ben. It wasn't as if the Solos were only offering her a shot at freedom. They were offering her an entirely new life, one with purpose. It hit her as she looked into Ben's imploring eyes that he and Han had come through for her in a way no one else ever had. After all, they hadn't left her to rot on this dismal, barren desert planet.

"Yes," she said at last. "I...I think I will come with you."

Something that looked like relief flitted across Ben's features. "There's a transport nearby," he said. "We should be able to make it Yavin 4 in a few hours' time-"

"Hold it right there, prince. We aren't finished yet."

Ben's jaw tightened at the sound of Plutt's low, grumbling voice.

"We settled on eight hundred credits, half up front, half after the job was done, and in case you forgot, you've yet to give me the second half."

Rey scowled at him over one shoulder, but Ben silenced her by holding up a hand. "I think what I've given you is more than sufficient," he told Plutt smoothly. "Besides, you terrorized her, and that wasn't part of the agreement."

"She didn't really give me much choice," Plutt retorted, but Ben acted as if he hadn't heard.

"Four hundred credits is what you're getting, and not a decicrid more." He jerked his head toward Rey. "We're done here."

He started walking away, and Rey trailed behind him, though they didn't get far before Plutt said, "A deal is a deal. You said eight hundred credits, I expect eight hundred credits. Unless, of course, you want to cross me. And I don't think you do, pretty boy."

He motioned for his lackeys to step forward, and they did, their movements slow, almost predatory as they formed a semi-circle around them. Rey readied her staff, but again, Ben gestured for her to be still. "You are happy with four hundred credits."

Rey shot him an incredulous look, but he paid her no mind, his gaze focused entirely on Plutt. "You are happy with four hundred credits," he said again. There was an odd lilt to his voice, and Plutt scowled. He also seemed to find Ben's delivery of the phrase strange.

"You are happy with four hundred credits," he parroted mockingly. "What do you think you are, some kind of Jedi?"

The goon dressed in black sputtered a laugh, and the other joined him.

He is, though, Rey thought, her eyes returning to Ben. The young Solo was still staring at Plutt, his face impassive aside from the tiny, almost imperceptible twitch beneath his left eye. Wordlessly, he unclipped a weapon from his belt, the same one Rey had seen him reaching for when he caught her wandering his father's ship the day before.

Ben held the weapon in front of him, and Rey watched as a steady beam of blue light shot abruptly from one end of its metal hilt. A lightsaber, she realized, bug-eyed as she stared. A low hum emitted from the glowing blade, the sound filling her ears and making everything around her seem muffled.

"As it so happens," Ben said loudly, "I am, in fact, a Jedi. Now, we can do this one of two ways. You can either walk away with your four hundred credits, or I can slice you in half where you stand. Which is it going to be?"

Again, Plutt scowled, making his face look even more wrinkled than normal. He knew he'd lost. Rey could tell by the way his eyes kept travelling furiously back and forth from Ben to the laser sword. Finally, with a grunt, he gestured for both of his men to stand down.

"A pleasure doing business with you," he said. "Though I would think twice about returning to Jakku, if I were you." He fixed his gaze on Rey, as if to let her know that he was also talking to her. "I am not the forgetful sort, and if I ever see either of your faces in Niima again, do not think for a moment that I will hesitate to demand reparation."

With that, he stormed off, leaving Rey and Ben alone. Her eyes were still glued to the lightsaber, and Ben cleared his throat before promptly retracting the blade. "I wouldn't have actually killed them," he mumbled, as if that were the first thing on her mind. "I just wanted them gone. I'm sorry if I frightened you-"

"I've never seen a weapon like that in all my life," Rey cut him off, awestruck. "I mean, I've heard the legends that say Jedi used to carry lightsabers, but...I didn't think they were real. And you…" Her eyes shot to his face. "It's true, isn't it? What you said yesterday. Your uncle...he's Luke Skywalker, a Jedi master. You're one of his students, and I...I could be one of them, too."

"Only if you want that." Ben's voice was quiet, careful, as if the slightest wrong word or movement might spook her and cause her to turn away.

In response, Rey began walking, continuing in the direction they'd been moving earlier, her steps swift and sure. "So," she said, "where's this ship you were telling me about before Plutt rudely butted in?"

Though she didn't turn, she could practically feel the relief radiating off Ben as he fell into step beside her. "It's just over that dune," he said, pointing straight ahead. "It's a basic transport craft, much smaller than the Mirrorbright, but I didn't want to risk bringing attention to myself by touching down in something so flashy."

Rey nodded, not knowing what to say, and they lapsed into silence as they walked. Conversation was not something she was particularly adept at, and she imagined her new life would be filled with many such awkward pauses. But that was okay. She could learn.

"So...the prince of Alderaan, huh?"

She meant it to be teasing, though she thought Ben actually looked a little embarrassed as he reached up to scratch the back of his neck. "Uh, yeah. That's me. Or...well, it would be, if Alderaan still existed."

That was about the last thing Rey had been expecting to hear him say. "Wait a minute. That wasn't a joke?" she asked, stopping dead in her tracks, and Ben shook his head.

"But then...that would mean-"

"My mother is Princess Leia Organa," he said, and Rey felt her jaw go slack.

"Well, Senator Organa now," he quickly corrected. "Like I was telling you earlier, she has the Force, too. She never completed her Jedi training, but I know she'd love to meet you."

Rey's head felt fuzzy as she attempted to digest all of this.

"She has a lot of connections," he continued, "and I was thinking that maybe if we told her about what happened with you and your parents…" He trailed off, shrugging sheepishly. "Well, maybe she could ask around. It's a longshot, but who knows? Something might turn up."

At that moment, something burst deep inside Rey's chest. Warmth flooded her body as she choked back a sob. She wanted to thank Ben for his offer, though she found she could only stand rooted in place as tears trickled freely down both of her cheeks.

"Whoa," Ben said, his voice filled with worry. "Are you all right? What did I say?" He stooped slightly, peering into her face. "Rey-"

"Can we go now?" she whispered, the words hoarse, barely audible. "I...I'd like to leave this place now."

Ben remained hunched over, staring at her for several moments. Then, finally, he straightened with a nod. "Of course," he said, offering her his hand again. "Come on. The transport is right over there."

His lips twitched upward, and though Rey wouldn't go as far as to call it a smile, she had to figure it was probably the closest he ever got to it. She grinned back at him through her tears, reaching out to place her right hand in his. "To Yavin 4," she said, and he nodded in agreement.

"To Yavin 4."

A/N: This is my first Star Wars fanfic, hopefully one of many more to come. For the record, I am absolutely a Reylo, though this particular story obviously doesn't have any romance in it, as Rey is only thirteen and...well, that would just be gross and creepy. Anyway, if you've made it this far, thank you so much for reading!