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The next morning, Rey woke when Ben got quietly out of bed and headed to the washroom. She lay there for a little while, waiting on him, and woke again when the washroom door opened and he exited, dressed and drying his hair.

“You can sleep a little longer,” he murmured, sitting beside her. “I’ll let you know when we get to Abednedo.”

Rey yawned and rubbed her eyes, an urgent need in her bladder making her sit up. “Okay.”

When he next woke her, it was because Nalti was waiting in her rooms. He gave Rey the choice of sleeping further or getting up, and Rey swung her feet out of bed.

“I’ve never been lazy,” she said, picking her things up off the floor. She had to kneel to gather all the hair pins she’d so carelessly dropped onto her diaphanous blue tunic, and rose with her hands full. She and Ben looked at each other for a few moments before she rose onto her toes and tipped her face up for one last, lingering kiss before heading back to her own room. She felt his eyes on her as she left.

Nalti helped Rey get ready for the day without, thankfully, mentioning that Rey hadn’t spent the night in her own bed. Just the small, conspiratorial smirk Nalti tossed her triggered inner convulsions of embarrassment.

Thus, Rey was clean and dressed by the time the First Order emissary to Abednedo arrived for Rey’s final briefing. He had very short red hair, lighter than General Hux’s, and the standard perfectly tidy black uniform. He didn’t sneer like the general, but frustration leaked through his words as he caught her up on the current state of Abednedo.

“Completely useless,” he told her. “The king will talk for hours without getting anywhere – you have to practically drag him to the point – and the nobility avoid any conversation that isn’t about clothes or food.” The look he shot Rey was more sympathetic than she’d expected. “I really don’t know what you think you might accomplish, but you’re welcome to try.” He sank wearily back into his chair. “I’m just glad to be done with the whole mess.”

Desomma arrived for Rey’s last fitting before he finished. She had dark circles under her eyes and a feral, determined glower. Rey begged the emissary’s patience and submitted to the seamstress, surprised that he didn’t put up any fight when she abandoned him.

“See that that poor man gets a break,” Rey told Nalti as she stripped in her bedroom and let Desomma settle the finished gown over her head.

Nalti nodded and lowered her gaze to tap the order into her data pad. “Shore leave. On it.” When Nalti looked back up, she simply stared, silent. “Wow,” she finally whispered.

Desomma’s exhausted face twisted into a cocky smile as she made slight alterations on the fly, her droid providing swift stitches where needed.

When Desomma pronounced the gown finished, she draped a second part over Rey’s shoulders, hooking it at the front of her throat so that the long cloak hung straight and graceful to the hem of the gown beneath.

When Desomma produced a mirror, even Rey had to stifle a gasp. The gown shimmered with those tiny pricks of light Desomma had called “sequins,” placed in tight, delicate layers at her throat only to fade below her hips, leaving her lightweight silk skirts bare. Rey would have been satisfied with just the dress, but the thin, twinkling cloak was drenched in the tiny disks, broken only by embroidery lines which made Rey look as if she wore butterfly wings crafted of pure starlight.

Desomma had even brought an extra droid to do Rey’s hair, putting it up with a sprinkling of glimmering pins so that Rey looked as if she’d been dusted with stars from head to toe.

The emissary leapt to his feet when she exited her bedroom in her new finery, his eyes wide and posture ramrod straight. He gave a stiff, astonished bow. “Madam.”

“If that doesn’t tell you how good my work is, nothing will,” Desomma said, passing the emissary and shooing her droids out the door. “I’m going to get some sleep. Goodnight.”

Rey waved goodbye, despite Desomma already having left, and turned back to the emissary. “Where were we?”

He swallowed, still staring. “Ah… the tactics I’ve tried with the king.”

She smiled and sat awkwardly, wishing he wouldn’t look at her like that. It was only a dress. She hadn’t suddenly become someone else, someone worth being nervous around.

He painted a picture of an obstinate people content with dragging negotiations out to their breaking point. He spoke quickly, efficient with his words, and didn’t relax back into his chair again. He finished faster than Rey had expected, and Nalti informed her that a shuttle had been prepared in the hangar bay and that the Supreme Leader would meet her there when she was ready.

“I’ve packed a few of your other clothes, including the gown with the lace overlay, and they’ve already been loaded into the shuttle. That should keep us for a few days if something happens to this one.” She gestured at the masterpiece Rey wore, and her eyes lingered. “That really is an amazing gown.” Then she broke the serious moment with a wide grin. “I can’t wait to see the Supreme Leader’s face.”

Rey blushed so hard, she felt it in her ears. “Let’s just go,” she muttered.

When she exited into the hallway, her full guard roster awaited her, each kitted with the ivory-and-gold half cloaks Desomma had been carrying the night before. They looked very professional, covering one shoulder and hanging just to the elbow so that their movements wouldn’t be hampered by excess fabric.

When Rey exited, no one spoke or moved, and Rey fidgeted with her skirt and tried a joke to lighten the mood. “That bad?”

It was Ash who stepped forward and solemnly took a knee. “You look like a queen, ma'am.”

One after another, each guard followed Ash’s lead until they all knelt before Rey, their heads bowed. Rey’s face warmed.

“Please don’t,” she begged, unnerved.

Ash was the first to stand, then the rest, but they remained silent as they fell in behind her on the way to the main hangar.

Ben waited for her with several officers, including a sour-faced General Hux. Rey noticed Lieutenant Watt speaking with the female officer who shared her nose, the two clearly related.

When Rey and her unit entered, conversation stopped. Even technicians in the distance paused to look her way, some craning their necks to get a better view.

Probably blinded by my dress, she thought wryly. It sure as hell was sparkly, and the hangar lights made individual disks flash with every breath.

Ben approached and tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow, escorting her past the silent personnel and onto her transport, her unit following close behind. She noted with spiteful pleasure that General Hux looked taken aback, his head turning to follow her with everyone else’s.

Inside the shuttle, her guards settled themselves in with the professionalism of lifelong soldiers, and Ben drew her aside where they could have the illusion of privacy.

“I don’t like this,” he murmured, threading his fingers through hers.

“I’ll be fine. I can take care of myself.”

“I know.” He rested his forehead against hers. “It’s the only reason I’m letting you go on this damn trip.”

She smiled up at him. “As if anything I do is because you let me.”

He huffed at that, the slight smile she’d drawn out still not enough to erase the worry line between his brows.

He kissed her, then, pouring all his worry into it, and Rey wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back. She released all of her stress and tension and inadequacy into that kiss, all the missing him that had already started as she’d dressed, and pulled on his strength to steady her.

When they parted, his eyes had hardened and he looked about ready to order her to stay. Instead, he gritted his teeth, muttered, “Fuck,” and flung himself away from her toward the exit.

He stopped in the light filtering in from the hangar, whirled back around, and stared at her, his jaw clenching. He looked half wild, but he mastered himself and stalked out with an infuriated, “Fuck!”

When the transport door closed, Rowdy gave a low whistle. Rey rolled her eyes at him, but she couldn’t help the small smile Ben had left her with.