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“Did you see the way those officers stared, ma'am?” asked Rowdy as Rey piloted the shuttle seamlessly from the hangar.

Valkyrie cackled. “Struck ‘em speechless.”

Rowdy joined in the laughter. “The general looked personally affronted.”

“Probably planned to make her ladyship feel small,” put in Nalti. “Put her in her place. Did you see which officers he brought with him?”

“All the snooty assholes,” said Rowdy.

His people,” said Nalti. “And her ladyship left them so dumbfounded, they let her walk right on by without trying any of their petty tricks.” She sounded proud, as if Rey had accomplished something instead of just wearing a dress someone else had made for her.

Rey blushed and rolled her eyes. “Let’s hope the Abednedo are as impressed by my clothes.”

The Abednedo, however, were hard to read. Their buildings were a haphazard mishmash of color and height that made Rey smile, their cities much more lively than the Dominance, and Rey breathed in the fresh atmosphere gratefully the moment her shuttle’s ramp descended at the palace.

Don’t let them intimidate you, Leia had told her, so Rey straightened her shoulders before she walked down the ramp and nodded the way she’d been coached when she was introduced to the king – not deep enough to be a supplicant but not shallow enough to insult him. They’d debated having her curtsy, but one test run had killed that idea.

“You have the grace of an injured blurrg,” she’d been told.

So she nodded, and the king nodded, and he was impossible to read with his long brownish face and giant nostrils and eyes too far apart. He escorted her inside the palace, and he offered her tea in a formal sitting room, but Rey was too busy trying not to look nervous to drink it. He offered her a plate of something that looked like dried leaves with crystalline flowers on top, and Rey had to keep her twitching hands in her lap.

Don’t eat in front of them, Ben had said at dinner the previous night. Rey had thrown a roll at his head and made him laugh.

Rey reached for the tea in front of her, but something about the king’s sharp attention on the motion made her drop her hand back into her lap. Her scavenger brain hissed a warning, and Rey fought to keep the smile on her face.

Poison? she wondered. He hadn’t touched his own.

“Please,” the king said with a generous smile. “You will offend me.”

Snake, Rey’s instincts snapped. She slid the cup toward the king, narrowing her eyes over her smile. “You first.”

His face froze into a mask of politesse. “Are you insinuating something?”

Rey dropped her smile. “Let me break this down for you, your majesty. The First Order wanted to send Kylo Ren to end negotiations once and for all. I am your last option before that becomes reality. I am not your enemy.” She leaned forward, piercing him with her glare. “I’m trying to save your ass.”

The king blustered, the tendrils extending from either side of his mouth bristling with indignation, but Rey didn’t let him get more than the start of a word out before she cut him off.

“You don’t want to give in to an invading force. You will fight to your last breath. I understand, because I would do the same. I respect that. The problem is that you will die. Your people will die. I’ve seen the reports on your defenses – you’re not equipped to hold out for more than a few months under siege, and that’s only if you can prevent them getting boots on the ground.”

Rey stared the king straight in the eye. “Is this room monitored?” Her people and his waited outside, close enough to leap into action should action be necessary but not so close that they’d overhear a private conversation. Nalti had been nonplussed at being excluded, but she’d accepted the decision because she had to.

He blinked at the change in topic. “No.”

She probed his answer with the Force. Truth, it whispered.

Rey twisted the activation sequence on her bracelets as she spoke. She’d slipped them on after Desomma finished with her hair, and her shimmering cloak had hidden them from prying eyes. “I have an alternative proposition. If you compromise for now, you will have time to build resources and allies to oust the First Order from your world when conditions allow. To help, I will introduce you to a powerful ally in the Resistance who can give you advice, direction, and help you coordinate with like-minded sovereignties.”

The king raised a hand, his baffled expression encouraging her to stop and let him speak. “You are not an assassin?”

Rey blinked at him. “No. Why would you think that?”

The king ran a hand over his bug-like face. “We had a transmission from your ship warning us that they were sending an assassin disguised as a diplomat.”

It took a moment for the implication to sink in, and Rey turned cold with fury.

Someone on the Dominance wanted her dead.

“Were you able to tell who sent it?” she asked.

The king shook his head. “I am sorry. I did not realize…”

She waved his apology away, the gears in her head turning. “Don’t apologize. I shouldn’t be surprised that they’d do this.”

Yet she was surprised. Not that they wanted her dead but that they’d risk going against Ben like this. It was a dangerous game they played, and it made her anxious for his safety. She wanted to leap from her seat and return to the Dominance right away, but she tamped down the panic with monumental effort. She had a job to do, and she wasn’t done yet.

“Why do they send you here, then? Don’t they know you will betray them?”

She sighed and reached for her tea before remembering the poison. The king smiled ruefully and took the tea away, pouring it into a potted plant nearby.

“They couldn’t tell me no,” she murmured.

“Surely…” said the king.

“I’m marrying the Supreme Leader,” she explained. It was her turn to be rueful. “He lets me get away with things.”

The king drew back. “I have heard tales of that creature. Old and ugly and cruel.” He examined her with obvious concern. “You do not need to go back to that. You can stay here. We will protect you.”

Rey smiled, feeling genuinely fond of the king in that moment. “There’s a new Supreme Leader, and he’s much more… pleasant. You don’t need to worry about me.”

“Ah,” said the king, leaning back with a mischievous twinkle in his black eyes. “Young and attractive, I presume.”

Rey blushed and started to deny it, but then she shrugged. “Yes.”

“And he has you on a long leash.” His gaze became speculative, and eventually he nodded. “Very well. Tell me of this ‘alternative plan’ of yours.”

Leia was startled that Rey wanted to conference her into the negotiations, but she recovered swiftly and threw herself into helping find a balance that the First Order would accept. Hours slipped away as they worked, and the king had more food and drink brought in – the initial tea had been poisoned, but the little candied flowers had not, and Rey stuffed them shamelessly into her mouth when he persuaded her to try one, earning her a stare and then a grin.

Rey’s guards remained outside the room. Rey had let the king know that the people with her had to be kept in the dark about her unusual connections. She also asked that he keep the fact from his own people. He’d been reluctant but agreed after Leia had weighed in, assuring him that Rey was in the best possible position to destabilize the First Order and that endangering her would put everyone at risk – including the king himself.

When they took a break so that they could stretch their legs and use the facilities – they’d gone through two whole pots of tea – Rey had a moment alone with holo-Leia.

“Are you sure about this?” the older woman asked gently.

Rey winced. Sighed. “I can’t ignore who I am, or what I believe. I’m trying not to betray Ben, but I can’t just let the First Order destroy these people. The things they threatened to do…” She shuddered in revulsion at the thought of collapsing entire underground cities of civilians just for a strategic advantage.

Leia showed her age as both personal and professional grief lined the holographic planes of her face. “After what they did to the Hosnian system, I’m no longer surprised by any of their atrocities.”

“It’s the leadership,” Rey said fiercely. “General Hux and them. Everyone else just follows orders, but those… monsters are the ones putting these strategies out there.” Her lips thinned with anger. “If I could pack everyone up and disband the First Order, I would. Right now, today.”

Leia sighed. “You’ll need Ben on your side for that.”

“Yeah.” Rey slumped. “He lets me get away with a lot, but no one thinks I have any power on my own. All of it, every last bit, is because of him. He’s the Supreme Leader. I’m just the girl he humors.”

“Hang in there,” said Leia firmly. “I wasn’t lying when I said you’re in the best position to destabilize the First Order. If you can sway Ben to your side, even a little, you’ll have the foothold you need to take that damn organization apart.”

“Without bloodshed,” Rey said, a vision of the First Order falling into neat pieces painting itself behind her eyes, the people aboard the Dominance escaping across the galaxy like ants, humbled and purposeless but alive.

The look Leia gave her was infinitely sad, and her voice came out flat. “You aren’t that naive, sweetheart.”

No, Rey admitted to herself as the hopeful vision sank like water on the sand. No, she wasn’t that naive.

They finished the first draft of the treaty by dinner time and sent it to the Dominance for approval. It came swiftly back, rejected, and Leia took a moment to soothe Rey’s disappointment.

“I didn’t expect them to accept the first attempt. We’ll sleep on it tonight and come back fresh tomorrow.”

Rey switched her bracelets off and looked at the king, who seemed tired but pleased with the events of the day.

“I’ve had my people prepare a celebration dinner, to thank you for your help.” A wry smile twisted his drooping mouth. “No poison this time.”

Rey laughed and smiled back at him. “I appreciate that.”

Before dinner, Rey requested and was granted a chance to contact the Dominance. The king let her know that her communication wouldn’t be secure, and Rey took that to mean that someone would be monitoring her call.

It didn’t matter, not when Ben came onscreen, his dark hair and pale skin perfectly framed by the grey of the room behind him.

“Someone’s probably watching this,” she told him wryly.

He didn’t smile, choosing instead to examine her. “Are you well?”

“Yup. Not a scratch on me.” She lifted her arms to show him, and he stared at them as if checking for damage.

“Those bracelets,” he said after a moment, tilting his head as if trying to recall where he’d seen them before.

Rey pulled her arms back under her cloak. “Oh. Yeah. They’re from, um… that friend. The one who sent the wedding gifts.”

“Ah.” The little frown line stayed, and his eyes moved to her face.

“Things are going well,” she said suddenly into the awkward silence. “We’re being fed soon – I’m told it will be good.”

One side of his mouth quirked upward. “You do like food.”

“I love food,” she bubbled, eager to reassure him that everything was fine. “That reminds me, I have to tell you about these little flower things they had with tea when I got here. They were prettier than they were delicious, and they tasted really good, which tells you how pretty they were.” The poisoned tea had been on her mind all afternoon, as well as the mysterious message the king had received. She needed to tell Ben but didn’t want that tidbit overheard by anyone listening in.

Later, she assured herself.

His smile deepened. “Ask someone to send the recipe to the Dominance. I’ll see if we can’t have it replicated.”

Rey grinned at him. She was glad to see his face and hear his voice. She’d missed him. She wanted to say the words, but they’d agreed to be circumspect about their relationship, so, instead of speaking, she gazed into his eyes, and he gazed into hers. Rey felt her insides melting, pulling toward him with unbearable longing.

Aw, screw it. “I miss you.”

His expression softened. He said, “I’ll see you before too long,” but she understood what he meant.

He missed her, too.

“I should go,” she said, mentally adding, before I say something ridiculously sappy.

He nodded slowly, pulling his Kylo Ren persona around himself. His eyes still burned into her, but no one looking at the feed would be able to tell what he was thinking. “Sleep well.”

“You too.”

She signed off, feeling a pang as the feed went dark, and sighed into the silent emptiness of the room.

Dinner was lavish and crowded, the king having invited all of Rey’s people as well as fifty or so of his close personal friends. Rey did find the noise useful at one point when she leaned toward the king and asked him to send her assistant the transmission data from the assassination message. He agreed and chugged from his goblet.

Rey enjoyed the food, but she was very much ready to turn in for the night when the celebration lurched – a little drunkenly – into its second wind.

“I’d like to go to bed,” she told the king when he encouraged his people to clear a space for dancing. He claimed to be too old to partake, himself, but enjoyed watching.

“The night is still young,” he protested. “Surely, you would like to dance?”

Rey smiled, trying not to wince. “The person I’d most like to dance with isn’t here,” she admitted. Then, because that sounded a little too sappy and wistful, “Also I don’t know how. And I want to be rested for tomorrow. And I’m tired.”

The king guffawed, holding his middle. “Enough, enough! I can take a hint when I’m bludgeoned with one!” He wiped at one wide-set eye and then the other. “Go on, then.” He gestured one of his servants close and gave him instructions.

The king rose to his feet and bowed his farewell, and Rey nodded back at him, internally panicking over whether it was deep enough for their new, friendlier understanding.

He bade her goodnight and gestured for the servant to lead her to her room for the night. Her people fell in behind her, and Rey felt suddenly bone-weary.

It had been a long day.

Rey spared a few minutes for an end-of-day meeting with her staff, but Nalti soon shooed everyone out and helped Rey change out of her gloriously lovely gown and into something more practical for sleeping.

Rey didn’t know where her guards were sleeping, but she only had enough energy to wish she had the energy to ask. Her eyelids drooped, and the door to her room slid shut behind Nalti as the soft pillows swallowed her body like a ridiculously fluffy and colorful cloud.

The universe went silent for a moment, heralding the opening of her bond, and then Ben stood there, hands clasped behind himself, his gaze roving over her as if checking for damage or maybe just to reassure himself that she was there.

Rey smiled. “Hey.”

He let out a breath. “How was your day?”

“Interesting.” She tried to make her fuzzy brain work. There were things she needed to tell him, but pulling them up seemed a little like wading through uneven sand. First things first. “I need you to find someone who can trace a transmission.” There. Good. Rey patted herself on the back for being so clever.

“Of course. There are multiple communications technicians who can–”

Rey shook her head, rubbing her fingers against her scalp. It ached in a good way, finally free of all those decorative hairpins. “Someone discrete.”

He tilted his head to one side. “Very well. May I ask why?”

Rey was too tired to try to be clever again. She took her time, trying to think of how to break the news, and felt his tension growing the longer she delayed. Finally, she said, “Promise you won’t overreact.”

His expression darkened.

She huffed and dropped her head back against the pillows, still rubbing at her scalp. “Nalti has the information you’ll need – I’ll get it to you once you have a technician you trust – but the short of it is… um… the king told me someone told him that I was here to assassinate him.”

She peeked at Ben. He’d gone very still, his posture cold and predatory.

“But he doesn’t know who sent the message, so he gave me the transmission information so we can try to figure that out when I get back.” She yawned, pretending everything was fine and relaxed and normal so that maybe some of it would leech into Ben’s stiff posture.

“Did he know where the transmission originated?” he asked in a deceptively cool voice. “Origin can usually be pulled from the transmission data.”

Rey sighed. She didn’t want to withhold information, but she didn’t want Ben to start a witch-hunt on the Dominance. “What are you going to do if I tell you?”

His eyes met hers, fever bright, and she saw death there.

“I mean, like, how are you going to find whoever it is?” she muttered.

“However necessary,” he replied.

Rey groaned. “Ben, I am too tired to worry about you interrogating people right now. I’ll bring the information home with me. Get some sleep.”


She’d started to roll away from him onto her side, but she looked back over her shoulder at the sound of her name.

“How am I supposed to sleep after what you just told me?”

Rey understood. He needed to do something, to act. She was the same way, and so she took pity on him. “It came from the Dominance. I’ll get you the details as soon as I can. You find a good tech to pull it apart and see who sent it. Okay?”

His mouth worked and his hands clenched. She knew he wanted to break something – or, more likely, someone.

“I’ll be back before you know it, and we’ll figure this out. Together.”

Rey didn’t know when he disappeared, if she’d blinked to find him gone or if she’d fallen asleep. She only had a moment to feel his loss before sleep dragged her down and kept her.

Rey woke early the next morning and connected immediately to the bond. Ben had been waiting. His technician had made a secure channel for Nalti to send the transmission for decoding, and Rey summmoned Nalti and gave her the information that Ben dictated – careful not to let on that she was getting the information that very second.

Nalti set out the cream-and-lace gown before leaving to send the transmission . “It’s not as remarkable as yesterday’s, but you seem to have made a good impression on the king.”

“Seems so,” Rey said cheerfully. Her mouth twisted into a grimace as she thought about the concessions the First Order wanted. How were they going to find an acceptable agreement?

Flash, the sniper, was on duty with Rude when Rey poked her head out her door and asked for help fastening her dress, and then they had to wait for a servant to take them to the king. During the wait, Rey’s bond flared to life again and Ben let her know that the transmission had been safely received. She smiled but couldn’t talk because she wasn’t alone. Her people stood strategically around the room, alert but more relaxed than the day before.

The servant came just after Nalti returned, and Rey’s people fell in behind her as she was escorted to the king.

Her people stayed outside again, and Rey activated her bracelets and got to work. They worked for hours, sent a new treaty to the Dominance, and worked through lunch after that one was rejected. Leia finally said what they were all thinking, “I think we need to consider giving the First Order more and moving the bulk of your resistance underground. You need time to build resources, especially since the First Order is demanding that you turn over your weapons caches. You won’t be able to give them nothing, which will deplete your stores.”

They continued to brainstorm, and Rey found herself following the back-and-forth better than she’d anticipated.

Finally, just before dinner, they sent the newest treaty to the Dominance and… it wasn’t rejected. Instead, it returned with a selection of alterations which the king and Leia poured over at length. They had dinner brought in.

Abednedo compromised further, and it was late in the evening when the Dominance officially approved the treaty.

The king held the signed copy in his hands, his face weary and sad. “Thank you, my dears. You will never know what your assistance has meant to this old man.”

“I’m only sorry we couldn’t get those bastards to agree to better terms,” said Leia.

“You did your best,” he replied. They had not said so in front of Rey, for some reason trying to absolve her of future guilt, but she knew that the king and Leia planned to continue their strategizing after Rey left. Leia had been given the transmission codes for the king's personal, very secure communications channel.

The king reached and patted Rey’s fingers, his wide-set eyes meeting hers. “I know how much this could cost you, if you are found out. The First Order is not known for its kindness.” He inclined his head to her, a gesture of respect that had nothing to do with rank. “I will keep your secret, child.”

Rey felt tears prick at her eyes and swallowed them back. “Thank you, your majesty.”

They gazed mistily at each other for a moment, and then the king cleared his throat. “Yes, yes. I’m sure you’re tired. I know I am.” He stood as she rose, and the stoop of his back before he straightened made him look his age.

“If you change your mind about that Supreme Leader of yours, I have two grown sons you could choose from. I’d love to have you as a daughter-in-law.”

Rey laughed, taking his proffered arm as they stepped into the hall where her people waited.

“I’m quite serious,” he said, and he smiled down at her.

Rey smiled back. “I know. And thank you.”