When the Dominance reached Onderonian airspace, Rey went to see Nalti one last time. Rude no longer sat vigil, waiting instead in the transport hangar with all but Graves, who was on medical leave, and Rowdy and Ash, who waited for Rey in the corridor. She’d asked for them specifically that morning. She wasn’t sure why. Perhaps because they’d been with her first and had known her the longest. Perhaps because they’d been part of her mission to contact Finn that first night on the Dominance.
Whatever the reason, it felt right to have them at her back on this last walk through the ship as an unmarried woman.
Rey touched the glass of the bacta tank. “I wish you could be there,” she whispered. “I know you’d love the dress. And probably the ceremony. And… well, probably all of it. I don’t even know what it will be like, but I’d bet my lightsaber you’d love every moment. I hate that you’ll miss it.” She examined Nalti’s unresponsive face, the way her eyelashes had tiny bubbles on them and how the straps of her breathing mask pressed into her cheeks. She should have been hurrying Rey planetside with a grin and a spring in her step instead of floating there. “I miss you.”
Rey let her fingertips rest on the warm glass a moment longer before she turned to leave the med bay. The walk to the hangar was silent. Rey wondered if Ash and Rowdy felt as dispirited by Nalti’s absence as she did.
“Hovercams,” said Ash, stopping in her tracks just before they reached the hangar.
Rey turned around. “What?”
“Hovercams. We should requisition some hovercams to record the wedding, since Nalti can’t be there.“ Ash straightened and cleared her throat awkwardly. “That is… if you want to, ma’am. I was just thinking, she’ll be out of commission for a while even once she’s out of the tank, and it’ll give her something to watch to pass the time.”
Rowdy clapped a hand on Ash’s armored shoulder. “That is a great idea.”
Rey looked at them, a huge smile blooming. “It really is. How long does it take to get hovercams?”
“For you? As fast as a walk over to supplies. You’ll get anything you ask for.”
They chattered excitedly on their way to the supply depot and agreed to record everything, all the intimate preparation details that Nalti would have been there for, all the little moments she would have loved.
They were laughing as they gathered half a dozen hovercams and activated them right there in the supply depot, the flustered logistics officer leaning over his desk to gape as they left with their small armada of artificially intelligent holo-recording droids bobbing along behind.
In the hangar, the rest of Rey’s team waited with dark-haired Lieutenant Mitaka. He straightened as Rey approached, though he flicked a puzzled look toward the hovercams and seemed alarmed by all the laughter.
Rey submitted to sitting in back instead of in the cockpit only because she was, frankly, too exhausted to do anything requiring brain power and dexterity. Her sleepless nights had begun to catch up with her. She hoped it wouldn’t show too badly during the ceremony.
“You’ve been to Onderon before, Ash,” said Rowdy. “What’s it like?” There was an undercurrent of excitement among her guards, and Rey let herself get caught up in it.
“Humid,” Ash replied. When Rowdy prompted her for more, she added, “It’s a jungle planet. Dangerous wildlife, walled cities.”
Rey smiled wryly and rested her back against her shuttle seat. “I did ask for somewhere green.”
"I don’t believe it will be too humid where we’re going,” said Mitaka.
“Where are we going?”
“A resort town on a mountain. It’s not too far from the capital city, Iziz, but it’s on the other side of the mountain, so we’ll only see untouched wild once we land.” He fidgeted. “The altitude should keep most of the humidity at bay.”
“Sounds great,” said Rowdy.
Rey smiled and tried not to let her eyes droop closed. She blinked a few times, but when the transport jolted gently upon landing, she woke with a gasp, yanking her chin from her chest and looking blearily around at the others. No one looked directly at her, and she suspected that they were all trying not to laugh.
Except Mitaka, who seemed even more anxious to be on the ground than he was on the Dominance.
When Rey disembarked the transport, hovercams dancing around her, she stopped to take in the breathtaking view. A breeze carried the scent of lush green growing things as color rioted and the landscape unfurled far below.
The resort itself was by far the most opulent place she’d ever seen, decorated with violet shrubbery and a carefully maintained pond with water so smooth it reflected the blue sky, and little burbling fountains tucked into nooks and crannies like hidden treasures.
A woman several decades older than Rey and much more elaborately dressed gave a deep and perfect curtsy. She had a small retinue behind her, all of whom bowed or curtsied even more deeply, and Rey blinked and wondered how they all didn’t just fall over and how long had they practiced this move to get it just right?
The woman rose with a graceful smile, her knees not even creaking or anything, and Rey focused on her face. “My lady. It is such an honor to have you here. I am Serin, proprietress of this humble establishment. Please let me know if there is anything you need during your stay. No request is too large or too small.”
Rey gave her an awkward smile. “Um. Thanks.” She glanced around and added, “Your place is beautiful.”
Serin beamed. “Thank you, my lady.” And gave another curtsy. “I will see you to your room, and my handmaidens will assist in your preparations.” Serin continued to make light conversation as Rey and her people followed.
The room Serin led them to was not a bedroom but some sort of large parlor. All the furniture had been placed around the edges of the room, mostly tables and places to sit and a large well-lit vanity with a mirror beside a large window with an exquisite view of the jungle below the mountain.
Desomma waited inside with three droids, and Serin left two of her handmaidens behind to assist. Mitaka arranged Rey’s male stormtroopers at intervals outside the room, and the female troopers remained inside. Rey saw Serin’s handmaidens glance nervously at the armored women every now and then, giving them plenty of room, so she gave her women leave to take their helmets off. Only Valkyrie did, exposing the golden braid wrapped like a coronet around her head and a grin on her face which seemed to relax the handmaidens.
“What do you think of that view?” Rey asked Valkyrie.
Valkyrie raised an amused brow but remained by the door. “It’s quite a view, ma’am.” She pursed her lips and added in a wry undertone, “I don’t much like heights.”
Flash snorted, the sound filtered oddly through her helmet. “How’d you make it through basic training?”
“Didn’t say I couldn’t handle them,” Valkyrie replied easily. “Just don’t like them.“ She nodded pointedly toward the window. “Never heard of anyone falling to their death by staying on firm, level ground.”
Flash shook her head. “Chicken.”
Valkyrie remained unfazed. “Sure.”
Rey laughed and accepted a lightweight silk robe from Desomma. The hovercams turned politely away, and Rey stripped. She was about to tie the robe’s belt when Desomma grabbed her wrist.
“What are those?” The look in the older woman’s eye was alarming. Her face had gone simultaneously pale and mottled. She looked ill at the sight of Rey’s bruises.
Rey finished tying the robe with unsteady fingers and allowed the hovercams to turn back around. She ducked her head at the seamstress, trying not to anger her further. “I was attacked by pirates,” she said sheepishly.
“Those weren’t there yesterday.”
“They hadn’t turned pretty colors yesterday,” Rey corrected. She touched one of the thick purplish marks which crossed her collarbone. All said and done, she’d been lucky not to break any bones. “These are from the shuttle crash. Safety harnesses keep you from flying through the view port, but they leave marks when the impact is hard enough.”
The handmaidens stared at her, enthralled by the story, but they didn’t say anything. Rey lifted her brows encouragingly at one of them, and the girl drew in a breath and whispered, “That must have been terrifying.”
Rey considered. She hadn’t been scared so much as tense and worried. Adrenaline had kept her sharp, and her people hadn’t panicked. That part had gone about as smoothly as possible, considering. “I guess so.”
“Please,” said Valkyrie with a laugh. “You were cool as a cucumber. Crash landed the shuttle and saved our damn lives when those bastards blew the thing up. Only saw you rattled when Nalti got hurt.” Valkyrie met the handmaiden’s wide eyes with a grin. “Don’t let the sweet face fool you, this woman can kick ass.”
Rey blushed, flustered, and watched Desomma gesture wildly as she conferred with her droids.
Ash adjusted her weapon and softly said, “Discretion, Val.”
Valkyrie shrugged. “Not anything to be ashamed of.”
“True,” muttered Flash, who’d been nodding along with Valkyrie’s description.
“Yes,” said Ash in that same low tone, “but you’re embarrassing her.”
Valkyrie glanced at Rey’s red cheeks and offered an apologetic smile. “Sorry.”
Rey shook her head. “Don’t worry about it.”
Desomma and her droids placed a pile of small items Rey didn’t recognize on the vanity. “You’re lucky I brought my powders. I should be able to cover those marks, but I won’t have as much time to do your hair.” She shook her head and started muttering about being behind schedule. Rey almost regretted her side trip to collect the hovercams, but couldn’t quite manage it.
“I’m sure it will be fine if I’m late. I mean, it’s not like it can start without me.” Everyone stared at her, and Rey felt like she’d said something stupid. “What?”
After a moment, Ash said, “The Supreme Leader might not appreciate delays.”
Rey rolled her eyes. “Is that what you’re worried about? Just tell him it’s my fault.”
Still no response.
Rey sighed. “Okay. Look. Just send someone to tell him I said I’m running behind. He’s already here, right?”
“Yes, my lady,” said one of the handmaidens.
Rey nodded firmly. “He shouldn’t mind too much if he knows to expect a delay. And if he does have a problem with it, tell him he can come complain to me.”
One handmaiden looked like she might faint, and the other stared at Rey as if she’d never seen anyone so foolhardy. But the second one left to deliver the message and returned as Desomma began work on Rey’s hair, the hovercams capturing every tedious moment.
“No delays,” the handmaiden reported in a shaky voice, her arms wrapped around her body as if she could hide from whatever she’d seen.
Rey’s gaze sharpened. She wet her lips carefully, thinking, and asked in as non-threatening a voice as she could, “Did he do something to frighten you?”
The handmaiden shook her head. “N-no, my lady.”
Rey pressed her lips together, not entirely believing her. How stupid it had been to send this tiny mouse into the lion’s den. “Then why are you shaking?”
Valkyrie raised a brow, and Rey focused on her instead.
“Have you seen the Supreme Leader, ma’am?”
Rey frowned, not understanding. “Yes.”
Valkyrie pressed her lips together, hesitating as she chose her words. “He’s…”
“Imposing,” said Ash.
Valkyrie nodded her thanks and added, “Also terrifying.”
Rey blinked and considered all the times he’d interacted with her staff. He mostly ignored them, but when he didn’t…
Okay, yes. She could see it.
She sighed. “I’m sorry,” she told the handmaiden. “I should have gone myself.”
The handmaiden only curtsied, eyes down. “I’m honored to be of assistance, my lady.”
Rey hesitated, frowning. She didn’t think starting an argument about this young woman’s right to not be terrorized would help matters. “I’m still sorry.”
The handmaiden nodded and rose but kept her eyes down. Rey turned away, hoping the girl would feel better if she had a moment to compose herself.
Desomma finished Rey’s hair and made the hovercams turn around again as she helped her into her gown. They were allowed to turn back while the handmaidens fastened it and Desomma grabbed her powders.
“Bruises,” Desomma muttered. “You there, get me a towel to protect the gown while I cover these marks.”
One of the handmaidens abandoned fastening Rey’s bodice and ran to obey. She returned quickly with her arms full of white linens, which Desomma tucked into the neckline and straps of the sand-gold gown so that she could liberally apply her powders and paints to Rey’s skin.
Rey tilted her head back as Desomma pushed her chin up to get at a bruise on Rey’s jaw. “Huh,” said Rey, trying not to move her face too much. “I don’t remember getting that one.”
Desomma huffed irritably, released Rey’s face, and stepped back to examine her work. She picked up a different powder and applied it to the bags under Rey’s eyes. One of the hovercams zipped over for a closer shot of the procedure. “Your cheeks are positively hollow. Did you sleep at all last night?” She slathered more powder onto Rey’s face, and it felt almost as if she were trying to erase the face itself instead of just the irregularities.
Rey blushed. “Not… not really.”
“Brides,” Desomma grumbled, grabbed a rosier powder, and massaged it gently across Rey’s cheekbones. Out loud, she said, “I’m glad I brought extra supplies. You’re going to test the limits of my abilities, but I think we’ll be able to make you look human again.”
“Thank you,” said Rey, and she meant it. It didn’t bother her if she got married in rags with a thousand bruises on her skin, but… Desomma had been working nonstop for Rey since she’d arrived on the Dominance. She’d sacrificed for this day in particular, and Rey felt as if she owed the seamstress.
“Now your back,” said Desomma.
When the bruises on Rey’s back (fewer than her front, since the pilot’s seat had applied pressure evenly, unlike the harness straps) had been hidden beneath what felt like far too much powder, Desomma double-checked every single inch of exposed skin and touched up a few spots where the bruises just barely showed. She continued to look Rey over with a critical eye even as she proclaimed her work finished.
Desomma pulled the protective linens carefully from the dress and swiveled Rey to face the mirror over the vanity.
Rey barely recognized herself. Desomma had evened out the skin of her face, shoulders, and chest, but at the expense of her freckles. Rey’s eyes had been lined in something that made them glow green instead of hazel, and her lips and cheeks looked rosier. Her hair had been styled elaborately and crowned with golden flowers. As she examined her reflection, Desomma presented a golden necklace and draped it around Rey’s throat. It filled the blank canvas of Rey’s chest above the neckline. And… Rey looked down at herself. Yes, Desomma had applied powders to enhance Rey’s hint of cleavage (not even a hint, more of a suggestion, really).
Rey looked back at the mirror. She looked beautiful, elegant, and untouchable – and not at all like herself.
The handmaidens – really, what kind of job title was that? – cooed and gushed. Rey accepted their excitement with a wan smile.
She felt like a stranger in her own skin.
When Serin came to fetch Rey, she stopped and brought a hand to her mouth. “Worthy of a Supreme Leader,” she marveled, drawing herself tall before sinking into a curtsy that managed to be somehow deeper than all the others.
Rey felt her face heat as Serin held the curtsy longer than necessary.
“If you would follow me, my lady. The ceremony is about to begin.”
Valkyrie offered Rey a wink before putting her helmet back on. It eased some of Rey’s tension, enough that she turned to Desomma and held her palm out for the other woman to take.
It took Desomma a moment to get over her surprise and place her own hand tentatively in Rey’s. Rey squeezed it. “You put a lot of work into today. Thank you.”
Desomma blinked and nodded, her eyes wet and voice unsteady. “You’re welcome, my lady.” As she stepped back, she pulled a handkerchief out to dab at her eyes. “Happy to be of service.”
Rey had a moment to herself before she had to step outside. Three of the hovercams had zipped out to survey the decorations and the audience.
She glanced up at the hovercam in front of her, smiling in spite of her nervousness. Since this was just for Nalti, she winked and whispered, “I really hope I don’t trip.”
Serin returned to inform her that her cue would be in just a moment. Rey took a steadying breath, waiting, and Serin whispered, “Now.”
The scent of flowers assaulted Rey as she paused for her eyes to adjust, and then she walked as carefully as she could down the fabric-lined path before her.
She got an impression of gold and cream decorations against the backdrop of green foliage, music prompting her forward, before her eyes found and locked on the figure in black at the other end of the path.
He’d changed clothes, she realized as she drew closer, noticing the glint of silver embroidery down the front even as the extraordinary intensity of his gaze caught her.
She knew as their eyes locked that he didn’t care what she wore or if her bruises had been covered properly or if she could curtsy without falling on her face. She knew he didn’t care that her feet took her to him a little faster than the music or mind when a hovercam drew just a little too close as she placed her hand on his large, gloveless one.
His fingers wrapped gently around hers, and he nodded for the officiant to begin.
The ceremony itself was a blur, words spoken and repeated as Ben’s potent gaze burned into her own. The air around them began to dim to the deep gold of evening, the time of day on Onderon later than what she was used to aboard the Dominance. When the officiant ran out of words, Ben bent and pressed a chaste kiss on Rey’s mouth, their lips closed and only briefly touching. It was perfunctory and passionless but for the way Ben sucked in a breath as he straightened, as if the kiss had drawn all the air from his lungs.
He took Rey’s hand and tucked it into the crook of his arm as he turned her to face the small crowd. Her head swam, but she huffed a laugh when her guards burst into raucous applause. The officiant had to wait for them to quiet down before he could pronounce them wed.
Ben didn’t even raise a brow to silence them, which seemed odd, but a quick prod at their bond showed Rey that he was too overwhelmingly satisfied to be annoyed.
Rey felt the smiles on her, the silent proper ones of the guests and the genuine warmth from those who knew her. The latter gave her the courage to let her own grin slip free.
A gentle tug, and Rey allowed Ben to guide her back down the path toward the building. As they moved, her eyes caught on a shock of neat red hair toward the front, the pale man clapping too languidly to be polite.
She leaned in and murmured, “Why is that asshole here?”
Ben replied without looking. “I thought he’d be less likely to bomb us if he were in the strike zone.” He placed his other hand on her fingers and squeezed. “Just don’t drink anything he hands you, and we should be fine.” The tone sounded joking, but the words were anything but. Rey felt a little chill at the reality of her life from here on out.
Beautiful ceremonies and assassins.
There weren’t many in attendance. A complement of both high ranking and lesser First Order officers, Rey’s guards, some of the locals who’d apparently been allowed to attend, and Desomma in the back with her handkerchief pressed to her mouth, tears flowing freely. She offered Rey a watery smile as they passed, and Rey returned it.
Inside, Serin invited them to accompany her to the reception area.
“A moment first,” said Ben, and Serin guided them to a lavish parlor and left them alone, taking the hovercams with her.
Rey sagged against Ben, glad to have all those eyes off of her, and Ben pulled her into his arms. He didn’t kiss her, just held her, and she let him support the majority of her weight for several long breaths.
“Wife,” he murmured against her temple, making her heart thud in her chest. He placed a tender kiss there, then one by her ear, and another on her jaw. Rey felt herself melting, but he paused and lifted his head to look at her properly. “Your face is different.”
His bemusement made her laugh. “Oh. Yes. Desomma used some sort of powder to hide my bruises from the crash. My freckles didn’t survive.”
He lifted a hand and ran his thumb down her cheek, staining his finger faintly with the color of her skin. “That’s a shame.” Then, putting the subject aside, he cupped her face between his large hands and lowered his mouth to hers.
This kiss was nothing like the civilized peck he’d given her in front of their audience. That kiss had done little, but this stirred her body to gentle interest and then, as he deepened it, set her skin on fire. Her senses clamored for more, demanded that she push him down on a nearby piece of furniture and climb over him, that she lick and kiss every inch of skin she could find until he writhed and moaned and bucked underneath her.
He pulled back, chuckling when she tried to follow his mouth with hers. “Soon,” he promised.
Rey took a moment to make her head stop spinning, counting her breaths. When she felt steady, Ben took her hand and held it firmly on the way to the reception.
It wasn’t until the scent of food hit her that Rey realized her dizziness wasn’t all from Ben’s kisses. She hadn’t eaten since lunch the previous day, and she’d mostly vomited that up after her injection. No wonder Desomma had despaired over her. She’d been starving herself, and she’d never had much meat on her bones to begin with.
She sighed, drawing Ben’s glance. “I’m hungry,” she explained.
He smiled, eyes crinkling, but the warm expression slid off his face as they entered the clearing the resort had prepared for them. The role of Supreme Leader Kylo Ren settled over him just before eyes and hovercams turned their way.
The clearing had been decorated with little lights sprinkled over and around them like stars, the effect ethereal in the mellow twilight. Soft music accompanied the trickle of hidden fountains, and guests milled about with drinks in their hands which they raised to the bride and groom with a fresh smattering of applause.
Rey blushed and felt Ben surreptitiously squeeze her hand.
People approached to speak to them, but Ben brushed them off. Rey frowned at his rudeness until she realized he was moving inexorably toward the banquet table, tugging her along until they stood in front of heavily-laden platters and their taunting aromas.
Rey glanced up at him, but he only inclined his head toward the attendant and said, “Let them know what you want. They’ll bring it to our table.”
Her wide eyes took it all in, and her stomach gave a noisy rumble. She laughed self-consciously, and his lips curved upward. She shrugged at the attendant. “Surprise me?”
With his big hand still wrapped around hers, Ben guided her toward the table at the head of the space. Someone had placed it on a low platform and decorated it with a luxurious ivory tablecloth and garlands of golden flowers. On the far side, two tall chairs waited, facing the assembled revelers, and Ben released Rey’s hand so that he could pull her chair out for her.
Rey had not yet taken her seat when a boy who couldn’t have been more than twelve years old approached from behind Ben. It took Rey’s hunger-addled brain longer than it normally would have to identify the glint in his hand as a knife, but her body responded immediately. She shoved past Ben and slammed the heel of her hand into the boy’s sternum, sending him stumbling back before the knife flashed out and into the space she’d just been standing, her body already jerked back as Ben grabbed her in one arm and the boy in his power.
Rey pulled carefully from Ben’s – her husband’s – protective hold and approached the eerily still boy. Ben gave a growl of warning, but she ignored him and removed the weapon from the boy’s frozen grasp, handing it to one of her guards who’d joined them.
“You can let him go now,” she said over her shoulder.
Ben’s face darkened, but Rey met his eye as her guards readied themselves on either side of the young attacker, and Ben slowly dropped his hold.
“What’s your name?” she asked as Thorn and Rowdy each took one of the boy’s arms. He was a spindly thing, his biceps easily spanned by the stormtroopers’ grips. Rey was aware of the wedding guests gathering on the other side of the table, the safe side, and chose to ignore them.
The boy lifted his chin. “Thurmin Arbit.”
Rey felt her brows rise. “Why did you attack us, Thurmin?”
Thurmin’s young face contorted into a mask of rage. “You killed my parents.”
Something deep inside Rey folded in on itself. “Oh.” Then, “How?”
“We lived on Hosnian Prime. They sent me to visit my aunt here on Onderon, and then you killed them.” His voice had become a sob, and his eyes shone with tears.
Rey glanced helplessly at Ben, and the understanding she saw there made her knees go weak. She didn’t know if he felt anything about what the boy had gone through, but she knew he felt compassion for her, for how the boy’s suffering dredged up her own.
“He should be executed, not questioned,” said General Hux, who’d chosen to join them on the unsafe side of the table. He examined Thurmin with a sneer. “Dirty little beast.”
Rey rounded on him. “I won’t have a child murdered at my wedding.”
General Hux rolled his eyes, but Ben nodded his assent. Rey didn’t need his permission to protect the boy, but she knew that those around her didn’t see things the same way, and so Rey waited for this signal before she turned to her guards. “See that he gets home safely, and tell his aunt to keep a better eye on him.” To Thurmin, she said, “Don’t come back. I won’t be here to protect you a second time. And besides, you attacked the wrong person.” She jerked a thumb at Hux. “Starkiller was that guy’s project.”
Hux looked torn between arrogance and irritation. He settled for glaring sourly at Rey.
As Thorn and Rowdy tugged the boy past her and toward the exit, Rey murmured, “I’m so sorry about your parents.”
Thurmin spat on her.
Before Rey could do more than jerk in surprise, Ben had grabbed the boy with the Force and lifted him from his feet, his rage a live wire electrifying the air around them.
Rey reached out and yanked Ben’s arm down, breaking his concentration so that he dropped Thurmin and snarled at Rey, then stopped himself, seeming to remember where he was and why he wasn’t supposed to kill anyone. Rey kept an eye on him until her people had escorted the boy out of sight, and then she took Ben’s hand and guided him back to their table.
Her heart pounded, but she kept her face calm and her movements as normal as possible. An attendant stood nearby with a plate of food, and he brought it hurriedly over when Rey caught his eye.
It took Ben a little time to return fully to himself, and Rey gave him the space to do so, letting him work through his emotions without interference as she stared mournfully down at her plate. The attendant clearly didn’t know the first thing about Rey’s appetite – he’d served her dainty tidbits arranged artfully so that none of them touched.
Rey ate it all in record time, then leaned toward Ben. “I’m going to get my own food. Do you want anything?”
He shook his head, and she picked up her used plate and headed back to the banquet table.
The attendant balked when Rey started piling things on her plate, trying to talk her into letting him serve her and wouldn’t she at least like a new plate, but she smiled politely and ignored him.
These people clearly didn’t know how to eat.
“That was quite impressive,” said an elegant dark-haired woman who’d appeared at Rey’s elbow.
“Um,” said Rey. “Thanks?”
The woman smiled, flicked a hovercam out of her way (it zipped off in a huff), and gestured for the attendant to serve her, turning back to Rey as he busied himself. “You have great courage, taking on such a violent opponent.”
Rey shrugged and added a leg of something that had been roasted golden brown to her pile of food. “He was just a kid.”
The woman slid her a sly glance. “I was not speaking of the child.”
Rey did turn then, startled, and the other woman inclined her head. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Priya Dendup, Queen of Onderon.”
“Oh,” said Rey. She suddenly felt out of her depth, standing there with a plate piled obnoxiously high and a dumb expression on her face, but the queen only smiled at her.
“I apologize for worming my way into your wedding. When I heard the Supreme Leader of the First Order would be marrying his lady fair on my planet, and so close to my capital city, I couldn’t rest until I obtained an invitation.” She tilted her head and examined Rey with frankly curious eyes. “You are not what I expected.”
“I get that a lot lately.”
The queen laughed, even though it hadn’t been a joke, and slid Rey another sly glance. “Perhaps you can convince your husband not to take my throne from me. I am certain you have ways to get him to listen to you.”
Rey flushed, suddenly uncomfortable with the turn of conversation. The queen seemed to sense this, because she patted Rey’s forearm lightly, murmured, “Think about it,” and swanned off to join the small group of local guests.
Lieutenant Mitaka intercepted Rey on her way to the head table. He gave a deep bow and smiled, though anxiety flickered at the backs of his eyes as he glanced toward the table and Ben’s hulking form. “I just wanted to congratulate you, my lady, before I head out.”
“You’re going somewhere?”
“The Supreme Leader gave the majority of the Dominance shore leave for the next few days. I’ll be joining a few friends in Iziz tonight, since my duty as your security coordinator is finished.”
Rey smiled, surprised and pleased by this news. She hadn’t known Ben had decided to be so generous with his subordinates. “That’s wonderful. I hope you have a good time.”
Mitaka returned her smile. “Thank you, my lady. And many blessings on your marriage.”
“Have a good night, Mitaka.”
“You too, ma’am.”
With another bow, he left, and Rey continued to the head table unmolested. When she arrived, Serin stood menaced between a stormtrooper at her back and Ben’s looming darkness at her front. The poor woman wrung her hands and babbled, her voice thick with tears and terror.
“…no idea what he planned to do. I swear if we had even the slightest inkling – we’ve never had an incident like this in all our years, I swear to you, my lord, I swear it.”
Rey stepped past the distraught woman and ran her hand over Ben’s arm, hoping the touch would break his icy intensity. “Of course you didn’t know,” Rey said lightly.
Serin looked at Rey hopefully. “We hired extra workers for the wedding. He was only supposed to help prepare the grounds beforehand, he wasn’t even supposed to still be here!”
The stormtrooper spoke, then. “We found evidence that he’d hidden in one of the tool sheds until it got dark enough to sneak out. The knife belonged to the resort, but it’d be easy enough to sneak one out of the kitchen.”
Serin’s eyes darted desperately. “We did background checks on all of our staff, on everyone connected with the wedding. We knew his parents were dead, that he lived with his aunt nearby, but the records didn’t show how they died, and he was just a child…”
“Clever kid,” said Rey, edging further in front of Ben and pulling something chocolate-covered from the middle of her food. The move threatened to send the teetering pile further off balance, but she ignored her precarious plate and popped the small chocolate-covered thing in her mouth – it was a piece of fruit, and the combination was both refreshing and decadent – then spoke with her mouth full because she knew it exasperated Ben. “I would have done exactly the same thing in his position.” She licked the chocolate off her fingertips. “You have great food. Could I get the recipe for those little cakes? The red ones?” She didn’t care about the cakes, but she wanted to change the course of the interrogation before Ben decided that Serin’s head and body didn’t need to be connected anymore.
“Yes, of course, my lady,” said a baffled Serin.
Rey felt Ben’s chest move behind her as he sighed, and she knew she’d won. “You may go,” he rumbled.
Serin scurried away, and Rey turned to put her plate on the table. Ben pulled her chair out for her and murmured, “I wasn’t going to kill her,” in her ear as she took her seat.
“You had a lot of people fooled, then,” she replied, flicking a glance at their nervous guests. Ben turned his icy stare their way, and they all found something better to do.
Rey looked at him when he sat. He found her hand under the tablecloth, running his thumb back and forth over her knuckles, but he kept his gaze carefully averted.
Rey shrugged and used her free hand to shovel food into her mouth, particularly enjoying the tender, juicy meats. She loved fruit, but real meat had been almost as much of a luxury on Jakku as fish, and she’d had more than her fill of that on Ahch-To.
She didn’t notice Ben’s amusement until she finished and leaned back in her chair with a sigh, her stomach uncomfortably distended against the gown’s restrictive bodice.
He squeezed the hand he held and raked his eyes over her. “When was the last time you slept?”
Rey thought about it and pressed a hand over her tired eyes. Did naps count? “I’m not sure.”
When she pulled her hand away, Ben had summoned Desomma over. The seamstress sank into a curtsy. “Yes, Supreme Leader?”
“My wife is tired. See that she is made comfortable.”
“Of course. If you will come with me, my lady?”
When Ben released Rey’s hand, she stood, but a sudden impulse made her bend and kiss his cheek, leaving him stunned as she cheerfully followed Desomma indoors. A pair of hovercams followed them, and the two women walked side-by-side once they were out of sight of the party.
“Nalti would be doing this if she were here,” said Rey quietly.
“Have you heard anything?” asked Desomma.
Rey’s shoulders slumped. “Not today. The wedding… I haven’t had time.” She gestured at the hovercams. “She’s actually why I brought these guys, since she couldn’t attend in person. They were Ash’s idea.”
Desomma smiled. “That’s brilliant. She’ll love it.” When they reached the stairs to Rey’s room, Rey waved the hovercams back to the party.
Desomma spoke as they climbed. “Will you be releasing the footage? I’m no public relations expert, by any means, but it might help the First Order’s image to see the Supreme Leader doing something as normal – and romantic – as getting married.”
Rey hadn’t considered that. She didn’t like the idea of her private moments being ogled by strangers. “I don’t know.” She would discuss it with Ben.
“Hm,” said Desomma as they reached the top landing. Only one door waited, a work of art all on its own, gleaming wood polished to a rich sheen.
Desomma pushed the door open and let Rey step in first.
Rey gaped around a space twice as big as her own sitting room. A gilt-edged dining table with matching chairs outstripped the door’s beauty by a mile, lit gently by moonlight where it stood beside the room’s only window – a tall, wide opening boasting what could only be the resort’s very best view, its gauzy curtains fluttering inward on the night breeze.
And – oh.
A vast bed stood in the shadows against a different wall, unlit candles flanking its opulent bulk.
Rey’s face flamed.
Desomma smirked but didn’t comment as she gestured to the broad wardrobe near the bed, her hands busy as she found and lit the room’s lamps. “All your things are in there. I’ll help you out of your gown if you want to get washed up.”
“Thank you,” said Rey.
Desomma returned her smile, then motioned for Rey to turn around so she could undo the gown’s fastenings.
Once Rey stepped out of the puddle of expensive cloth, she felt lighter and more comfortable.
“Do you want me to cover the rest of those bruises?” Desomma asked, looking critically at Rey’s ribs where the bodice had hidden the damage.
“No,” said Rey. She intended to shower, scrub her hair, and get the rest of that lousy powder off of her skin. “I’m fine.”
“Alright, then. I’ll just put this away and pull out your nightclothes. Do you want them in here or in the washroom?”
“Washroom, please.” A tingle of anticipation lit under Rey’s skin as she turned on the shower, shed her underthings, and stepped into the hot spray.
Desomma would finish her work and leave.
Rey shivered, and it had nothing to do with being cold.