Rose shifted on her feet, tugging at the too-short hem of her dress. All sequins and sparkles, tassels, and threads – designed to match the glittering opulence of the room that awaited them. As the lift finished its ascent, Finn reached over to squeeze her hand.
“Relax,” he said, voice sure and steady, brown eyes sparkling with warmth. “You look lovely.”
She felt the corners of her eyes crinkle with a smile, the one that always sprang to her mouth too easily, whether she was teasing her sister or regaling the other crew members with tall tales of exploits she most certainly had not done.
She couldn’t believe she was doing this. Her, a lowly mechanic, who was more at home with wrenches and gears than … whatever this was. She bit back a laugh that she was sure would have come out barked and mirthless. Paige would never believe it – not in a trillion years. That is, if her sister would ever return from her endless string of “reconnaissance missions” with Poe Dameron. If one could give an internal eye roll, Rose would have done it – every time she thought of her sister and the dashing fighter pilot heading off on some new adventure. Paige practically leapt out of her seat anytime Poe came around asking for volunteers. She was so obvious, Rose found it ironic that only the target of her affections seemed oblivious to them.
“You don’t look so bad yourself,” Rose trilled, attempting a light tone. She meant it, though. With his sleek jacket and straight-legged pants, he looked every bit the part. A mysterious stranger, one among the dozens here to spend their money with no questions asked.
“Casino floor,” the lift intoned, bringing them to a stop. Rose patted her hair one more time, to be sure it was still in place. It was barely long enough, but she had managed to twirl and tuck it into a single roll atop her head. She left her bangs, however, to fall loose over her face. She liked having something to hide behind, if need be.
The gilded metal doors slid open, and they stepped out onto the casino floor. The first thing she noticed – apart from the jangly music blaring from all corners of the room – was that there must be a hundred different races and species, playing at wheels and dice and she knew not what. She hadn’t the faintest idea about gambling, aside from the simple games she and her sister had played for pocket change growing up.
It took all of one moment for her clumsiness to go on full display; she bumped into a table she was passing by, jostling the chips stacked on it. “Hey!” was the only word she could discern from the gambler before he launched into an angry alien tongue. She mumbled an apology, adding a grimace for good measure, then hurried to catch up to Finn.
“Causing trouble already?” he asked under his breath, a hint of amusement breaking through his tense concentration. Red-faced, she held her tongue.
She couldn’t fathom the luxury in which these people lived. She couldn’t even fathom having enough credits to gamble away. But thankfully, she didn’t have to. All she had to do was deliver a message.
They could have sent the message ahead – delivered by droid or transmission. Like BB-8. She loved the little astromech, who always rolled up and chirruped at her when he returned from his adventures. She didn’t have a clue what he was trying to say, but he was awfully cute doing it. But he had of course accompanied Poe, on whatever task had summoned him and Paige.
They certainly couldn’t send anyone recognizable to deliver the message. Hence the mechanic and the former trooper – although tales of the rogue FN-2187 must have reached all corners of the First Order by now.
And it was too risky. They couldn’t chance anyone overhearing their message and thinking to sell it to the First Order for their own gain. Even though the Order now faced a setback with the destruction of Starkiller Base … the fledgling Resistance, like the Rebellion before it, remained vastly outnumbered.
Finn knew it. He’d told her of the ranks and ranks of troops, simply awaiting an order to squash them all like insects.
And yet here he was. Still fighting. Despite his injury, despite his barely concealed fear … still working to make sure their galaxy remained safe.
She wondered how much of it had to do with Rey. How much of him was waiting for her return. Of course he was. Rose had seen his eyes light up when he spoke of the Jedi-in-training. Had heard the note of pride, of protection, in his voice – though she surmised that the onetime scavenger had no want or need of that protection. Certainly not now, with her burgeoning Force powers likely growing in strength by the day under the famed Luke Skywalker’s tutelage.
And every day, Finn grew more comfortable with the Resistance. When he first arrived, he hadn’t even planned on staying. He was going to drop BB-8 and leave – take off for some far-distant corner of the galaxy where no one, not even the First Order, would find him.
Did he still have a family out there? Did he even remember? She hadn’t worked up the nerve to ask. But she suspected that was one thing he had in common with the scavenger, Rey. Rose felt lucky, in some ways, that her parents and younger sister were still happily settled on their homeworld. But she didn’t feel so lucky that she had to worry about them daily.
She saw him worry about Rey, though. He’d gone through so much to save her, risked so much to rescue her, and then … she’d simply left him again. Rose understood, of course, the importance of her mission – the potential her powers had to end all this – but still …
She’d seen her – the scavenger – when she had come to the Resistance base on D’Qar after the destruction of Starkiller Base. The girl who could break into someone’s mind and make them do her bidding. The girl who, if the rumors flying around base were to be believed, could now move objects with just her mind.
Rose had been among the crew rushing to check on the Falcon. The renowned ship that they had never thought to see in their lifetimes – right up until the moment they’d arrived on Takodana to find both it and its passengers in dire need of help.
But this time, there was no sign of its captain, Han Solo – only his first mate, Chewie, and the girl. Rose had been stunned by her presence. This was the one whom they had sent a squadron to rescue. The one who commanded all their attention. The girl had looked numb – had met General Organa’s gaze in a way that turned Rose’s stomach. That made her think she might not be seeing the Falcon’s owner again.
And Finn … he’d been clinging to life, bearing the wounds of a battle that he should never have been caught up in. She tailed him now, as he passed by the last of the betting tables and reached a smoke-filled lounge, full of murmurs and clinking glasses.
And then there she was: Holdo. The woman they hoped would be the recipient of their message. Her hair hung in soft violet-hued waves, matching a darker violet gown that draped in folds down her back. She lounged on a chaise, sipping from a tall, narrow glass of fizzing liquid, and watched with catlike eyes as they approached.
“Admiral Holdo,” Finn intoned, giving a brief bow and glancing around. “If we might interrupt … we bring you a message.”
“A message?” the woman asked sharply. “From whom?”
“From … the general.”
Holdo seemed unimpressed, simply raising her eyebrows and turning back to her compatriots.
“It is of the utmost importance,” he pressed. “Might we deliver it privately?”
Ever since Rey’s coded message had arrived, Rose had seen Finn play the hologram over and over, as she found reasons to walk past his room. The signal was so weak, it was a miracle it had come through at all. And try as he might, he’d been unable to get a message back to her.
But Rey’s broken words had come through, and that was all they needed to hear. “I’m safe. I’ve found him.
“I’m working to bring him to you.”
Finn’s eyes roved over the room, no doubt scanning for listening devices, as she herself was doing. Once he was as satisfied as he could be that they wouldn’t be overheard, he turned back to Holdo, who lounged on the chaise as if she had all the time in the world and didn’t care one way or another whether they delivered the message they had trekked halfway across the galaxy to give her.
“And why would I want to hear a message from that washed-up senator?” Her companions chortled, her own laughter ringing out.
It wasn’t until Finn’s next words that her eyes snapped to him.
“Because Luke Skywalker is alive. And we know where he is.”