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Of Particular Salience

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CHAPTER ONE

~  S  E  P  T  E  M  B  E  R   ~

THE ARTIST

 

 

 

It was an odd notion. To pose nude for a complete and total stranger. To bare her body and soul to a person she’d never met. To expose all her flaws and let it be documented.

 

It was an odd notion. And Finn told her as such.

 

“What sort of demon possessed you to pose nude for some broke-ass artist?”

 

Money, to be perfectly honest. She supposed it was a demon of sorts – it corrupted, possessed and controlled young and old minds alike. But with Finn moving out in the coming months, she needed the extra cash desperately. Rent was already tough, groceries always too expensive and if she had to give up alcohol to save a buck, she’d have to give up her will to live.

 

She never told him that, though. She didn’t want to be selfish and didn’t want him to feel guilty. She’d be a terrible best friend if she told him so truthfully. Instead, she opted the less honest route, spraying out her ‘love’ for art rather than her greed; to hopefully be a part of something bigger than herself one day.

 

Though, given on how unremarkable she was, Rey Niima doubted that was very hard at all.

 

“Something on your mind, kid?”

 

Her head snapped up so fast her neck cracked, meeting concerned hazel eyes and full-frowning lips. Rey winced and tentatively shook her head. He pointedly looked at the container sat in front of her, holding last night’s leftover spaghetti (blessedly cooked by Poe since neither she or Finn could cook a decent meal).

 

“It’s been ten minutes and you haven’t made a move to touch your lunch.” Rey avoided Han Solo’s eyes. “Spill it, gummy.”

 

“It’s nothing.” Her boss rolled his eyes and set down his plain ham sandwich with a huff.

 

“Nothing my ass. You’ve been quiet all day." He bit out gruffly. “Usually I can’t get you to shut up for five minutes, let alone a whole day.”

 

She glared at him and, just to prove a point, twirled a wad of pasta ‘round her fork. “Happy?” she said through her mouthful.

 

Han only scoffed before eyeing her warily. “You have a date or somethin’?”

 

Rey let out a short burst of laughter. “What gave you such a ridiculous idea?”

 

“It’s a Friday night and you’re acting odd. Figured you were going out with Teddo again—”

 

Teedo.” She interrupted stiffly. “And I’m never going there again.”

 

“Thank the Maker for that – he drove a fuckin’ Commodore.” Despite her irritation, she smiled. “What is it then? Come on Gummy, we don’t have all damn day.” He ducked down to look at his watch. “Fifteen more minutes, to be exact.”

 

“Maybe if you didn’t insult me I wouldn’t be so hesitant to tell you.”

 

Han snorted. “Not my fault your gums are bigger than my forehead, sweetheart.” She ignored his comment. “Look, I don’t care if you tell me or not – just don’t bring me down to your level of moodiness. I got a cranky wife at home to worry about, I don’t want to add you to the list too.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Okay?” His brow furrowed at her sudden compliant nature. “Oka… what is it, women problems? Is that why you won’t say?” He blew out a breath, suddenly very interested with the ceiling of their sitting-room. “Cos’, if it is, y’know…”

 

Rey groaned. She was not having this conversation with her boss. “It’s just this stupid thing I’ve got tomorrow.”

 

 “Well that isn’t vague.” He quipped.

 

“It’s this modelling thing.” She elaborated after shooting him a dirty look. “Some artist’s big project or something. I’m posing for him.”

 

An uncomfortable beat of silence passed between the two.

 

“Do I want to know what exactly this modelling… entails?”

 

“All you need to know is that I’m getting paid and paid well.” He nodded, probably gathering enough information to figure out the details on his own.

 

“Right. Well, you’re free to choose how you spend your weekends, I guess.” He paused. “Are you sure you’re comfortable with this, kid?”

 

She’d already asked this of herself. Plenty of times, the question had popped up in her head, mostly at night when sleep seemed to be impossible; each time held a different answer.

 

Oddly enough, she was comfortable. Not because of the neat twenty-per-hour payrate, or the chance of being a possible masterpiece. No, being naked had never truly phased her.

 

 As a girl, she’d shared showers with the boys and girls in the group homes to conserve hot water – never mind the budding breasts and sprouting hair. As a teenager, when Jakku had been blessed with rainfall, she’d swam naked in the quarry with her friends, all because she couldn’t afford a bathing-suit and didn’t dare chance ruining her knicker sets. As an adult, she’d shared her body with a few men here and there, melding naked flesh together as one; she never insisted on turning off the light.

 

She was born into this cruel world bare. Why should the thought of it be so uncomfortable?

 

“Yes.” She finally answered, after a time, Han’s eyes searching hers for dishonesty. “Surprisingly, I don’t mind all that much.”

 

His eyes narrowed in. “Then what’s the problem?”

 

“Just because I’m comfortable with it doesn’t mean I can’t be nervous about it.” She lied quickly. “That’s all it is, Han – nerves.”

 

But it wasn’t that simple. Han’s face said he knew it, too. Rey was never one to put herself down aloud, for fear of seeming like an avid attention seeker. But when it was just her, left alone to the running thoughts inside, she tore herself apart – bit by bit. She criticised her own actions, cringed at the sound of her own voice, cursed the sight of her own body.

 

It was the fear that had her on edge; fear that the artist would take one look at her and turn her away. Fear that Kylo Ren would despise her as much as her own parents did.

 

“Han.” She breathed a silent sigh of relief to finally have his intuitive eyes in some other direction. “Bala-Tik‘s here.” Chewie briefly stuck his scruffy head inside the doorway to grunt out the news, shooting off a beastly grin in her direction before trudging back out.

 

“Fuckin’ Bala-Tik.” Han grumbled in response, reluctantly pushing himself onto his feet. “If he’s dinged up his shitty Corolla once again, I’ll personally slam his head onto the hood.”

 

Rey snorted. “You’ll only ding it up more then, old man.”

 

He stopped short of the doorway, fixing her with a hard stare. “When I come back, that container better be empty.” He pointed at her. “I don’t want lousy work because of your lack-of-sustenance. Eat up quickly; you got the gums for it.”

 

He swiftly exited the room before the flying fork could hit the target.

 

And just for that snide comment, the petty side of Rey decided to pluck up his sandwich, happily choosing to ignore the fork that lay on the ground.

 

 

 

~ * ~

 

 

 

She decided to walk to the given address rather than bike over, given that it was only thirty minutes away. She needed time to clear her head.

 

Poe had offered to walk with her. Finn had offered to come with her in support. Rey was quick to say no to both.

 

Part of her wished she’d never told them just to avoid Poe’s endless teasing and Finn’s constant worry. Still, none of their words or threats could compare to Han’s.

 

‘If he lays a single hand on you, I’ll lay him out.’

 

That was about as reassuring as Han Solo could be. And although it did nothing to quell her nerves, it still brought a smile to her face.

 

She continued her slow-pace along Takodana’s bustling sidewalks, passing the busy cafés and restaurants by, block after block. It was a cool crisp morning that had Rey huddling into herself, gripping the straps of her well-worn backpack and making an effort to greet every stranger with a smile.

 

Some were happy to return the gesture; others only sneered.

 

It didn’t bother her either way. She’d always been a morning person, waking up to the rising sun, – if she didn’t, it meant a cold breakfast at the Group homes – dressing to it’s ascent. Early mornings were her routine.

 

She’d reached the string of modern townhouses sooner than expected. All too soon was she gazing up at the dark-brick two-story house that belonged to the artist, black Victorian-esque windows generously placed with a striking front door; dark-wood and sleek, a contrasting white design engraved into the material.

 

Rey’s mouth, on its own accord, fell open at the site. One tiny glimpse at the building and she knew Kylo Ren was certainly no broke artist.

 

She was itching to see his car, but her eyes skimmed over the empty-driveway with disappointment. It was probably some sleek, black beauty tucked away in the garage. She looked up at the house

 

Rey took in a deep breath, taking two steps at a time leading up to the front-door, gripping onto the straps as if her life depended on it. Very reluctantly, she raised her hand to press the buzzer.

 

She held her breath while waiting.

 

The door opened with a flourish and the first thing she noticed were dark eyes. Dark, unwavering eyes with deep, dark circles beneath the pair. The next thing that came into view was his prominent figure, towering over her slightly taller-than-average-height and a permanent pout on those pink, lush lips. His nose was protruding, slightly hooked if she looked closely and his hair nearly came to his broad shoulders in thick waves.

 

He had all the wrong the features. And yet, to Rey, he was immensely attractive. Tall, dark and handsome, indeed.

 

“Hello.” She chirped out, pairing it with a bright ‘gummy’ smile, as Han would say. “I’m Rey.”

 

His gaze wandered to her extended arm, continuing down to rake over her hips, thighs, and legs before meeting her eyes once more. “The model?”

 

Her smile faltered slightly as she nodded. She had yet to retrieve her arm. He had yet to shake it.

 

He hummed, cocking his head to the side. A singular thick, dark brow rose as he studied her once more. He snapped back quickly, moving aside to motion her forwards.

 

Definitely not a morning person. That or just a loony.

 

“Would you rather I take my shoes off outside?” She watched his lips twitch upwards, ever so slightly. Rey shifted. “So I… I don’t dirty your carpet, or whatever.”

 

He paused. “If you’d like.” She nodded, shucking off the cheap slip-ons and brushing past him quickly. He closed the door behind him.

 

The small foyer was plain but effective. A dark-timbre buffet table with a huge round mirror hanging above. There was nothing too fancy about the welcoming room, holding a few fake plants and an expensive-looking candle. No photos, no art – just the reflection of herself and the artist behind her, with a full coatrack to the left and a pair of flip-flops beside the door.

 

She suddenly wondered what his feet looked like.

 

“Is this your first time?” Rey jumped, brows furrowing in confusion.

 

“My first time getting naked?”

 

“Your first-time modelling?” He clarified with twinkling eyes. Oh.

 

Modelling – she’d never really thought of it like that. She was no model; she didn’t have the height, body or looks for it.

 

“Yes.” She answered slowly. “Is it that obvious?”

 

“Follow me, Miss. Niima.” He said instead, turning on his heel to walk into the open archway to her right. She took the opportunity to study him from behind. He was a clear lover of shades over colour, particularly black. He wore a black knit-sweater, clinging to his form – she idly wondered if he worked out – paired with a pair of snug-fit black jeans, dishevelled and ripped at the knees. She glanced over his backside quickly, noting he had a rather nice bum before continuing her way down. He wasn’t wearing shoes, but was organised in his choice of black socks.

 

She looked at her own feet, then – mismatched socks in colour, pattern and length.

 

When she looked up from the floor her eyes went wide. His living room was stunning, but it was the black-stone fireplace that took her breath away. Her gaze wandered to the painting above the mantel, various shades of red, white and black, to the inviting fluffy white rug in the middle of it all. He had a decent-sized tv tucked away in the corner, with plush charcoal-black armchairs and a dark-grey loveseat, a deep red rug thrown over top. It was simply gorgeous.

 

“We’ll be working in my studio for today.” She returned her attention to his back, following him through another archway, leading her up the stairs. He had an open bedroom on the second-story, a typical bachelor’s pad – she almost drooled at the sheer size of his bed.

 

He opened another door, revealing a bright small room with the morning sun streaming in. In the corner were two plain desks, paint splattered and worn, an easel and a stool placed in front. Cupboards and shelves lined the very back of the room and, in the middle of the dark hardwood floors, was a plain white chair.

 

“Would you like a drink before we start?”

 

She would very much like a glass of wine.

 

“Water, please – if you don’t mind.” He nodded and turned to exit the room.

 

“I’ll give you time to prepare.”

 

When he left the room, presumably to fetch her glass of water, she decided that she liked his voice. Dark and rich, warm and inviting – like honey and chocolate.

 

She took one last glace around the room before shrugging off her backpack, placing it behind her. Soon after, her blur jumper followed along with the loose-fitted lightwash jeans. She was only down to her knicker set when Kylo returned with the glass. He stopped abruptly.

 

“Leave them on.” He murmured, nodding at the sight of her. “The socks. Leave them on, please.”

 

“Okay.” She responded awkwardly after a few seconds of silence, taking the offered glass and a tentative sip.

 

What an odd request.

 

He nodded, flexing his hands before padding over to the easel and canvas. He set down a mug of water before grabbing a cup of brushes, various large bottles of paint that probably cost more than her rent and began prepping for the session.

 

With twitching hands, she reached behind her and unsnapped the hooks of her plain white bralette, shrugging the straps down her shoulders, the material joining the floor along with the rest.

 

Suddenly, she straightened. “Did you want me to shave?”

 

His dark eyes snapped to hers with the same cocked eyebrow. “Pardon me?”

 

“I was just wondering… it’s just, I haven’t been swimming recently so I haven’t bothered. You know, to shave.” His eyes never left her as she babbled on. “I never thought to ask if you had a preference—”

 

“Why would I ask you to do something with your body.”

 

Rey blinked at the sudden intensity of his voice. Her mouth opened and closed as she tried to formulate a sentence.

 

“Well, you’re paying me.” She blurted out. “To paint me – and, in this case, your preference would only extend to your art.”

 

Kylo cleared his throat. “If I wanted you clean-shaven, Miss Niima, I’d use my imagination. We were given one for a reason.”

 

Oh…

 

She watched his eyes slowly flit back to his previous task, his gaze never dropping below her neck, allowing her the privacy to remove the last bit of fabric from her skin.

 

She took her time in doing so, fiddling with the elastic band of her white cotton knickers. But eventually, after finally pushing the fabric down her thighs, they pooled at her ankles. Rey kicked them to the pile.

 

Suddenly, she was unbound and free; she was naked.

 

“Where do you want me?”

 

“On the stool, facing the windows.” He recited quickly, never looking up from his task. “Would you please cross your legs for me and slump once seated.”

 

“Slump?”

 

“Only slightly.” He said softly.

 

She did as he asked.

 

“Good. That’s perfect.” So, he was looking at her – studying the sag to her awfully small breasts, the rolls to her usually-toned stomach, eyeing each mole, freckle or pimple that lay upon her skin. “If you need a break, all you need to do is ask.” He began quietly. “If, at any time, you feel uncomfortable and wish to pull out, you’re free to do so. Are there any questions before we start?”

 

Rey had a thousand questions she wanted to ask. Why the bad angle, why the socks, why her?

 

Instead, she shook her head and pointedly looked ahead, avoiding Kylo Ren’s sinister dark eyes.

 

“Good.” He murmured.

 

It was the last word he spoke that session.

 

An odd notion, indeed.

 

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWO

~  O  C  T  O  B  E  R  ~

DARK EYES, DARK WORDS

 

 

“So, what was he like then? This artist?”

 

She frowned in thought, eyes drifting to scan the room. She knew that, sooner or later, Poe and Finn would want answers. She knew that the routine-invitation to Kanata’s was all a ploy to get said answers. There was just one problem, however:

 

She simply didn’t know.

 

To her, he was indescribable. There wasn’t enough time in the universe for Rey to process their unforgettable session – it’d only been a day since and she’d come to understand that. The only thing she knew; Kylo Ren was a freakishly tall, sinfully-good-looking, dark-eyed mystery. All wrapped in one.

 

Her eyes drifted back to the table of four, taking in the spooky decorations to match the spookiest month of the year. It was rather fitting when thinking of Kylo Ren.

 

“He was nice.” Rey avoided the intense dark gaze locked onto her and shrugged. “He didn’t really talk much. It’s hard for me to say.”

 

“So he never touched you, then?” Finn spat out frantically. “Never asked you to do something inappropriate or – or made a nasty comment?”

 

Her eyes found Finn’s loving boyfriend and the two shared an eye roll. “Nope. He was completely professional about the whole thing.” Rey took a pull from her Corona before elaborating. “He – he never looked when he didn’t need to, you know? He was very respectful, offering me a drink before we started and always making sure I had relaxing breaks in-between. He was…just nice.”

 

“And hot, I hope.” Poe slipped in with his trademark ‘million-dollar’ grin, casually throwing an arm around Finn as he settled into the booth. “Imagine that; a dark brooding artist, with good hair and pretty eyes – serving up some Jack Dawson looks.”

 

Rose giggled and turned to fix her with an amused stare. “Did he paint you like one of his French girls?” 

 

Rey laughed bitterly. “I wish.” She mumbled. “I bet it isn’t flattering at all, with all the slumping rolls and odd socks – you should’ve heard what he requested.”

 

“What?” Finn’s eyes narrowed in. “He never showed you his work after all those hours?”

                                                                                                

“No, it was unfinished.” Rey hummed, removing her lips from the bottle. “And even if he had offered I’d have likely refused – I never want to see those paintings. Ever. It’s too weird, you know?”

 

“Fucking yes it’s weird. Stripping in front of strangers and letting them paint and display your body to the world will always be too weird. I still can’t believe you’d agree to such a thing.”

 

“I don’t think it’s weird.” Poe interjected quickly, putting a stop to Rey’s snappy retort. “There’s something truly amazing about a naked body – almost like you’re baring your soul to the universe.” He turned to his boyfriend, eyes flicking down to his full lips “Don’t discredit the art, babe – it’s something beautiful to behold.”

 

Rose cleared her throat, eyes flicking between the two. “Well this just got oddly sexual.”

 

Poe laughed at this. “Take it how you want to, Tico.” He gave Finn a quick peck on the lips before settling his twinkling eyes back on Rey. “You never answered my question before; about Kyle Ron being hot.”

 

Rey bit her lip to keep herself from laughing. “It’s Kylo Ren.” She corrected light-heartedly, idly wondering how the man mentioned would react to the mispronunciation. “And I never got a good look.” She lied. “He was always behind an easel and canvas.”

 

“Really?” Rose questioned. “You didn’t even get a slight glimpse to get a general idea?”

 

“He wore a lot of black.” She scrunched her nose and pointed her beer in Poe’s direction. “And he did have rather nice hair.” With a marble-statue like ass, an intense gaze that could test Mr. Darcy’s and those goddamn lips – pink, like a summer’s afternoon sky. “Scowled a little too much for my liking.”

 

Poe gave her a pointed-look along with a pointed-finger. “You better get a proper look next time, Niima.”

 

“Yeah, snap a discreet photo or something.” Rose agreed before raising her glass high in the air. “I’m empty – who’s keen for the next round?”

 

“Only if it’s on you, Tico.” Finn remarked quickly before downing the rest of his Great Northern.

 

“I suppose.” She grumbled out to the group’s delight, who all whooped in agreement as the short feisty lady clambered over Rey like a stealthy cat, right before disappearing over at the bar.

 

“So when’s this next art session of yours?” Poe nodded in her direction.

 

“I don’t know, he said he’d contact me in the upcoming weeks.” Rey circled the rim of the bottle neck. “Not until he’s finished the first painting, at least.”

 

“What’s it even for?” Finn questioned with a scowl. “Like, what’s the whole point of this project?”

 

“I never asked.” She didn’t even think to ask, even as she redressed and was ushered out of his house with all the pleasantries involved. She certainly had the time to ask, with all the sitting and the silence. “Something to do with different months, I guess.”

 

“Changing of the seasons?” Poe suggested before shrugging. “I mean, who really cares when you’re nearly getting paid two-hundred bucks—”

 

“—For virtually sitting on my ass.” Rey finished with a sigh. “For eight fuckin’ hours, slumped in an unflattering and uncomfortable position. Wearing fucking ugly socks, tits out and all – oh, and I completely forgot to shave. It’s about as patchy as your beard down there, Dameron.”

 

Poe cackled and took the blow. “Free the nips, Rey! Free the flaps.” Even Finn cracked a grin at this, shaking his head as Poe ran a hand through his scruff. “And, excuse you, my beard is not patchy. I go to a very professional barber for this money-maker.”

 

“It’s looking a little grey.”

 

“Are you saying you have grey, patchy pubes, Niima?”

 

“Why do I love you?” Finn groaned out, pushing himself out of Poe’s embrace. “You’re so uncivilised.”

 

“And devilishly handsome. Charming, too – I quite literally charmed the pants off you.”

 

“Don’t forget modest.” Rey quipped as Finn pushed his lover away, eyes rolling into the back of his head. “You’re just so humble and wise, Poe.”

 

“Don’t worry, Peanut, it comes with age.”

 

“First of all, fuck you. I’m only thirty-six.” Poe scowled, though it did nothing to diminish his stunningly good looks. “Also, you can keep him Rey. I don’t want him anymore.”

 

“Fine by me.” Finn shrugged his response. “Rey’s always been more fun anyways.”

 

“Yay!” Rey cheered, bright smile and all.

 

“Just kidding, you can’t have him.” Poe said quickly, shoving Finn’s head roughly into his chest, swaddling him like a child. “He’s mine, so back off.”

 

“Noooo!” Rey drawled out dramatically. “Who’ll do the dishes?”

 

“You.” Finn deadpanned after escaping Poe’s tight hold. “Like the perfectly-abled adult you are.”

 

 

“Well adulting fucking sucks ass.” Rose appeared again, empty handed, catching the clipped-end of the conversation. “And you can thank this adult-woman for scoring us free drinks, curtesy of Maz Kanata herself.”

 

She beamed at the group before turning to gesture at the small old lady, barely visible over the tray of drinks she held.

 

“A Bloody Mary to each of you for the bloodiest month of the year.” The short woman boomed, cackling as she all-but slammed the tray on the table with a horsey grin.

 

“Thank you Maz – you’re an absolute angel.” Maz waved away the smooth-compliment from Poe. “You’ve really gone all out this year. The place looks great.”

 

“Oh?” The old woman feigned surprise. “It’s just a few cobwebs and skeletons placed here and there, nothing special.”

 

Rey almost laughed at the severe understatement – the place was decked out in LED lighting, jack-o-lanterns, scary wart-faced witches and tasteful skeletons dressed in tuxedos. In a single day, Kanata’s had turned into a bloody haunted house; all due to Maz Kanata’s love for the seasonal holidays. She didn’t doubt that on November 1st, the room would be dressed with tinsel, wreaths and pine-needles – and just because she was cheeky, an unexpectedly-placed mistletoe or two.

 

“The place really does look great, Maz.” Rey agreed. “I try and convince Han to spice up the shop with a little decorating every now and then but he’s too bloody stubborn.” Rey grumbled.

 

“You send that old-fart here and I’ll straighten him up real fast. It’s been too long since he and my husband have dropped in for a beer.” Chewie would have a differing opinion, for sure.

 

Rey chuckled along with the group. “Will do, Maz.”

 

“Alright kids. Enjoy the freebies while I go charge my other customers.”

 

“Thank you Maz.” The group cooed in sync as she hobbled back to the bar, most likely to converse with all the other regulars.

 

“God, I love that woman.” Rose said in awe, Poe humming in agreement and Finn nodding absently.

 

“To Maz.” Poe suddenly plucked up his Bloody Mary and held it high in the air. “A woman who can run a mean fucking bar.”

 

They wholeheartedly agreed to the statement, whipping up their glasses to sloppily clink them together, a resounding ‘CHEERS!’ following the chime-like sound. This was only the beginning to their night. 

 

 

 

~ * ~

 

 

 

“Who’s KR?” Rey Niima stilled underneath the 2000 Corolla Hatchback with the faulty fuel-pipe. “Your damn phone hasn’t stopped dinging for the last two minutes because of this asshole.”

 

Rey Niima smoothly rolled out of her position, resurfacing a whole lot greasier, and found herself staring up at Han Solo clutching her phone with it’s glimmering-pink case. He looked down at her before his eyes returned to the phone, reclining his head and squinting at the screen.

 

“Free for a session Saturday if you are.” He murmured and scrolled. “Same time, same pay – Christ, kid, are you a prostitute or something.” He joked as she slowly hoisted herself to a sitting position, letting the blood flow back to her head before she proceeded to stand.

 

“Oh, yes. Twenty-an-hour, he pays me.” She chirped, brushing her sticky hands on the back of her pants.

 

“You’re selling yourself short.” He muttered, holding out her phone. “Do me the honour of shutting him up, please.”

 

She laughed and took her phone. “It’s the artist I told you about, remember?” She explained as she took in the home-screen of her phone, filled with texts from Kylo Ren. “The one I’m posing for.”

 

It was mid-October. The man had been eerily absent and silent for close-to-four weeks, until now. Obviously, she’d been an anxious wreck. It was a nice feeling for the tightness in her stomach to lighten.

 

“How could I forget?” Han grumbled, turning away to head back into the break-room, back to the documents and papers he loathed to do.

 

“I assumed you’d forgotten.” She replied, hot on his heels while she unlocked her phone. “You never asked how it went.”

 

“I don’t wanna’ know, Gummy. I don’t wanna’ know any of it.” She hummed, smirking as the man halted and set his hazel eyes on her. “But, just out of curiosity, he never did anything weird or…gross?”

 

She groaned. “No. No, for the thousandth time. He was perfectly professional and respectful about the whole thing.”

 

“Good. Good.” He nodded. “Because I’d hate to break a complete stranger’s legs—”

 

“Oh, fuck off.” She shook her head, ignoring his grin as she bent to type out her reply.

 

Saturday sounds good.
Got any preferences for this one???

 

“You know, this stuff isn’t uncommon. And with something as ‘out there’ as this, it isn’t a strange thought to cross a man’s mind, you know. Anything can happen.” Rey clenched her jaw. “I’m being serious, Gummy. You tell someone if this shit happens, okay?”

 

“You do know I can look after myself, yeah?” She snapped, avoiding the frowning face pointed in her direction. “I’m used to looking after myself.”

 

“I know.” He said softly. “That’s why I worry. Am I not allowed to worry?”

 

She’d been on her own for so long. It was hard to accept that people cared, sometimes – cared enough to ask if she was okay or how she was doing. It was so foreign that there were people she knew that were interested in her wellbeing and cared enough to worry.

 

And it was so easy to shut them out.

 

Her phone pinged in the silence of the break-room.

 

“What did I say?” He said lightly, pointing a finger in her direction, the tense atmosphere disappearing just as quickly as it came.

 

No preferences or requests needed.
Just bring yourself.

 

She smiled.

 

Ok see u then :)

 

All in black, probably. She wondered if he’d request she leave her socks on again. Perhaps she’d forgo them, this time – or maybe spend more than two minutes to find a matching pair.

 

“Knock, knock.”

 

Her head snapped up in the direction of the feminine voice. Han’s wife stood in the doorway, looking as gorgeous as ever even with the greying hair and the forming wrinkles. Age simply couldn’t take away beauty from Leia Organa-Solo.

 

“It one o’clock already?” Han questioned, squinting at his wife.

 

She ignored the question, pushing into the room with the plastic bag of take-away in hand. “He hasn’t been irritating you too much today, has he Rey?” Han could only gawp as she quickly swooped up all the documents, setting them into a neat pile off to the side – all under five seconds.

 

“When does he not irritate me?” She gave Rey a warm smile before turning on her husband.

 

“You don’t still call her that horrible name, do you?”

 

“You mean Gummy?” He asked, earning a quick swat to the shoulder.

 

“You be nice.” Leia said sternly. “And you – sit and eat.” Rey was never one to disobey one of her firm order’s, taking a seat at the far-end of the table as the middle-aged woman began to lay out the Indian food.

 

“Spicy?” Han whined. “Again?”

 

“Butter-chicken is not spicy.” She said in a tired tone. “And it’s high-time you got more cultured. You’re sixty-three years old and you’re fussier than a child. How do you put up with him for eight hours, Rey?”

 

“You married me.” Rey smiled softly at the couple.

 

It was all pretend. Despite her rants, she still happily plated his butter-chicken with the Greek-yoghurt dip on the side, choosing the biggest roll of naan bread to place on his plate. And anyone could see the clear, utter devotion Han had for his wife. The bickering was a farce – underneath, there was a love Rey knew was near-impossible to achieve.

 

She never saw such passion in her own future. She was just happy she got to see such a lovely relationship every Tuesday; or, as Leia called it, Take-away Tuesday. That or, unofficially, the day Han begged his wife to come in and ‘help with the legal-shit.’

 

“So, what were you whining about to poor Rey before I saved her?” Leia smirked at her husband after retrieving Han’s stashed red-wine, pouring out three generous mugs.

 

“We were actually talking about Rey, your royal highness.” Han grumbled. “And how that artist-boyfriend of hers won’t fuckin’ stop texting.”


“Boyfriend?” Leia cocked an eyebrow.

 

“He’s not my boyfriend, I’ve literally only met him once.” Rey sighed before elaborating. “I’m posing for his upcoming art project; a series of paintings. It’s just a little extra cash on the side sort of thing, you know?”

 

“How lovely. Well he’s lucky to have such an excellent model” She said, smiling softly. “What sort of posing?”

 

Rey flushed and remained silent.

 

“Oh.” Leia said softly. “Right. Well, I used to model for Han all the time, you see, though he was never an artist.” The old woman cocked her head. “Occasionally, if the night’s right, I’ll strike a pose.” 

 

Rey cracked a smile, the embarrassment slowly fading away. Leia certainly had a way of brightening the mood, her words carrying a particular warmth that had no rival.

 

“What’s he like, then? Is he handsome?” She leaned in and ignored her husband’s scoff.

 

“Yes. Very handsome.” It was strange to finally admit it aloud – and why she couldn’t do so in front of Poe, Finn and Rose was still a mystery. But she was almost compelled to tell Leia every single little detail; to describe the slight hook to his nose and the light flecks in his dark eyes.

 

“Did you feel vulnerable in that position?”

 

“Weirdly enough, I didn’t.” She admitted quietly. “I felt as if – well, I don’t know how I felt. I still haven’t really come to terms with it all. I just know that it doesn’t… put me off, entirely.”

 

“Do you know if he’ll have a display once finished?” She asked, taking a sip from her mug.

 

“I think so. In the advertisement for the project, it mentioned that it was intended to be displayed. But, it’s a series of twelve paintings over twelve months so I couldn’t be one-hundred-percent sure.” She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

 

“Well, when the time comes around, give us the name of the gallery and we’ll pop around to see—”

 

“Speak for yourself.” Han interrupted.

 

“Oh, come on sook.” Leia muttered. “It’d be amazing to see. The art would surely be fantastic if our dear Rey is in it.”

 

“It’s too damn weird. It’d be the same as a father seeing his grown-adult daughter like… like that.” Rey stopped chewing, eyes searching the flushed face of Han Solo.

 

Did he really see her in that way?

 

When she was a little girl, back in Jakku, she’d imagined this way too often. Having an over-protective father who’d do anything to shield his baby-girl from the horrors of the world. She’d constantly create this scenario time and time again – anything to take her mind away from the fear of being taken away again; the fear of being tossed around the broken system.

 

Even as an adult, accustomed to the ways of the world, she’d found herself comparing Han Solo to the father she never had. Not once did it ever cross her mind that maybe, just maybe, she was the daughter he’d never had.

 

 But that was a ridiculous thought. I stupid, naïve thought that belonged to the younger, more hopeful Rey. If Han Solo and Leia Organa wanted kids, nothing would’ve stopped them. Even if fertility problems were the case, Rey didn’t doubt they’d adopt or be the rare foster parents that were well-off and also kind-souls.

 

To Han Solo, she was just his employee and nothing else. And what sort of person wanted to see their co-worker naked in a series of artwork? He was right – it was too weird. His words only expressed the level of uncomfortableness it’d be if he viewed such work.

 

Leia and Han were their own family. A family she’d never be a part of it. And she was okay with that – truly, she was used to being alone.

 

“Top up, anyone?”

 

Rey painted on a smile and held out her mug.

 

 

 

~ * ~

 

 

 

It was the knickers he requested to stay on rather than the socks. Simple, plain and dull blue knickers. No fancy materials involved, just cotton.

 

He also changed up the setting, opting for the living-room rather than his bright studio. She sat perched on her knees, completely straight and upright, focusing on that beautiful red painting. It must’ve been the best couch she’d ever touched. Her breasts perked upwards, nipples hardening due to the cool autumn weather.

 

She hoped he didn’t notice.

 

“Where are you from?” Startled, Rey looked away from her set position and met the warm, rich dark eyes of Kylo Ren. He never asked a single personal question during their last session. “I know you’re from the Western Reaches but I can’t quite place the exact accent.”

 

She hesitated. “Jakku.”

 

He cocked an eyebrow. “Jakku.”

 

She was quick to snap her head back in position, eyes back on the painting as he murmured the town.

 

“Did you like it there?” he hummed out, after a time.

 

Rey unintentionally scoffed. “Does anyone?”

 

Never in a million years did she expect to hear an amused snort from Kylo Ren. “I suppose not. Though I’ve never been. You don’t miss it, then?”

 

Not a single fucking bit. “Not really.”

 

“What about your friends and family?”

 

“I suppose.” She didn’t need to look to know that singular, dark eyebrow would be cocked high into his hairline. He didn’t comment on her vague response, however.

 

“It’s okay if you don’t.” His cool voice drifted. “Not everyone has a perfect family – I could write a book on mine.” Not everyone has a family. She bit her lip before blurting out.

 

“My father wanted me to carry on the family business.” He continued on bitterly, a sharp edge to his tone that had her body tensing. “Art was my passion, though, but he never could understand. Creativity isn’t practical to him.”

 

Rey tried not to furrow her brow. She didn’t understand where this confession was coming from. She certainly had no idea why someone like him would tell her this.

 

“My mother, on the other hand, doesn’t have a problem with my career choice. It’s academic, teaching young teens about the historic value art has – and cleaning up the mess after they’ve broken out in a clay fight.” He was becoming breathy as he talked, voice loaded and heavy. “Still, she never showed up to my art showings or my presentations. She showed up to my graduation.” His voice rose a little too loud. “Albeit late, but hey – at least she showed up, right?”  

 

She held her breath, turning slightly to glance at the artist.

 

“And my uncle.” He laughed although it held no mirth.My art was never good enough. Always too bland, too much, or just fucking pathetic.” He shook his head, curls bouncing behind the easel. “God, he was the fussiest nit-pick asshole when it came to my art – fuck.” He muttered suddenly. “Fucking shit, I botched your nipple.”

 

He looked up and met her eyes. And for the first time unrelated to his canvas, his eyes flicked down her figure, no doubt taking in her flushed state.

 

Before she could blink, he was scooting back in his chair, nearly knocking his setup-stand of paints and clumsily standing to his full height. He looked off to side, not meeting her stunned gaze as a large hand ran through his soft-looking hair. “I’m sorry – Christ, I’m sorry for just…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “It’s his birthday today. My Uncle’s.” He clarified awkwardly. “And, as you can probably tell, I don’t really get on well with my family.”

 

“Oh.” She cringed.

 

“We’re having dinner tonight.” He said softly. “To celebrate.”

 

A beat passed. “I get it.” She didn’t; not the slightest clue. “Every family is different.”

 

She’d lived with many different families and knew this to be true. But Kylo Ren seemed well-bred, as awful as that sounds – he grew up in a privileged manner, no doubt. Wealth doesn’t guarantee good parenting, Rey reasoned, but still; he has a family.

 

“Sorry.” He muttered again. “I’m sorry. Let’s just… let’s forget this and get back in position, please? I need to fix this before it sets.”

 

She nodded, turned into position and stayed silent for the last hour of their session. There were no more questions, no more rants and no more mistakes from Kylo Ren. Only the sight of the red painting to keep her focused. He didn't speak again until he announced they were done, allowing her to redress quickly and quietly as he cleaned up around his area. 

 

“The money went through alright?” He asked as she shrugged back on her hoodie.

 

“Oh yes. Thank you for that.”

 

Kylo Ren suddenly smiled. Her jaw nearly dropped at the new sight, taking in the rows of perfect pearly-white teeth and the way his dark eyes lightened – and the dimples. “I should be the one thanking you.” He said softly. “Without you, I’d be fucked.”

 

She bowed her head to hide the smile and turned to retrieve her coat from the small entry-way room. How did such a filthy word sound so lovely from his mouth? He followed her out. “I’ll contact you once I’m finished with this one. It’s the little details that take so long yet add so much to the painting.” She nodded, shrugging into her old grey peacoat that had seen better days. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”

 

Rey shook her head. “It’s fine, honestly.”

 

“Right.” He said awkwardly, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I’ll see you next time, Miss Niima.”

 

She smiled and opened the door. She stood still, taking in the heavy droplets of rain that hammered onto the roads and pathways. Fuck. Rey bit her lip, scanning the dark clouds. This wouldn’t let up for a while, it seemed.

 

“Is something the matter?” He asked after a good thirty seconds of her just standing there.

 

“Oh, only just a slight problem.” She admitted. “I actually walked here this morning. Would you mind if I waited here and got an Uber or a taxi or som—”

 

He held a hand to silence her. “No need. I’ll drive you.” She opened her mouth to protest but he beat her to it. “It’s the least I can do. Truly.”

 

“It’s fine.” She blurted out quickly. “I really don’t mind paying for—”

 

“Follow me, Miss Niima.” His words had such a commanding edge. She was compelled to obey such a tone, just like when Leia ordered her to take a break from work or sit down and eat.

 

She trailed close behind as his tall figure walked back through the living room, into a hallway – she barely got a glimpse at the kitchen – and to the end of the narrow room. They passed the staircase and headed for the door leading to his garage.

 

She nearly cried at the sight once seeing his car. “This is the 2016 Ford TIE Silencer.” Rey muttered in awe, taking in the sleek black coupe model. “Oh my.” She hushed out, taking no notice on the way his eyes curiosly searched hers, choosing to hustle down the steps to get a better look instead. “Look at the rims on this beauty. What’s the engine?”

 

“TurboDOHC 4-cyl.” He recited smoothly, cocking his head to the left while his arms crossed firmly across his oh-so-wide chest. She couldn’t help the ‘gummy’ grin when looking back at him. “I take it you’re into cars.”

 

“Oh yes.” She chirped as he plucked up a set of keys from the hook next to the door. “I’m actually a mechanic, so it’s sort of required. I'd absolutely love to fix one of these. And, you know, follow up with the test drive. Then fixing cars would be an absolute breeze." 

 

His forehead crinkled at this. “Wow.” He murmured. “Truly?”

 

“Is it so hard to believe that a woman can fix a car—”

 

“That wasn’t what I…” He trailed off and blushed. “Sorry. Your arms are just… you’re very little and skinny.”

 

“And strong.” She said fiercely, turning to glance back at the car. “Gosh, it’s just so lovely. I bet this cost four-times the amount of my whole life savings.”

 

The car unlocked with a click and she could barely contain her excitement, opening the passenger door. The interior was too good – black leather, the good kind that didn’t stick to sweaty thighs. She was glad to see it was a manual and fantasised about cracking open the sunroof so she could scream out into the world as they flew in the city, rain and all.

 

She buckled up once Kylo closed the door, with him following suit before twisting the key to start the ignition. The car roared to life and she gasped. She watched as he settled into his seat, fiddling with buttons that had the garage door rolling open. He shifted into first gear and rode the clutch out onto the drive-way.

 

“Oh my goodness.” She giggled. “It has heated seats.” 

 

He smiled softly at her before asking. “Which way am I turning?”

 

“Left.” She said quickly, turning to look out the rain-speckled windows as he smoothly rolled out and shifted into second and third gear. He didn’t play music.

 

“You mentioned something about teaching?” She blurted out when they were stopped at the first set of lights they came across.

 

“Yeah, up at Illenium Catholic College.” Private schooling, she noted. “In the CAPA department – mostly just art but I also teach English to a Tenth grade class. It’s a fascinating subject, art. The complete difference of teaching a senior class and junior class is incredibly amusing.”

 

“Cleaning up clay fights.” She repeated and he hummed in agreement. 

 

“Yes. That and constantly having to clean off anatomically-incorrect male genitalia off the desks.” He took off smoothly once the light turned green and continued. “But the seniors are actually interested and invested in the subject. Some of the work they produce is shockingly amazing. They actually inspired me to do this project.”

 

“Really?” 

 

“We were studying the ‘Wheel of Emotions’ with my Eleventh Grade Seniors. One of my more insightful students pointed out that some of the colours matching certain emotions felt off. I agreed.” 

 

She didn't bother asking what the 'Wheel of Emotions' meant.

 

“So this series is all about colour, then?” At his affirming nod, she prodded further. “What’s my body got to do with it then?”

 

He chuckled softly. “That’s a secret.” She frowned. “You’ll see at the showcasing, whenever that may be. I promise to explain it then.”

 

“I don’t know if I’ll even go to that.” She quietly admitted, wringing her hands together.

 

“No?” His brown eyes flicked over in her direction before focusing back on the road.

 

“No – take a right up at these lights – no, I don’t think I could look at myself like this.”

 

“Why not?”

 

She stuttered. “I-I don’t know, I guess it’s… it’s seeing a bunch of strangers reacting to my body sounds terrifying.” She shook her head at the ridiculous thought. “Seeing all my flaws in, documented onto a canvas. And them seeing it as art? That’s a foreign concept to me, I’m afraid.”

 

“True art-appraisers won’t just see a beautiful naked woman, Miss Niima.” Her eyes widened at this. “They’ll look at it and see a naked soul. Art is about arousing a certain feeling or emotion; carrying a particular message that some may or may not be able to understand. Much like music or films, art can tell a story – or maybe it's just something nice to look at, for certain people. But that isn’t me. And that isn’t what you're modelling for.”

 

She blushed. “I don’t think I’ll ever get that from art, sorry. I’m not the most creative person. I see things from a logical perspective. Believe me when I say, don’t ever let me sing near you.”

 

He laughed. “I’ll make sure you understand by the end. Even if it’s the most difficult task of my life so far.”

 

She smiled. “I hope I don’t disappoint. Take the next left on this street.”

 

They rode out the next few minutes in a comfortable silence, nothing but Rey’s directions and the obscure music Kylo finally switched on (not that it was all that pleasant to listen to) to hear. He parked outside her and Finn’s shabby apartment in half the time it took for her to walk, turning to her with a sheepish smile and a hand, once again, running through the soft dark waves of his hair.

 

“Thank you for this.” The rain hammered down onto the hood of the car. “You really didn’t have to, though—”

 

“Please.” He interrupted quickly. “It’d be rude of me not to offer.”

 

“Well, thank you anyways. I’ll see you next month, I guess.” She hesitated and turned to face him before she opened the door. “Oh, and I hope you have a pleasant dinner with your family tonight. Tell your dad that your new project has you staring at a naked girl for eight hours – that should brighten his view a little, no?” It was a  little brash, considering she didn't know his humour, but thankfully it hit the mark.

 

Kylo snorted again, grin lightening up those very attractive features. “I will. I’ll… I’ll mention that she’s very pretty, too.”

 

“Oh, good.” She laughed, refraining from letting out a giddy scream even though she knew he was only playing along with the joke. “Hopefully we can forget about metioning the hideous socks and the daggy knickers, then.” God, she could never get tired of hearing his warm, deep soft laugh.  “You treat this like the Queen it is, okay?” She joked sternly before reluctantly opening the door.

 

“Thank you again for today’s session, Miss Niima.”

 

 “Christ, please just call me Rey.” She bent down to properly look him in the eye. “It’s too formal for someone like me.”

 

“Okay, Miss Rey.” She rolled her eyes. “Thank you for the session.”

 

“You’re welcome.” She said stiffly, though she secretly enjoyed the way her name rolled off his tongue. “Goodbye, Mr. Ren.” She cut off his laugh by shutting the door, already half-soaked by the rain as she ran to the door of her building. Somehow, after learning much more about the man, he became so much more of a mystery.

 

It seems she has more of a chance understanding the concept of art over the interesting being that was Kylo Ren.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THREE

~  N  O  V  E  M  B  E  R  ~

P  A  R  T    O  N  E  

Beautiful, Ugly Things

 

Only one day into the new month and she’d quickly concluded that she was in for a doozy. Rey stated it simply: November was a hellish month designed to make every shitty aspect of her life that much shittier. Perhaps it was the head-spinning hangover that fuelled on the hasty thoughts (she blamed Halloween at Kanata’s, Rose and the tequila shots) or the thick-headed prick that demanded she modify his Hilux with illegal parts. Either way, it was enough for her to state a claim.

 

It only took three days for her to realise just how annoyingly right she was.

 

The walls of her apartment had been stripped bare of cheap art-prints and no more fake plants lined the windowsills to bask in the sunlight that streamed through. There were fewer mugs, cutlery and bowls in the kitchen cupboards; the tiny lounge-set shoved at the side was missing the Ikea rug underneath the makeshift coffee table she built herself and the ancient-looking tv was no longer hooked up to the Playstaion machine. Instead, it was all to be packed in boxes, secured and taped up for Finn to make the move into Poe’s cushy house the following day.

 

To say November wasn’t her month was a severe understatement.

 

They’d been at it all afternoon, cleaning off the shelves and taking anything that personally belonged to Finn, setting it in a pile and packing it up tight for the big move. They’d been so set on getting it done that she was surprised to see a message from Kylo when pulling out her phone to connect some music to the speaker.

 

I should have the little details done throughout the week and will be free for a session by Saturday.

Are you free?

 

She furrowed her brow while taking in the text. It was awfully early, unlike the last time. And it’d been an hour since the message went through. She hoped he hadn’t changed plans.

 

“I left you two wine glasses from our only good set.” Her eyes snapped to the figure sat directly in front of her. Finn casually nodded to the unusually-thin and deep glasses in his hand. “One for yourself and one for when you have company.” He wiggled his brows at her before gingerly placing them in the padded box.

 

“Company.” She hummed, her attention quickly turning back to her phone. “What’s company?”

 

I’m free… saturday sounds good :)

Same time???

 

“Oh, stop it.” He retorted. “Don’t act like you aren’t the hottest thing around—”


She cut him off with a bubbling laugh, placing a dainty hand on her chest.

 

“It’s true.” His dark eyes went wide. “You’re a size-eight with a bright smile and pretty eyes – honey, you’re the dream. A cute, fiery Peanut.” She bowed her head, shaking it lightly. “Except for your hair. You should really spend more money on products, you know – that or stop putting it in those nasty-ass three buns all the time.”

 

“I like my buns.”

 

“I like the buns on your cute little bum but that’s it.” She smiled widely, opening her mouth and scrunching her nose.

 

Her phone lit up in her palm.

 

Same time, as usual. And before you ask, no I do not  have any preferences for the session.

Nothing else  is required. Just you

 

Just you.

 

Rey absently chewed her lip and contemplated her words, glancing at Finn who continued to load up the boxes. It was awfully warm for the usually crisp autumn weather.

 

So theres absolutely nothing you want me to bring???

no ugly socks then?? how about an ugly hat???

 

His reply came through seconds after she’d hit send.

 

As satisfying as that sounds, I’d rather be able to paint your face  without some contraption covering it.

Unless it’s a tophat. I can always accept a tophat.

 

Did Kylo Ren, the dark mysterious artist himself, just make a joke?

 

Too bad I dont have one :P

 

Her eyes stayed glued to the screen, waiting and waiting for his response. She should’ve put the phone down the second she hit send and continued helping her best friend. But then Kylo Ren’s text came through and her heart all-but stopped at the words he’d sent.

 

Such a shame.

You wearing nothing but a tophat would surely be the next Mona Lisa.

A true masterpiece, indeed.

 

“Who are you texting, Rey?” Before Finn could blink she had locked her phone and pressed the device to her chest – like she was hiding a deep dark secret. His eyes twinkled with a mischevious glint, lips quickly forming into a smirk.

 

Why, she questioned herself in her defensive stance, he doesn’t mean anything by it. There’s nothing to it but a light-hearted joke. You barely know him…

 

“Who are you texting?” Finn repeated, eyes narrowing in on her flushed face. “You smiled, giggled and blushed like a teenager – all in a minute. Who are you texting?”

 

“It’s nothing. Just something Han sent me—”

 

“—Han can barely use a phone. Did you really expect me to believe that?”

 

Rey huffed, looking off to the side. “Why is it so important?”

 

“Why do you need to lie?” Finn snapped back quickly, the sly smile faltering slightly. “I’m your best friend. We tell each other everything.”

 

“We don’t always have to tell each other everything—”

 

“Yes, we do. That’s always been our friendship Rey. You told me that I was your first true friend – that I was the first person you let in; the first person you opened up to. We tell each other everything.” His deep voice steadily raised in the small, confined room – a toxic atmosphere began to brew. “From the beginning, that’s what we’ve done. Who are you texting?”

 

She stubbornly shook her head and began to shove the remaining books into the box, forgoing the neat and orderly style she’d began with.

 

“I shouldn’t even bother asking.” His expression had morphed into a frown in a matter of seconds. “Obviously it’s some douchebag loser you’ve gotten yourself attached to. Some blue-eyed, athletically-built asshole who could charm the pants off you in two seconds flat.” Her mouth dropped. “And, what do you know – two months later he’s stopped returning the calls and shacked up with some other poor girl – it’s always the same with you, Rey.

“There’s one every year. You get attached too fast because they’re nice and attenuative for a month. Because they make you feel good even though they don’t bother to learn about your past. They don’t bother to learn anything about you because they don’t care. But why would that matter, right?” He deadpanned sarcastically. “Because maybe if he doesn’t know anything about your former lifestyle then you can act like it didn’t exist?”

 

She stared at her best friend in shock, eyes widening at the sudden attack. “Excuse me?”

 

“Don’t play dumb. You know you do it. You just ignore it, like everything else unpleasant in your life. You put on this perfect façade – this bright, shining smile. Nothing’s wrong; nothing’s broken, right?”

 

“So what you’re basically saying is that, because I have abandonment issues, I shag the first guy who pays attention to me?”

 

“That’s not what I meant—”

 

“Well, that’s how it sounded.” She interrupted quickly, breath coming in quick spurts as her voice levelled. “I’m an orphan and I just crave attention, yeah? The slag who doesn’t have any parents.”

 

“That’s not what I said!” Finn repeated loudly, waving a finger in her direction. “I never once said you acted like a slut – not once. I’m above that kind of behaviour and you know it; don’t put words in my mouth!”

 

She looked up and their eyes locked into position. His brow was heavily furrowed, eyes sharp and squinted. His full lips were set in an unusually thin line and his nostrils flared, like a bull staring down a red target. Any minute and he could stamp his feet and charge at her, full speed ahead.

 

“Enlighten me, then.” She commanded. “Tell me why you just automatically assumed I was texting my ‘rotten-flavour’ of the year, as you put it? It could’ve been a friend or maybe one of the few people in the world that cared about someone as meaningless as me – someone who was interested in me?”

 

A thick lump formed in the back of her throat as the words left her mouth. Kylo Ren was neither of those things. She didn’t know him well enough to call him a friend and he was above her in so many leagues (physically and mentally). She was just the girl he was paying to be apart of her project. And besides, Rey didn’t fancy him so it didn’t matter if he wasn’t interested.

 

Yes, she liked the idea of him – a mature, handsome, financially stable man. Yes, she found him attractive, but nothing beyond that point. They had a mutual understanding.

 

She blinked back the tears and swallowed the lump as her attention turned back to the conversation-at-hand. His twinkling eyes searched hers. “Can you honestly tell me right here, right now, that you believe what you just said? That this person’s a friend. That this person is on-board to learn about Rey Niima unlike the others?”

 

She looked down at her fidgety hands. A minute of-thick tension passed in solid silence.

 

“Why are you being so secretive?” Why couldn’t she tell him? Why was it so hard to say she was texting the man paying her to pose for his art project about their next session. He made a few jokes that made her laugh. End of conversation.

 

“Secretive?” She questioned instead, her inner-conscious falling short as a bitter tone retook her voice.

 

“Yes!” He answered loudly. “Yes, you’ve been so fucking secretive lately. You’re always wrapped up in that head of yours. Always too quiet whenever we meet up at Kanata’s.” Finn sneered. “And now you’ve thrown yourself into this ridiculous art-project, throwing all caution to the wind and never stopping to allow a single rational thought to pass.”

 

“What is your obsession on this decision I made concerning my body?” She continued before he could retort. “I’ve had two eight-hour sessions. Both have been completely professional and respectful.” Except for the random family rant shoved in her face. “And I am perfectly comfortable in that setting. Why is that hard for you to accept?”

 

“Because you just throw yourself into things, Rey.” Finn returned hotly. “You’re not used to people advising you to not do something; I get that. But when… when something upsets you or stresses you out, you just repress it so deep into your mind and do stupid, irrational shit to keep it from resurfacing.”

 

“And what caused this ‘irrational’ decision of mine?” She demanded in a scathing tone.  

 

“Me moving out.” He answered immediately. “Because I’m leaving you on your own and you haven’t been on your own for a while now. And anytime someone important in your life is away somewhere, in a different place, you shut down and fear they’re leaving for good.”

 

Rey vehemently shook her head, fists clenching. She stamped down the urge to scream in his face – to shout that he was wrong. That he knew nothing about her or the way her mind worked. But he knew her inside-out. Sometimes she thought Finn knew her better than herself.

 

“This isn’t like that.”

 

“Then what is it, then? What made you agree to an advert about nude modelling after three-seconds of deliberation? How is this not another distraction of yours? Please, convince me otherwise!”

 

“Because I need the money, Finn.” She exploded. “You’re right, I did it because you’re leaving. But it’s not a fucking distraction or a fucking coping method. It’s because my trade doesn’t pay all that well and paying my half has always been a struggle.” Rey shook her head. “I don’t mind getting naked and letting some stranger paint the image. Not when it’s in a safe and respectful environment and I’m earning twenty-an-hour for it.”

 

She couldn’t bare to look at his crest-fallen expression as the clock ticked on. She squirmed in the sudden silent atmosphere, hands twitching and silently pleaded for him to just say something.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” She couldn’t look up, even at the soft tone to his eerily calm voice. “That you were struggling?”

 

“Because… because, how could I?” She blurted out quickly. “How could I ruin the start of your life with Poe?” She shook her head. “But that doesn’t anymore, does it? Because I just fucking did exactly what I promised not to fucking do.”

 

“But if you’re struggling— Rey, where are you going?”

 

“I need some air.” She answered vaguely as she got up from the floor and turned to walk out the front door. “I just… I need to clear my head.”

 

She plucked up her coat from the hook and hurried out the apartment, never looking back as she skipped plenty of steps on her way down the building. The cold filled her lungs the second after she burst out onto the street. She was quick to shrug her coat on and button it around her body before setting off with no particular destination in mind.

 

Rey didn’t stray from the pavement as the city bustled around her. With her head bowed and hands dug-deep into her coat pockets, she wondered how such a peaceful atmosphere could sour so quickly.

 

“If I had just told him.” She muttered aloud to herself in a hushed tone. She withdrew her hands and clenched them by her shoulders. “Maker, why didn’t I fucking tell him?” The corporate-looking lady gave her a strange look as she passed. Rey didn’t care, though – all she could do was curse at herself for being such a fucking mess.

She’d just ruined a huge milestone for her greatest best friend in the whole universe. It should’ve been a happy day; instead she’d been nothing but bitter with not a hint of sweetness to add on the end. Finn was her everything. He was the one who convinced her to leave Jakku and move to his tiny two-bedroom apartment in Takodana. He introduced her to Rose and Poe, the family she chose. He always picked her up from the ground and encouraged her to get out and show the world they were ‘missing Rey Niima’.

 

And this is how she repaid him.

 

She sighed and pulled out her phone to check the time.

 

If you don’t want to walk, like usual,  I’m perfectly happy to pick you up.

And don’t even thinks about paying for  a fucking cab OR Uber.

 

Kylo’s message finally pushed her over the edge as the tears spilled down her cheeks.

 

“You rotten, selfish bitch.” She cursed at herself loudly, ignoring the stares that came with it.

 

She didn’t deserve Finn. She didn’t deserve anyone. No wonder her parents left her at someone else’s doorstep.

 

 

 

~ * ~

 

 

The move went on without a hitch. Finn, along with everything he owned, was gone. And suddenly, after years of having company, Rey Niima was alone again – naturally.

 

When she’d returned from her miserable walk the night of their heated argument, they’d immediately hugged it out and exchanged profuse apologies. She sobbed into his shoulder, murmuring unintelligible words and how much she’d miss him. To commiserate the sad night, they shared a cheap-sack of boxed wine – drunkenly ignoring what just happened and not daring to bring up the topic again. Despite all this, the atmosphere between the pair was still as frosty as ice.

 

And he still left.

 

She’d almost forgotten how rotten it felt to be alone. But surely enough, the sleepless nights returned to remind her, as well as all the fear, anxiety and the racing mind that just didn’t know when to stop. The ragged appearance also reappeared; complete with dark bags underneath her eyes, ratty knotted hair for leaving it in buns and a sickly-pale complexion. It earned her a few concerned glances off Han, whose hazel eyes lingered a little too long and Chewie, ever the loveable giant, gave her more hugs than usual. Leia was the worst of them all, though. She took one look at Rey and pierced her very soul. She could see all the questions the fierce woman silently asked – ‘are you okay, how are you feeling, what’s wrong?’

 

She didn’t dare look at her big brown doe eyes the whole time for ‘Take-Away Tuesday’, instead focusing on the plate of Chinese in front of her. She was like Medusa, Leia was – only, one look into those beautiful eyes would have her spilling her guts about everything.

 

Still, the words never came directly out her mouth. She was in the clear zone. Or so she thought.

 

“I told you to call me – Christ, you must be freezing.” She quickly shucked off her shoes and hurried inside for the warmth, avoiding his dark eyes and huddling into herself as Kylo closed the door.

 

It felt like lightyears just to reach their session. The week had been agonizingly slow. At one point, she thought time had stopped and the world was punishing her for being so selfish with Finn.

 

“I would prefer if my model didn’t die of hypothermia on the way to the session. Seriously, Rey… what were you thinking, walking in weather like this?” He shook his head, arms folded over his broad chest. “Clearly you weren’t thinking at all. I meant it when I said you could call and I’d come and get you—”

 

“I’m not one of your bloody students to lecture, yeah?” She snapped, watching as his eyes widened in shock at the bitter tone to her voice. Only then did she notice the fresh hair-cut, taking in the large ‘dumbo’ ears that slowly turned red. He’d also grew a thinly-trimmed goatee and moustache over the last two weeks. It only added to the attractive character, she thought. Her eyes slowly raked over the rest of him. He opted for a black-wool turtleneck, clinging to every muscle. Usual dark jeans and black socks – all so put-together when she was just… not.

 

“Are you feeling okay, Rey?”

 

Her eyes snapped back to his. He was the last person she expected to ask that. She was the last person she expected to care.

 

Rey swiftly turned her back on him, closed her eyes and felt a familiar prickle to her eyes. “Yes.” She answered hoarsely. “Sorry for snapping at you, I just… I’m fine.”

 

“If you’re not up for this today, that’s perfectly fine.” She reopened her eyes, confronted with her reflection with his tall frame in the background. His wary eyes were oddly familiar. Like they belonged to a person she knew. “I can drive you home right now, if you want to.”

 

Rey shook her head, shrugged off her coat and beanie to hang it on his coat-rack beside the door. “It’s good. I’m fine.”

 

“Are you sure—”

 

“I said I’m fine.” She spat out firmly, a glare pointed in his direction. 

 

“Right.” He muttered out. “Um, okay… we’re working in the kitchen today. It’s a, uh... it’s a little odd.”

 

She nodded, bowed her head and stormed through the arch-way, weaving her way out of his living room to turn down the hallway and enter his kitchen. She froze at the sight, jaw dropping and frustration slowly ebbing away as she scanned the room. Sleek black-wood cupboards with pristine-white marble countertops, a gorgeous black and white splashback and a fridge bigger than her whole bathroom. She had to push away the childish urge to climb inside and see if she could fit.

 

“Oh my.” She gasped, spinning to take in every inch of the room – from it’s red, black and white modern-stools to the Victorian-esque wine cabinet that probably cost her yearly-salary.

 

“Is cooking a hobby of yours?”

 

Kind of.” She answered absently, glancing over her shoulder to see him with his usual cocked brow. “I’m more into baking, myself. But I’m rubbish at both.” She smiled up at him sheepishly. “Sounds a bit silly, now that I’ve said it aloud. I just like the process of it all – clears my head.” His eyes seemed softer than usual. “Do you cook?” She certainly hoped so, with a kitchen like this.

 

“I do.” He murmured softly. “I hope I’m not rubbish but I rarely get the chance to cook for anyone.” He cleared his throat. “Perhaps, one night, you could come over and be my judge?”

 

“I’m not a very harsh critic. I eat just about everything and think it’s lovely.” After the slop she was served at some homes, it was hard not to have that outlook on a homecooked meal. “That sounds very nice, though.”

 

She caught his lip twitch before he ungracefully ducked behind his set-up easel with the stand if paints next to him, nearly slipping on the tarp beneath it in the process.

 

She was careful not to giggle at the sight, quickly turning away to hide her smile caused by his sudden clumsiness.

 

Rey gave the kitchen one last long look before she began to shuck off the layers. First the plain white hoodie, then the rainbow knit-sweater, then her lacy baby-pink bralette. She put them in a pile, off to the side before unbuttoning her jeans and dragging them down her thighs, kicking them away and proceeding to do the same with her matching-set knickers.

 

This part didn’t phase her anymore. It was odd to be so perfectly comfortable in this position, especially when it involved her naked with an intense set of eyes continuously raking over her body. Today it was different, however. She didn’t feel like a science-experiment, stripping to be studied. When she’d shucked off the last perice of fabric from her body, she felt as light as a feather – as if all her sins had bounded free, leaving her with a clear mind, body and soul. It was nice after the hellish week she’d had.

 

“Hair up or down?”

 

His eyes flicked to hers as he prepped the paint. “Up. Just like it is, please.” He murmured. “And I’ll have you up on the kitchen bench today.”

 

Rey stiffened. “On the bench?” He made a confirming noise. “You want my bare arse on your kitchen bench.”

 

On his kitchen bench, where he probably ate his breakfast or read the morning news or cooked the occasional meal.

 

“Yes.” He paused for a beat and cleared his throat once more. “I – I want you spread on the kitchen bench, propped up on your elbows. And… and I’d like for you to open your legs, Rey.”

 

Her confidence disappeared just as quickly as it came.

 

“In the kitchen?” She asked in shock, voice cracking.

 

“Yes, in the kitchen.” He cleared his throat, once again. “It’s symbolic, you see – we see a kitchen as a food source; where we store, prepare and occasionally eat our food.” Kylo hummed. “We also regard – depending on the person – a woman’s sex as food.” His eyes flicked up to hers, briefly. “To eat her out, as they say.”

 

Rey’s mind began to spin. Suddenly, certain insecurities that had never plagued her raced around in her head. Whether she had a short or long clit, or a funny-looking labia – what if her vagina, as the boys in high school put it, looked like a bad ham sandwich.

 

“Rey?” Her eyes snapped to his. “Are you feeling comfortable with this?”

 

“I…” She stuttered, trying to find the words. Instead, she turned away from his gaze and, with a determined spurge of courage, began climbing the counter. “Oh, fuck that’s cold.” She yelped once feeling the cool marble on her backside. When she looked at Kylo, she thought she saw the hint of a smile before he disappeared back behind the canvas.

 

She breathed in deeply, propping herself up with her elbows, thighs clamped shut – ready to fall open. Rey closed her eyes. This wasn’t a big deal – he’d studied her naked body for hours and hours. It wasn’t sexual or romantic, just art. Her heart pounded loudly in her ears.

 

“Rey?”

 

She groaned internally. “Wait, wait. Just give me a minute, please.” She said softly, breathing deeply.

 

“It’s perfectly fine if you don’t want to do this—”

 

She let her legs fall open without a second thought. She watched as Kylo’s eyes went wide before she clamped them shut with a squeak.

 

“I can’t.” She cried out, dropping her head. “If you saw you’d understand why.”

 

“That’s fine, Rey.”

 

“No it’s not. Gosh, I’m so sorry, Kylo.” She muttered. “I’m sorry. It’s just… it’s really ugly – I don’t see how anyone could see this as art.”

 

There was an awfully long pause after she’d said the words that had her squirming on the hard bench.

 

“There isn’t a single ugly thing about you, Rey.” He said softly. “Nothing about you isn’t beautiful. And I don’t care what your vagina looks like – whatever the image, to me it’s worthy enough to be called art. And to be perfectly honest, all vaginas are ugly – they’re fucking ugly, beautiful things; the biggest oxymoron there is.” His gravelly voice had her struggling to breathe. “But it doesn’t matter that they aren’t flawless or a picture-perfect image. They are the instrument to new life. They represent pleasure and pain, in one.

 

“Look around you, Rey. The world around us is so beautiful; a perfect scenery that doesn’t quite mirror human behaviour. To me, a vagina is like a reverse parallel of that. It isn’t the prettiest sight, but it gives us some of the prettiest things. A stunning piece of captivating real-world art.” 

 

She propped herself up, disappointed to see him still hidden behind the easel. “You really see it like that?”

 

“Yes.” He hummed quietly. “Yes, I do.”

 

“Oh.” She breathed out quietly, chewing on her lip as the urge to open her legs steadily increased. Slowly, but surely, she dropped her legs to the side and let them hang off the bench, shuddering as the cool air hit her privates. She closed her eyes, propped herself up and tensed. “Kylo?”

 

“Yes, Rey?”

 

“Distract me, please. Just do anything.”

 

“Tell me something about yourself.” He hushed out. “Something odd or that you keep to yourself, if you’re comfortable.”

 

He was a smart man. The thought process alone was enough to calm her down, muscles slowly easing as she searched her brain to find an answer.

 

“I’m kind of into horoscopes.” She could just see the eyebrow cock – no doubt he thought them to be complete rubbish. “I don’t believe in it.” She added hastily. “It’s all a bunch of bullshit that isn’t relevant to anyone in any way. But they make me laugh and smile. I don’t know why, I just really enjoy reading articles about horoscopes. Like how a certain sign has an air of royalty about them, like a Leo.” She breathed out a soft giggle at the thought. “How ridiculous is that, though? Like, who comes up with it?”

 

“People who earn too much money, I bet.” She rolled her eyes.

 

“Okay, mister cynical. What’s your star sign and let’s see if it matches the dark persona.”

 

“Dark persona?” He looked up and met her gaze, eyes sparkling with mirth. “Where’d you get that—”

 

“All you wear is black, you’re the mysterious artist type and you constantly spread your philosophical view on a variety of topics, such as nude-art and vaginas.” His abrupt laugh brought a smile to her face. “Star sign!”

 

At her quick demand, he snapped into thought. “Uh… I don’t know the dates.”

 

She tutted and snapped her fingers. “Birth date?”

 

“The eighteenth upcoming.”

 

She scowled. “You’re shitting me. You’re a Scorpio.

 

“I don’t really see the shock value—”

 

“Scorpio’s are strong-willed and mysterious.” She interrupted him and began listing off the traits. “They’re passionate, stubborn and have the right mind to achieve their goals. They’re very assertive and alert in troubling situations. They represent the water element – swift and calm at times, but also violent and rushing.” She shook her head. “Kylo Ren, you’re a fucking Scorpio.”

 

“I thought you said you didn’t believe in it.” He huffed.

 

“Well, I’ve changed my mind now that I’ve found the living definition of a Scorpio, who is in fact, a Scorpio.”

 

“Well, what’s your sign then? Let me be the judge and see if it matches the persona.”

 

She fell silent before answering in a quiet voice. “Well, legally, I’m a Gemini. But there’s a chance I could be a Taurus, too.”

 

“I’m sorry?”

 

“I kind of don’t actually know my real birthday.” Rey dragged out the admission. “They put it down as the 30th of May, but there’s a possibility I was born either a week later or before that. It was just an estimation.”

 

He paused and she fidgeted.

 

“My parents left me on a stranger’s doorstep and disappeared. There was… there was no birth certificate, or a name given, just me in a cardboard box swaddled in a blanket. The assumption is that my mother had me outside a hospital – they were most likely homeless and young. Some people said they were just junkies and lousy drunks.” Her fists clenched at the memory of Unkar Plutt’s slimy smile. “Whoever owned the house found me in the morning and turned me into the system.”

 

“So, you’re an orphan then?” He asked, after a time of silence had passed

 

“Well, technically, there’s no knowing if my biological parents are dead but… yeah, I’m an orphan.”

 

“Oh god.” He suddenly muttered. “Oh, Christ I can’t believe – I whined about my family situation to you, without a second thought and you’re a...

 

“It’s okay.” She blurted out quickly. “It’s really no big deal. Every family situation is different, right?”

 

“Were you adopted out?”

 

“No.” She answered his abrupt question. “I was passed around foster-families and grouphomes until I turned eighteen.”

 

“Christ.” He muttered once again.

 

“It’s really fine, Kylo.” She began to blabber. “Gemini’s are adaptable and learn quickly, so that helped with all the moving. And, as a Taurus, we’re practical and patient and responsible.” Very patient, considering she waited nineteen years in hope her parents would come back for her. “It fits considering I’m a mixture of both.  I think I always leaned towards Gemini more as kid but, as an adult, I’ve slowly morphed more into a Taurus.” When he didn’t respond, she continued. “Although, I’d like to think I’m not superficial – I’ve never cared about appearances and such. And I’d never betray my best friend, like the Wandering Bull…”

 

She trailed off, mind casually drifting to her and Finn’s argument.

 

“Well, never intentionally anyways.”

 

Her legs began to get stiff and she shifted in the silence.

 

“I guess I can sort of see both signs in you.” He finally spoke and Rey almost sighed out of relief that her annoying word-vomit hadn’t pissed him off. “But it’s still ridiculous. The whole notion of it is ridiculous.”

 

Suddenly, she giggled.

 

“That’s such a Scorpio thing to say.”

 

His pointed glare only made her laugh that much harder.

 

 

 

~ * ~

 

 

Her legs were stiff and aching by the time the eight hours had finished, causing her to hiss as she pulled back on her light-wash jeans.

 

“Sorry.” He said, scrunching up his pretty face. “I know it wasn’t the easiest position to stay in for eight hours. I should’ve offered you more breaks.”

 

“Kylo.” She deadpanned. “It’s fine. At the end of the day, you’re paying me. I don’t mind being a little sore the next day.” She quickly clipped on her bra, throwing back on the layers of shirts before turning to leave the kitchen and retrieve her coat and beanie. “I’ll meet you in the car, yeah?”

 

At his parting nod, she left the room reflecting on what just happened. Every time the conversation dawdled, he asked her another question. And every time, she gave an answer she that she wouldn’t give to some of her closest friends in a million years.

 

Like how she’d never actually been on a real beach (Takodana’s didn’t count since it was all rock and the weather was always rubbish) or how she was slightly afraid of storms – she loved rain, admired thunder and was amazed at the sight of lightening. But, because it was still so foreign to her, the big storms could turn her into a nervous wreck – and told him all about how she met Finn.

 

She smiled the whole time telling it: his car broke down while passing through Jakku, she came across him and fixed his car for free (Unkar would kill her if he knew) and, in return, he treated her to lunch. Months later, he somehow convinced her to move to Takodana. It was the greatest decision she’d ever made.

 

She even told him all about their argument (minus the ‘who are you texting’ and the awkward ‘letting douche-bags use her body to repress her past’) and how it was the first time she was truly by herself in years.  

 

For a moment, she feared he’d confirm her own thoughts – that she was a selfish friend and only cared about herself.

 

“It isn’t selfish to want company, Rey.” He said quietly. “I’m sure your upbringing was lonely enough. It’s okay to feel like that.”

 

Her chest felt significantly lighter at his words. It felt good to finally share that with someone, even if it was only Kylo. He didn’t seem to mind, however. He listened to every word she spoke and constantly asked her more and more questions, effectively taking her mind off the fact she had her legs spread open on his kitchen bench and he studied every single detail of her vagina.

 

It was only after hopping into his beautiful car did she realise that the conversation had been all about her. God, maybe she really was a Taurus.

 

“I never asked how your dinner went.” She asked after he turned out of his driveway onto the bustling street. “With your family.”

 

He paused, shifting gears with a clenched jaw. “It was…alright.” He answered slowly. “It was mostly just my mother trying to keep the hostility down. She did all the talking, really.”

 

“Did you tell them about your project?”

 

“Ah, kind of?”

 

“What does that mean, exactly?”

 

“It means that I told them it was a project over two months surrounding my take on the ‘wheel of emotions’.”

 

“So, you didn’t mention me at all? Or that I’m naked in this particular project?”

 

He flushed.

 

“You’re embarrassed.”

 

“I am not.” He whined like a petulant child.

 

“You are so.” She teased lightly. “What’s the big deal – How old are you, like thirty, right?”

 

“Thirty-four.” He mumbled as they were stopped at a red light.

 

“I’m sure your parents think you’ve seen a naked woman by now.”

 

“Rey.”

 

“So they didn’t prompt you any further?” She continued with a smirk.

 

“I said I wanted to keep it a surprise. For the showing.”

 

“And when and where exactly is this showing?”

 

He squirmed. “At my Uncle’s gallery, sometime in August.”

 

“The uncle who says your art is pathetic?”

 

“It’s a set-up for failure.” Kylo scowled as his voice soured, slightly. “He never would’ve offered if my mother hadn’t been there.” He set his intense eyes on her. “And don’t even try and get out of going. I’ll drag you, if I have to.”

 

“Absolutely not.”

 

“You don’t have to look at the paintings if you don’t want to.” He reasoned as the light turned green. “You can just look at everything else.”

 

“But if I’m there, the temptation will be too strong.”

 

A beat passed.

 

“There’s an open bar.”

 

“Okay, I might go.” He snorted. “Well, your parents will be in for quite the surprise, then. Showing up to see a vagina on a canvas.”

 

He scoffed. “I don’t care about their reactions. I don’t care about anyone’s view except yours, really.”

 

“Why?” Rey furrowed her brow. “I’m not artistically incline in any way, what-so-ever.”

 

“Yes, but you already have this idea of how it’s going to look. You have this ignorant view of it all when you haven’t even seen the finished work yet; this view that it’s nothing more than a vagina or a pair of breasts when, in reality, it’s so much more than that.”

 

“Enlighten me, then.”

 

“I will.” He quickly smiled at her before his attention returned to the road. “At the showing.”

 

She groaned and pouted. “I’m not completely ignorant, you know. I mean, clearly, I know nothing about art but I’m interested enough to google what the fuck a ‘wheel of emotions’ is.”

 

It was the only alternative to her restless nights – either that or try to get some sleep while her anxiety was in full force.

 

“And what did you think?”

 

“I see where you’re from about how some colours don’t match. I guess it comes down to how you interpret it.” He hummed in agreement. “But I can’t quite understand how that connects through a naked woman.”

 

“You’ll understand once you see. I promise.” He surprised her by the soft chuckle. “Lucky you’re a Taurus – they’re patient, right?”

 

She only huffed and flipped him off when he turned to meet her gaze.

 

The rest of the drive went by seamlessly as Kylo turned up the radio and they sat in comfortable silence, occasionally bringing up pointless topics in the short fifteen-minute drive.

 

But, all too soon, and he was parked outside her building.

 

“Uh, Rey?”

 

“Yes Kylo?” She asked as she unbuckled the seatbelt.

 

“Um, you mentioned your living situation before and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.” He paused, running a hand through his hair (she was starting to think it was a nervous tick). “I’ve actually got a colleague in my department who’s trying to rent out her spare bedroom. I… I don’t know how much it’s up for but I can find out for you, if you want?”

 

“Really?”

 

“At the very least, I could organise an interview. I’m sure she’d be happy to give you a tour of the building.” He glanced out the window, scanning the graffiti and the stained pavements. “It’s in a better area than this, so it may be a little pricier.”

 

“Would you really do that for me?” She chirped out and continued at his nod. “That’d be amazing! Gosh, Kylo, I can’t thank you enough.”

 

“Okay.” He nodded, a crooked smile taking over his features. “Well, um… I’ll give you a call after I find out then?”

 

“Sounds good.” She reluctantly opened the car door. “I’ll see you next time.”

 

“Yeah, you too.”

 

“Bye, Kylo.”

 

“Goodbye, Rey.”

 

And then she was back to reality – microwaving boxed mac and cheese, watching a few garbage programmes on the telly while she cracked open a beer. All alone, of course.

 

It only was later that night, when sleep never came and her mind wandered, that she realised the compatibility match between Scorpio and Taurus. They were matched high in every branch; trust, certain values, shared activities and emotion – they were especially ranked high in sexual intimacy, using sex as a way to connect and bringing out the upmost pleasure in their partner.  

 

Rey moaned into her pillow as a pair of dark eyes came to mind.

 

Yep, she was definitely more of a Taurus.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FOUR

~  N  O  V  E  M  B  E  R  ~

P  A  R  T    T  W  O

Lonely Companions

 

 

It wasn’t quite the ideal Saturday night she had in mind. Working in the steamy Vietnamese restaurant, dishing out food and smiles while occasionally avoiding the rowdy runaway child; gruelling work that kept her occupied, constantly making back-and-forth trips to the kitchen while juggling a handful of plates. It was hardly ideal for anyone, she imagined, but Rose was in desperate need, practically begging her to come in after an employee called-in sick. And Rey was never one to refuse a cry for help.

 

Luckily, this wasn’t a ‘new thing’ for the young mechanic. In fact, it’d become quite regular over the last few months –  all because holiday season had descended upon the world, once again. Ever since Rose and her sister had taken over their parents’ business, it became normal for her to pick up a shift at ‘Pho Tico’ when necessary. Tonight, it seemed, was no different.

 

She’d clocked on at five-thirty and immediately thrown herself into the kitchen, bustling around the tiny space to prep the vegetables and sauces while dodging hot pans and sweaty bodies. An hour in, when customers started to flood inside, Rey was pushed out front and forced to do the ‘rounds as families, groups and couples settled into the booths, tables and chairs. The place was absolutely swamped, not a free table in sight as the take-away line only grew in length. There was an abundance of impatient customers, a handful of hysterical children and the occasional rude person or two who walked-out without a hint of notice. It was unrelenting.

 

And yet, despite all the unpleasantness, Rey found the experience to be rather refreshing. The longs days at Han’s shop were often slow, with little-to-no talk and a stereo that only played his music. ‘Pho Tico’, on the other hand, kept her on her toes, pushed her to the limit by dealing with frantic situations and allowed her to socialize with those friendly or drunk enough for a chat. Oddly enough, she found the experience to be quite enjoyable.

 

Still, with that being said, no complaints were made when the busy-nature of the place simmered down to a blessedly quiet levelled pace.

 

“God, what a nightmare.” Rose groaned, frowning down at the mess the large and loud family made before leaving. “How hard is it to keep food on a plate? And look at all this waste…”

 

They were an hour away from closing and the ten-o-clock exhaustion had begun to show in everyone working at ‘Pho Tico’ that night.

 

“This is why you should have paper tablecloth – that or the tarp-like material. Not only is it cheaper, but it’s more practical. These stains are never coming out.” Rey began to help gather the dirty dishes, careful not to spill anything as she loaded item after item.

 

“I’ve tried convincing Paige. But she wants this place looking like it has some class and elegance. I don’t particularly see how white tablecloths achieve this.” She trailed her feisty friend back to the humid kitchen, smiling as she passed the staff. “But, whatever – it looks nice, I guess.”

 

“Just because something looks nice doesn’t mean it’s automatically a good thing.” A pair of dark eyes popped to mind as the words flowed from her lips

 

“Right.” Rose agreed. “Like Jessika.”

 

“What?” The girl mentioned perked up at the sound of her name just as they began loading up the deep sink. “Was that an insult?”

 

“Maybe.” She answered vaguely. “Technically, it was a nice insult since I complimented your looks.”

 

Jessika beamed at this. “I suppose it doesn’t matter, then.”

 

“Wow, you aren’t vain at all, are you?” Rey snorted as Jess blew a kiss in the direction of a scowling Rose. “Who’s on dishes tonight – and if any of you even think about saying Rey, I’ll drop your asses. She’s done enough just by coming in.”

 

“Well there goes my suggestion.” Snap Wexley flinched as Rose grabbed a wet tea-towel and whipped it in his direction, a resounding ‘crack’ splitting in the air. A string of low ‘oohs’ followed. “Christ, calm down Tico – it was just a joke.” He quickly retreated, hands held up in surrender. “I did them last night. That excludes me, right?”

 

Rose narrowed her eyes.

 

“Maybe we should just invest in a dishwasher? I mean, how haven’t we already installed one – especially with nights like these.”

 

There was a three-second pause after the decent suggestion left Jessika’s lips.

 

“Alright Pava, step up to the sink.”

 

“What!” She perked up with a scowl. “What about DJ?”

 

The chef himself withdrew from the steaming pan to fix Jessika with a pointed look. Somehow, even with the hairnet, sweaty face and tired eyes, he managed to look intimidating.

 

“Hee cooks all the food and is automatically excused.” She opened her mouth to continue but Rose was too quick. “And Peet’s been here for eight hours. And dealt with that asshole who cussed the restaurant out. And her shift ends in five minutes—”

 

“—and I’m six-months pregnant.” The woman added tiredly. “With a husband to get home to.”

 

“This is so unfair.”

 

A familiar jingle rang loud and clear, a groan ripping from Rose’s throat at the sad sound. She turned to Rey with pleading eyes.

 

“If you go deal with those assholes and hand out the cute old couple’s food, you’ll be free to go afterwards.”

 

“Or, I could deal with it and she could do the dishes.”

 

Rey was quick to scurry out of the kitchen before she could witness Jessika’s murder. She smiled instead at the faint ‘crack’ that could be heard throughout the store and peered outside of the archway, scanning to find their new customers – or customer, it seemed. They were tucked away in one of the corner booths – a great, big looming figure hunched over, digging through their shoulder satchel bag. Rey watched as the customer pulled out a stack of booklets, along with a single-sheet of paper and a pack of pens.

 

Her brows quirked up, curiosity officially piqued, before she peeled away to fetch a pitcher of water and a couple of glasses (in case the mysterious stranger had company – though it didn’t look promising). She snatched up a menu on her way out, slowly approaching the booth with careful feet. Their head was bent, pen scanning the pages in front of him before occasionally scribbling something down with their red pen. She wondered what he was doing – it was definitely a he with the muscular build he was sure to have underneath those clothes. She approached closer, quickly plastering on her brightest face as she reached the corner of the room. The stranger looked up and Rey halted to a stop.

 

She should’ve recognised that dark, thick hair.

 

“Oh.” She breathed out the involuntary syllable. “Hello.”

 

Never in her life did she expect to see Kylo Ren in sweats – Black, no less, but still sweats. He looked just as startled at idea. “Rey.” He choked out, eyes widening while processing the image before him. “I…I thought you were a mechanic.”

 

“I am. My friend runs the store and she was down a worker.” She shifted on the spot. “And, uh, here I am.”

 

“Oh.” He murmured silently, eyes casting downwards to her handful of items. Before she could blink he was hastily scrambling around, his long arms shoving aside all the papers in front of him to the side. “S- sorry. I’m, uh, grading essays. They’re not due until after Thanksgiving break.” She ducked to hide her smile – it was rather endearing to see Kylo Ren caught of guard. He cleared his throat and settled back into the booth, allowing her to place the jug of water and glasses around the bamboo-placemats. “It’s, uh, good to be organised, you know?

 

She laughed at this. “I’m afraid I don’t. I’m rubbish at organisational skills but I’m sure you already know this with the whole odd socks and knickers, yeah?”

 

“I wouldn’t judge you on what you wear to our sessions, Rey. Especially since you’re only expected to get out of them – well, most of the time.” He hushed out quickly. “And besides, that point is futile considering your matching lace set last week.”

 

They both stiffened after the words set in. Did he watch her strip? The thought sent a shiver down her spine; Kylo Ren, ever-so-respectful, gazing lustfully at her body clad in a flattering knicker set while she gazed at his kitchen. Red patches bloomed in her cheeks. Surely not.

 

“Here,” She muttered, holding out the laminated-sheet menu in his direction. “I’ll come back when you’re ready to order.”

 

“Thank you, Rey.”

 

 She nodded and hurried off into the kitchen, aware that his eyes followed her the whole way. It seems he wasn’t the only one caught of guard. It was odd, really. That she felt more comfortable unclothed in front of the man rather than the alternative. She didn’t have a clue as to why, either, but that still didn’t stop her frantic mind from running in circles. Perhaps he would see a different side to her out of their shared sessions – that he’d see the broken girl within; the girl that yearned to be accepted and loved, the girl that (occasionally) still stupidly hoped her parents would come back for her. Unbound, free and naked, she had let him in and explored a completely different side of herself that was unknown to her. A Rey that blindly trusted a man – no, a stranger – and shared the things she kept close to her chest. It was almost like he was her therapist with all the mopey sessions and advice he continued to share with her. And, eventually, the sessions would come to a stop and Rey would be okay to continue on, fearless. They’d part and never see each other again.

 

Ah. So it was a simple reminder that this would all come to an end, then. They weren’t meant to see each other outside his house. Because this wasn’t a lasting relationship (if you could even call it that).

 

Her stomach churned at the thought.

 

Despite this, however, she still put on her best face and served the sweet couple their food, staying to happily listen to the tales about their grandchildren, pride pouring from their beaming faces. Rey idly wondered if her real parents would be proud to see who she was today. She doubted it – she was just a high school drop out who took up a low-pay trade and now has to resort to posing nude and pop-up shifts to afford rent. Yeah, her parents would be real proud.

 

One last aching smile sent the couple’s way and she dragged her feet back to Kylo’s booth. “You ready to order, yet?”

 

“Forgive me, but I don’t usually venture into Vietnamese cuisine. I’m a little stuck.” She nodded and turned to leave. “Wait. I was just… if you were the one ordering, what would you get?”

 

Her eyes lit up. “Oh, that’s easy. The seafood claypot would be my pick. I’m a sucker for spicy food and prawns – Kriff, who doesn’t love prawns.”

 

“Prawns?”

 

“Shrimp.” She clarified with a smile. “I always forget the different names you lot have for everything.” His lips quirked upwards at her extensive eye roll. “Anywho, it’s got a bit of a kick and it’s only an entrée – but that fills me up plenty. If you’re not into it, the star dish here is the Pho Tai. It’s pretty mild, unfortunately, but holds a lot of flavour.” His eyes crinkled at the edges, warmer and light than usual. “Anything take your fancy or do you need more options, sir?”

 

He chuckled a deep rumble that heaved his chest, and shook his head. “Why not both?”

 

“Both?” Her eyebrows shot up. “Someone’s hungry tonight?”

 

“Quite literally a starving artist.” He quipped, earning an ugly giggle from her throat. “Something’s got to fuel me on to read this garbage. And you said yourself the claypot was only an entrée.”

 

“Yes, but a filling entrée.”

 

“You’re tiny. I bet you take three bites and claim you’re full.”

 

Her eyes narrowed. “I’m not tiny. I’m 5’7, thank you very much. I believe they consider that average for a woman.”

 

“Oh, you’re a woman?” She gasped in mock horror and, surprising herself, wacked him hard with her notepad. He only laughed. “I’m only kidding. I’ve seen enough to know you’re a woman.”

 

She pursed her lips, despite her rosy cheeks, and scribbled down his order. “Is that all for tonight or would you like any sides with that, sir.”

 

He smirked and looked down to scan the menu once more. “The mixed vegetables – the sauce, though. What exactly is the light brown sauce?”

 

“Hoisin.” His hard features softened at the pleased smile that took over his expression.

 

“Yes, thank you. That sounds lovely.”

 

She nodded and added it to the list. “Any drinks for tonight? There’s not a wide selection but alcohol’s alcohol, right?”

 

“Ah, no thank you. I don’t think it wise to drink and mark.”

 

“It’d make it bearable, no?”

 

“Oh, yes. But some people believe in a ‘code of ethics’ – and I believe myself to be a thorough man. I don’t half-ass things. Nice upselling, though.” He muttered dryly, an amused glint in his eye.

 

“I do try.” She smirked. “Is that all for tonight, sir.”

 

“Yes, thank you Rey.”

 

“Great.” She beamed. “I’ll run this out back. It shouldn’t be too far away now that it’s finally quiet.”

 

“Busy tonight?”

 

“Oh yes.” She moaned. “It was non-stop. And some people are just really rude, you know. I have the utmost respect for those who work in retail, now – never underestimate them.” She sighed and gestured to her notepad. “Luckily, I get to leave after this. It’ll be nice to finally put my feet up.”

 

“Oh.” There was something oddly familiar in his expression – one she wore too often and knew quite well. Surely not. “You’re leaving after this, then?”

 

She nodded and was bewildered to see a frown. Was he really disappointed? That she was leaving? Did he wish for her to stay?

 

“Yeah, I just need to wrap up your order and get it out to kitchen... so, um, I should probably do that.” He nodded faintly. “I’ll see you around, Kylo. Have fun with the marking.”

 

“Uh, you too – I mean… have a good night, Rey.”

 

She couldn’t help the smile at his grimacing expense. It was rather baffling to her – one minute, he conversed so smoothly and the next he was fumbling like he had something to hide. And seeing that side to the usually composed and confident Kylo Ren was definitely refreshing.

 

On her way back to the kitchen she plucked up the leftover dishes from a small group who’d left a nice big tip (Rose would be over the moon) and smiled at Jessika’s crestfallen expression when she added them to the pile.

 

“I’m out of here, guys.” She announced cheerily, handing the sheet listed with Kylo’s order to a flustered DJ. “Enjoy the rest of your night.” They all returned a half-arsed ‘goodbye’ as she dragged herself further outback, stopping by the office to see Rose off before continuing to the tiny, barely functioning break room where she stripped off the spare apron, folded it and propped it on the table.

 

As she finally moved closer to the back entrance, more-than ready for her city-walk home, Rey dug out her phone to see any missed messages. Only, instead of reading the message Finn had sent her eyes, of their own accord, wandered to the corner of her lit-up screen.

 

Saturday, 18 November

 

Her stomach plummeted, stiff-still with her hand locked around the door handle. Rey chewed on her lip, guilt tearing at her mind. She hesitated for a split second before she was all but a blur of movement, flying past the office and zooming out of the kitchen. She was quick to storm over to his booth. Kylo’s neck snapped up from the sheets, eyes widening in shock at her hasty entrance.

 

“It’s your birthday.” She blurted out, gripping onto the straps of her backpack. “It’s your birthday and…” and I completely forgot despite having the conversation a mere week ago, she thought bitterly. “And you’re here, marking essays. Alone.”

 

She watched him swallow. “I went out for lunch with my mother.”

 

“You’re alone, marking essays.” She repeated, plunking herself down in the seat opposite to him. “On your birthday. On a Saturday night.” She shook her head stubbornly. “You should be out with friends and having fun and getting stupidly drunk, or something. But you’re here, marking essays…alone.”

 

“Yes, you’ve said that several times now.” He didn’t meet her set-expression, opting to glare at the table. “I’m thirty-five, Rey – getting stupidly drunk isn’t exactly in my nature. Never was, really.”

 

“But, still. You should be out with friends and celebrating—”

 

“—Did it ever occur to you that maybe I like being alone? That I enjoy solitude and peace?” He snapped, eyes defensively narrowed at her. His tone was biting – one she was oh-so-used to from the likes of Unkar and greedy foster-parents. She shrunk under his heated eyes. It was odd to see them so black. “Did you ever wonder that I might prefer this? That, unlike some, I’m not this bubbly, socially-appealing person who thrives in the company of others? Did you ever think that, maybe, I don’t have all that many friends who’d willingly spend time with me?”

 

She opened her mouth and closed it, no doubt looking like an absent-minded goldfish. His voice was so harsh and everything she was used to growing up – but not him. Her eyes suddenly felt thick and heavy, her throat clamped up.

 

“Right.” She choked out, slipping out of the booth. “I’m sorry for bothering you, then.”

 

Maybe she had pushed too far. Everyone had their preferences. And Kylo was a great big mystery; who was she to assume how he liked to spend his nights.

 

“Wait.” He boomed, loud and clear in the quiet nature of the restaurant.

 

She halted in her haste to the front door and, against all better-judgement, turned to face him. He was standing, body tense, clenched fists and those big ‘dumbo’ ears slightly pink. She wrung her hands together and heard the heavy sigh from his lips. “How are you getting home?”

 

Her brows drew close. “I’m walking.” She admitted.

 

“At this time at night?”

 

“I do it all the time.”

 

He snorted. “Was that supposed to make me comfortable with a young woman walking the city-streets late at night?” She shrugged and waited for him to continue. When he didn’t, she huffed and spoke quietly.

 

“I have no other way home and it’s really not that far.” He scoffed. “It’s fine.” Irritation flooded her tone.

 

“What type of man would I be if I let you walk home among leering drunks?”

 

“Just a man who believes this woman can take care of herself.”

 

“I know perfectly-well you’re capable of taking care of yourself Rey. I have no doubts in that matter.” She absently snaked her arms around her chest as he continued. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t worry. And the truth is I wouldn’t be able to just sit here comfortably knowing you’re out in the cold in that ratty jacket walking home after a long, tiresome shift.”

 

Her breath escaped her in one giant puff. Rey looked to the side, ignoring the prominent prescience right in front of her. “What would you have me do, then?”

 

The silence seemed to stretch on like a galaxy after her snippy question.

 

“Join me.” That quickly brought her attention back to the mysterious man. “There’s plenty of food to share; the entrée is filling – you said so yourself. And I could drive you home after.” He looked down and raked a hand through his hair. “And since you’re so against my lonely state…you could spend the night with me so I wouldn’t be. Alone, that is.”

 

She wondered if this was a dream (similar to her clinging hope that her parents would return for her). If Rey were to pinch herself, would everything dissolve into a puff of black smoke? Or was this real? Did he really care about her wellbeing that much?

 

“Please?”

 

Her chest felt loaded and heavy at his pleading, desperate tone – or was she just delusional and yearning for something she’d never receive? “Okay.”

 

It took a good three-seconds to connect her mind and body. Oh-so-slowly, she made her way to the booth, tentatively gazing up at his now soft-expression. The smile he wore was one she’d yet to experience; a small, lopsided tilt that had his eyes lighting up with golden hazel-like flecks. Every single part of her felt warm and fuzzy as she took her seat opposite him.

 

Once more, his hand flew into his hair. She wondered if he was as nervous as she was; she wondered if he was questioning why because there was no reason to feel so anxious.

 

“I was going to call you tonight.” He said suddenly, voice level and calm with the low, hum-like rumble she was used to. It was a nice sound, Rey thought.

 

“Oh?” It was all she could muster.

 

“I talked to my colleague the other day. The one looking for a roommate.” He clarified. “She’s interested to meet you; said she’d like to set-up a meeting to discuss rent prices and show you around. I thought about ringing but then I realised that I was thirty-five and that you’re so much younger. I concluded that you’d be out on this Saturday night, like anyone else in their youth. I never expected to run into you.”

 

She frowned. “Ten years is hardly anything, Kylo.”

 

He snorted humourlessly. “Rey, we run in different demographics. We grew up with different cartoons and different bands to idolize. You’re the age of social media and I’m the age of dial-up internet and email. Ten years is quite a lot.”

 

“You may be right. But you’re listing things I never had the luxury to experience in my childhood.”

 

“Right.” He muttered, pinkening slightly. “Sorry.”

 

“It’s alright.” She said softly, glancing up at him through her lashes. “I get to experience it now. And that’s all that matters. I’m discovering a whole new me, one Simpsons episode at a time.”

 

Her heart swelled as his face contorted, scrunching up at this. “You watch that garbage.”

 

She gasped in mock-horror. “What? You can’t talk about different demographics and then ridicule one of the few shows that resonate to every demographic.” He held up his hands, surrendering. “You’re such a Milhouse.”

 

He gaped at her accusation before his laugh echoed in the quiet room. “What?” She smirked and nodded as he ran a hand over his mouth. “Well, if that’s the case then I’m the Milhouse to your Lisa.”

 

She reciprocated the laugh and smiled brightly. “I’m honoured, then.”

 

The easy-natured conversation fizzled as Rose brought out the food. She was clearly confused and busting to ask many questions. She only kept smiling and delivering good customer service, setting down their dishes with a flourish and bidding them a good night. The glare, however, spoke volumes (the first vibration in her pocket was enough for her to know this was not something she’d take lightly).

 

The pho was delicious; noodles perfectly cooked, beef succulent and juicy just the way it was supposed to be and the broth was the type to crave on a cold, November night. And the Claypot had just the right amount of spice to make her eyes water and the fresh seafood flavour (Rose went to the market crazy-early every morning to get the best of the best) still came through despite the strong flavour. Rey almost choked as Kylo gulped down water in such an undignified way that was so unlike him and laughed until her stomach physically hurt at his bright red complexion and sweat-drenched skin. She did warn him, after all.

 

It was a perfect meal for an otherworldly perfect night. One she was glad to share with Kylo.

 

They both silently made an agreement to stay right-up to closing-time, no words exchanged to come to this decision. Like they needed this strange companionship to linger a little longer like they needed oxygen to breathe. It only made everything else that more confusing. But Rey couldn’t bring herself to care. 

 

She was too wrapped up in those dark eyes of his to question anything at this moment in time.

 

“Before. What I said before…about preferring solitude and silence. About enjoying my birthday alone.” He began uneasily, his large body shifting in the seat. “That was a lie. “I don’t prefer being alone.” He grit out through clenched teeth, much to her surprise. “I…I tell myself that because it’s easier to accept that way. But it isn’t the truth and I pride myself on honesty – especially with you.

 

“I tell myself that too.” She reluctantly admitted. “I spent years, imagining a whole different life to the one that was real. That my parents were coming back for me – that they were kind and wealthy and would shower me with love and affection when they returned. But that was nothing but a lie; a mere fantasy belonging to a naïve, little girl. I’m not so stupid now. I keep up a guard around others because it’s strange to see people invest time out of their lives to talk to me. I pushed Finn away because I can’t tell the difference between concern and spite.” She looked down at her lap, unable to meet his heavy gaze. “Solitude is a lie – there’s no such thing. Loneliness, for most, isn’t a choice; it’s a curse that I’ve dealt with my whole life. I know exactly what you mean because all I’ve ever known is isolation. And it fucking sucks, Kylo.”

 

There was a certain static that spiked through the air – one that had her meeting his sad eyes once more.

 

“You’re not alone.”

 

Her heart stopped. Her hand twitched a fraction away from his own. Her eyes widened with an annoyingly familiar feeling; hope.

 

“Neither are you.”

 

 It felt natural to take his hand in hers, to brush a thumb over his knuckles. To feel the warmth of his palm against her own. It felt right for his large hand to engulf her own soft, small hand – a bridge of understanding between two lonely companions.

 

And for the first time in her adult life, Rey thought this hopeful feeling could actually lead to something else entirely.

 

 Something to yearn for; something to fear.