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steel & smiles

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Kylo Ren can feel himself bristle as he watches Rey and Captain Phasma from across the room, tries to steel himself and focus on whatever the stormtrooper in front of him is telling him— the number of casualties the battle they’ve just come out of has wrought, he supposes, as if it’s of any significance to him how many stormtroopers have fallen. There will always be more stormtroopers. But at least listening to statistics is better than witnessing this

Rey looks ethereal and so very real all at once, as she always does; draped in darkness, dirty rags long gone, a true Knight of Ren. Her freckled face is set in its usual expression, eyes glaring and intense, jaw clenched and lips ready to snarl. For all she is more controlled than he, she looks as feral as she did when they first met. There’s more power to it now, however, since they’ve started her training. More danger.

The thing that puts a sour edge to the picture is Captain Phasma. In her usual chromium armor, stark against Rey’s dark robes, she stands behind his apprentice, her gloved hands carefully braiding Rey’s hair, which had clearly been loosened during the battle. From what Kylo Ren can see, she’s replicating Rey’s usual triple bun with an odd, striking efficiency. Kylo Ren has rarely seen Phasma out of her helmet, but he knows her hair is cropped short. He has no idea how she knows how to braid Rey’s hair, nor why she is doing so, nor why Rey would let her. Rey, who hates to be touched.

An ugly thought crosses his mind, that it might just be his touch she flinches away from.

She is at ease with her back turned to Phasma. Despite her scowl, this is clear, from her lowered shoulders to her lazy posture. He wonders why he is the only one stricken by it. He has respect for Phasma, nothing more, and he doesn’t know why anyone else would feel anything more than that. She’s a cold thing, less than a person, her face always covered and her voice always monotone.

Once Phasma has finished, Rey peers over her shoulder and smiles, something he finds almost grotesque in its unfamiliarity, and Phasma tilts her head in response. And then, inexplicably, grasps Rey’s shoulder and squeezes, a touch Kylo Ren feels the ghost of. He shudders.

When Phasma leaves, he swears she looks directly at him and he receives an echo of smug hostility. He does not analyse it.

 +

It does not leave him, despite how much he wills it to. It returns to him, again and again, every time Rey evades even the most incidental touch from him, every time he notices how her voice softens, ever so slightly, when she speaks to Phasma and turns to steel when she speaks to him.  She does not hate him, he knows— she feels so strongly that he would certainly know if she did—, but there is a lingering bitterness and a distinct lack of what she feels for Phasma, of all people.

Trust. He catches Phasma helping a fallen Rey to her feet, her gloved hand wrapped firm around Rey’s wrist; the way Rey’s free hand comes down to rest itself on Phasma’s shoulder as she rises up, the way they both pause as Rey uses Phasma to steady herself, the way Rey smiles, grateful and never at him, never for him, plagues him.

Phasma leaves troops bleeding in the battlefield, not a pause even to free them from their misery. Not a pause for anyone but herself.

For Rey, however, she lingers.

And Rey lets her.

 +

The worst of what he sees—of what he allows himself to see— is when Phasma’s helmet gets knocked from her head during battle.

She continues, of course, the mission the priority. Her face may as well been made of chromium; her expression does not twitch, her eyes hard and unblinking. She reminds him of Rey in that moment. They do not look anything alike, really; whereas Rey’s dark eyes blaze, Phasma’s grey ones are ice; whereas Rey bares her teeth like a dog, Phasma’s mouth is set straight and firm. But their nostrils flare the same, their jaws clench the same, their shoulders set strong the same. They’re of the same kind, he realizes, for all they are different. The realization does not make him feel better.

Afterwards, Rey comes to her, where she is stood still and alone among the wreckage, breathing heavily for the few moments she allows herself. He makes it look as though he is surveying the aftermath and responds appropriately when people come to speak to him, but he cannot tear his gaze away from them, because apparently he has some sort of masochistic fascination with whatever Rey has with the Captain.  

Rey goes straight for her helmet and does not look at Phasma when she rises up from the ground to give it to her. She keeps her head lowered as she offers the helmet. It’s as if Phasma is as blazing and stunning to her as she is to him.

Phasma tilts her head, as she often does, expression the same but dulled, and puts a hand to the side of Rey’s face. Rey’s shoulders twitch, but she doesn’t move back and she lets Phasma tilt her head up to face her.

They don’t do anything for a moment, but then Phasma smiles; it’s not a conventional smile, not even a real one, but Rey returns it, so he supposes it must be. Rey brings her hand up to mirror Phasma’s and it smears blood across Phasma’s cheek.

Rey mutters something out of the side of her slanted mouth and Phasma’s eyes cut from her to him, swift and sharp. He knows that she can’t possibly know he’s watching, because his mask hides his face and the direction he is facing allows him to looks at more than just them, but her smile grows into a mean, twisted thing that makes her look almost human and she only looks away when Rey mutters something else.  

It occurs to him that his masochistic fascination with whatever Rey and she have would greatly amuse her, if she was to become aware of it.

The thought makes him despise her even more. 

He looks away from them.